Canada's Olympians: Sidney Crosby, Ice hockey - Macleans.ca

Canada’s Olympians: Sidney Crosby, Ice hockey

Can Crosby handle having the hopes of a nation on his shoulders?

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Canada's Olympians: Sidney CrosbyHe’s still capable of wonder—though wonder itself has been part of the sales package so long it sounds hokey to say. It was there in Sidney Crosby’s voice a couple of weeks ago, after he woke in Vancouver to the sight of crews putting the last touches on the athletes’ village. “Exciting,” “special” and “honour” cropped up in the ration of bromides he served up that morning to the microphones.

And there was a genuine flutter in his references to the athletes’ village, where any Olympic participant will tell you the good times truly roll. It turns out even a $9-million-a-year superstar and self-described “homebody” can get giddy about something like that.

Crosby is that rare athlete whose actual personality is more appealing than he would have you believe. At 22, he is inarguably Canada’s best hockey player, winner of a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, a Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player, and a world junior championship. The ebullience that might induce has been pressed down beneath a lid of cultivated blandness. But one need only watch the home video footage of him currently airing in Tim Hortons’ commercials to catch a ray of the preteen enthusiasm that came before the script. And any fan who watches Crosby can see the part of him that is spontaneous, real and unabashedly animated by the tribal aspects of the game. He revels in the success of teammates. He takes offence on their behalf.

Crosby is that rare athlete whose actual personality is more appealing than he would have you believe. At 22, he is inarguably Canada’s best hockey player, winner of a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, a Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player, and a world junior championship. The ebullience that might induce has been pressed down beneath a lid of cultivated blandness. But one need only watch the home video footage of him currently airing in Tim Hortons’ commercials to catch a ray of the preteen enthusiasm that came before the script. And any fan who watches Crosby can see the part of him that is spontaneous, real and unabashedly animated by the tribal aspects of the game. He revels in the success of teammates. He takes offence on their behalf.

He assumes a disproportionate share of blame when things go wrong. Canada’s greatest individual hockey talent also happens to be its consummate team player.

In Vancouver, Crosby will take his place in the greatest tribe of all: the one wearing red and white. That seems like pretty good motivation. So does Crosby’s concern that this tournament represents his only chance at Olympic glory. He was crushed when left off the roster for the 2006 Games in Turin, and he recently made note of the NHL’s reluctance to commit to the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. “Who knows if NHL hockey players are going to be in them past [Vancouver],” he said. “This might be an only shot.” A touch of overstatement, perhaps; Crosby’s career will likely span three more Olympiads. But it’s a clear glimpse of the wunderkind who couldn’t crash into the NHL soon enough, and who seems refreshingly aware that the chance to be there now, to carry the hopes of an entire country while playing at the top of his game, is one opportunity not to be missed.