Sidney Crosby’s entire year was defined by a split second at the end of February.
In the time it took the superstar forward to deftly corral Jarome Iginla’s pass and beat Ryan Miller between the legs, Crosby put an exclamation mark on the Vancouver Olympics and secured a spot in Canadian hockey lore. Not only did his overtime goal against the Americans clinch the men’s hockey gold medal for Canada, it sent the entire country into a jubilant frenzy on the final day of the Games.
And all in the blink of an eye.
The golden goal had such an impact that it has earned Crosby the Lionel Conacher Award as The Canadian Press male athlete of the year for the third time in four years.
He previously topped the annual poll of the country’s newsrooms after significant achievements that were months in the making—winning the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP in 2007 and leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup in 2009. His third award comes in recognition of a magical moment where he seized a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“That’s the big thing that sticks out to me,” Crosby said in an interview. “Obviously, that goal and the Olympic Games themselves. That was a pretty unique experience. To have it in Canada and to play hockey and represent your country in a sport that everybody is so passionate about, it was pretty special.”
The 23-year-old from Cole Harbour, N.S., joins elite company in being named the country’s top male athlete for a third time. Wayne Gretzky and Maurice (Rocket) Richard are the only other hockey players to have won it as often. Richard was also a three-time winner while Gretzky earned the annual award six times and was voted the male athlete of the 20th century.
Former baseball player Ferguson Jenkins is a four-time winner while golfer Mike Weir and basketball player Steve Nash have each captured the honour on three occasions.
Crosby earned 162 points in voting for the Conacher Award—named after the all-rounder voted Canada’s athlete of the half-century in 1950—on the strength of 38 first-place selections. The runner-up was National League MVP Joey Votto with 126 points and 22 first-place votes.
Olympic champion freestyle skier Alexandre Bilodeau was third with 115 points (22 first-place votes), ahead of Crosby’s Team Canada teammate Jonathan Toews at 77 (13 first-place votes). Toews, the captain of the Chicago Blackhawks, added the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy to his impressive showing at the Olympics.
Even though Crosby didn’t match that trophy haul, his sense of occasion lifted him above the rest.
“Whether he ever scores another NHL goal or not, (it doesn’t matter),” said James M. Miller, managing editor of the Penticton Herald. “Welcome to the Paul Henderson club, Sidney.”
On Wednesday, Crosby and his teammates were named the 2010 team of the year, while the Vancouver Olympics were earlier voted The Canadian Press news story of the year.
Figure skater Joannie Rochette was chosen the female athlete of the year Tuesday.
For the first time in 2010, The Canadian Press conducted a people’s choice poll for its annual awards, along with Yahoo! Canada. Crosby was also the public’s first pick, with 44 per cent of the vote, ahead of Bilodeau at 18 per cent.
No athlete in Vancouver was subjected to the intense pressure and level of attention reserved for Crosby.
Canadians would accept nothing less than a gold medal on home ice, and the majority of the burden was heaped on Team Canada’s best player. It didn’t matter that Crosby was just 22 and surrounded by several older, more experienced teammates.
It might explain why there was so much frustration when he failed to dominate every time he stepped on the ice. The Penguins captain didn’t register a point in the quarter-final win over Russia or semifinal victory over Slovakia, and almost certainly would have shouldered a big chunk of the blame if the Americans had found a way to win in the final.
Instead, No. 87 made sure the story followed a different script, lifting Canada to a 3-2 overtime win despite the U.S. tying the game with 24.4 seconds left in regulation. Crosby finished the tournament with four goals and three assists in seven games and added the shootout winner in the round robin against Switzerland.
“I think that’s the amazing thing—a lot of people assume that he maybe wasn’t playing to his potential throughout the tournament,” said Toews. “It just goes to show how much pressure that a team and a country can put on just one guy. It surprised me.
“There can’t be a better way to end the tournament than having a guy like that score the winning goal. It gives it a real storybook feel, for sure.”
One of the keys to Crosby’s success has been his seemingly endless drive to get better. Over the last year and a half, he turned his focus to becoming more of a goal-scorer and has succeeded beyond even his own expectations—taking home his first Rocket Richard Trophy for scoring the most goals in the NHL last season, and recording 60 goals in the 2010 calendar year.
He sits atop the league in both goal-scoring and points this season and attributes his strong play to being more rested than in 2008 and 2009, when the Penguins reached the Stanley Cup final in consecutive years.
“Other than maybe a few games here and there, throughout the year I’ve felt pretty good,” said Crosby. “I just feel like I’ve had jump and I’ve been able to create things. Honestly, I think the two years prior with all of that hockey, there were probably points where I was a little more tired.”
There weren’t very many fresh legs in the waning minutes of the Olympic tournament, where Canada played seven games over an emotional 13-day stretch.
Crosby had a chance to clinch the gold when he was sprung on a breakaway with three minutes to play, only to see the puck bounce off his stick. That missed opportunity weighed heavily on his mind when Zach Parise tied the game in the dying seconds.
However, the mood in the Canadian dressing room was surprisingly positive before the start of overtime.
“I felt like as bad as that feeling was (to have the U.S. tie the game late), I think after probably about five or seven minutes into the intermission the mindset kind of changed,” said Crosby. “We kind of realized that as bad as it was, somebody had the opportunity to score a big goal.
“We kind of had the attitude of going after it and I think our overtime proved that. I was happy to be able to get that one.”
The golden goal came seven minutes 40 seconds into overtime after Crosby slipped free from a defender and desperately called “Iggy! Iggy!”
Iginla put the puck on his stick and it was in the back of the goal before Miller even had time to react, touching off a nationwide celebration.
For younger hockey fans, it will likely be as memorable as Henderson’s Summit Series goal in 1972 or Mario Lemieux’s Canada Cup goal in 1987.
In the eyes of Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson, it couldn’t have come from anyone better than Crosby, whom he refers to as the best current role model in sports.
“He has become a focal point of hockey in our country,” said Nicholson. “Going in, we had a lot of superstars on our team, but we only had one Sidney Crosby.
“So many people were watching that game. It’s just a huge goal for Canada, for the game of hockey and for keeping dreams alive for youngsters in our game.”