The Kid. The Next One. Sidney Crosby. All monikers for one of the most talented players in the league and the first of a series of non-Leaf related interviews that I'll be conducting throughout the season. Hockey fans around the world know the stats. Born on August 7th, 1987. 8/7/87. 22 going on 23 and the hockey world at his feet. Art Ross trophy, Hart trophy, Lester B. Pearson award, Stanley Cup, Olympic Gold medal, the list goes on and on.
My years of covering hockey has introduced me to a wide variety of players, but I must admit I'm feeling a tad nervous before meeting Sid. I sit and wait for him in a north Pittsburgh club that he suggested, "Pegasus". The crowd is loud and energetic, to be expected from such a gathering of young people. I remember those times all too well. As I sit and sip my beer I realize that Sid is about 20 minutes late and I begin to worry. Finally, I see him emerge with whom I would later discover is Rodney the manager. Of course, Sid would have connections wouldn't he? I feel almost silly for not realizing he would probably be busy greeting friends he sees so often. He's wearing white capris and a peach coloured polo shirt with a popped collar, two buttons undone. In short, a young man full of confidence and on top of the world. He's glowing with a great tan, and greets me with a perfect smile.
"Sorry I'm late, too many friends to say hi to". The waiter stops by and asks Sid "the usual?" which prompts Sid to smile, wink and gently nod his head in the affirmative. This is a side of Sid that we rarely see around the rink, it's refreshing to see him so relaxed.
I get right to the interview and seem to catch him a bit off guard.
"So what went wrong against the Habs? You seemed to really lose your composure in that series"
He shakes his head, grins slightly as if to say 'what can i tell you?'. "I tried to do too much in that series. We didn't play well as a team, too many individual efforts. Halak was, well, unbeatable. He's the reason they won". Sid goes on to say that he's learned from that experience and will be a better player for it. Sid's cosmopolitan arrives and I order another beer. I'm starting to feel the effects and I loosen up with some lighthearted questions.
"Seriously Sid, that thing you call a moustache during the playoffs...I mean..". He giggles and shakes his head. "I know, I know, EVERYONE gives me a hard time about that. I have a hard time growing facial hair, I guess I'm just less of a brute than some guys". I laugh out loud at this comment and he laughs along with me.
During our interview we're approached on multiple occasions by young men in the club, all looking to hang with Sid, get an autograph, shake his hand. He's all too accomodating, and he's VERY popular around these parts. Of that there is no doubt. He can do no wrong in this city. For some reason I'm fixated on Sid's hands during our interview. I watch his hands as he lifts his cocktail to his mouth and sips gently. Those same hands that can do wonders with a stick, make a puck sing on the ice, they seem so delicate here. I watch his hands as another obvious friend approaches and leans in to say something into Sid's ear. Sid gently grasps his friend's shoulder as he helps him lean in to hear what he has to say. Another giggle, he says something that I don't catch, but it's obvious that he'll be meeting up later with some of these people.
"Popular guy huh?". A laugh. "Yeah, what can I say, I'm very lucky to be playing here, to be surrounded by so many great people". I ask about his relationship with Mario, and for the first time Sid seems a bit uneasy. He replies how supportive Mario is and quickly takes a drink. I take it that he wants to change the subject so I don't press the matter. At this point the burly Rodney fellow comes by and jokes that i'm taking Sid away from him for too long. I assure him that he'll be back to partying in short order, and Rodney runs off to tend to other friends.
I ask Sid about his personal life, the women that surely must be beating down his door, as so often happens with young athletes. Is there anyone special? "Heh, you sound like mom now, they're always trying to introduce someone to me, to get me to settle down with a nice girl. That's just not for me though. It's almost come to arguments, believe me" He laughs nervously and I move back into hockey talk.
"Any regrets from last year, I mean besides the way you went out against the Habs?"
Sid looks a bit forlorn at this point and he takes another sip of his cosmo. It's obvious he's debating how much to open up to me, and I feel like I'm on the verge on entering a place no writer has ever gone before. "Some moves that were made..I...I just didn't agree with". I try to press the matter. "A coaching decision? A trade?" He looks up at me when I say trade, and I realize I've gotten to the heart of the matter. A few more questions and I get the name of Martin Skoula. "Marty, yeah we had a good thing going". Apparently during Skoula's brief time in Pittsburgh, a fast friendship and bond developed between the two, almost like an older brother/younger brother trust and appreciation. "We tried to keep in touch but it's not the same, and now well, he's off to the KHL". I feel badly that I broached this subject, as Sid now seems down, and not at all the same as when the interview began. He shrugs it off and tells me that 'life goes on' and we drop the subject.
I thank Sid for this opportunity and shake the same hand that i've been so fixated on throughout the interview. What those hands have seen, what those hands have done, what they have yet to do. I watch him walk away from me, into a crowd of eagerly awaiting young men, all of them ready and willing to do anything and everything to be his friend. This phenom who has taken the hockey world by storm, who now seemingly holds the city of Pittsburgh at his feet. I stare and marvel as he disappears into the crowd, now surrounded by his friends and admirers alike. Hugs and high fives abound. I smile, finish my drink and head out.