Welcome back to Throwback Thursday, where we comb the THN archives to bring you something from our past.
This week, a look back at when The Hockey News profiled a 14-year-old Sidney Crosby, the latest in a long line of players dubbed ‘The Next One.’ This one turned out to be just that.
‘The Next One: Sidney Crosby’
June 28, 2002 — Vol. 55, No. 38
By Willy Palov
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when Sidney Crosby earned full-blown phenom status.
It might have been when he was 13 and a prominent sports agency flew him to Los Angeles to rub elbows with top clients such as Luc Robitaille and Chris Chelios for two weeks.
Or maybe it was when he won this year’s Nova Scotia midget AAA League scoring title and MVP as a 14-year-old, playing against players who were two and three years older.
But more likely, it was at the 2002 Air Canada Cup national midget championship, when he finished first in tournament scoring with 24 points in seven games and won the MVP award.
Crosby’s show-stealing performance with the Dartmouth Subways proved he could score at will against the best teams in Canada and eliminated any doubt that he is a bona fide prodigy.
“Going in, there was pressure from the media and from what I was hearing around me all year, but I just put it to the back of my mind and played,” Crosby said. “I suppose that bit of extra pressure probably made me play a little more desperate, but I think I thrived on it and ended up coming out pretty good.
“It was good to prove some people wrong because there were people out there thinking I could do it at the provincial level and Atlantic Canada level, but they were pretty anxious to see what I could do at the national level.”
Crosby, a playmaking center, posted stats in 2001-02 that boggle the mind. He scored 217 points in 81 midget games, including 93 points in 33 regular season games to come within four points of the league’s single-season scoring record.
He put up such gaudy numbers because his uncanny vision and hockey sense help him get to the right place at the right time to execute highly skilled plays. It’s a superstar-type quality that has helped establish him as a possible top pick for the 2005 NHL entry draft.
“He has that exceedingly rare skill, that only the great ones possess, of being able to control the pace and tempo of the game whenever he is on the ice,” said Red Line Report publisher and chief scout Kyle Woodlief. “I would liken him to a chess grandmaster in that he’s always plotting things six or seven moves ahead. He knows where every piece is on the board and he can envision possibilities within a play that other players could never possibly see. He’s just so imaginative out there; he’s like a hockey savant.”
Dartmouth coach Brad Crossley said Crosby is also special because he is so incredibly driven. His story is typical of a lot of great players in that he’s first to the rink and last to leave, but his dedication to the game goes beyond that.
“In all my years of coaching, I’ve never seen a player that has been as naturally gifted as him,” Crossley said. “He’s aggressive, he’s intuitive and he excels in all situations, but it’s more than that. On and off the ice, he’s so focused on hockey. I’m sure before he goes to bed he thinks about being a winner and as soon as he wakes up he’s ready to go.
“He’s a real student of the game and if he’s not out working on becoming a better player, he’s thinking about how to become a better player.”
The challenge is figuring out what to do for an encore. Already too developed to benefit from another season of midget hockey, Crosby has to leave his hometown of Cole Harbour, which is just outside of Halifax, and Eastern Canada in order to find another level of play.
He is ineligible (too young) to play in the Quebec League, which owns his territorial rights, for another year and the league won’t relax its rule for the soon-to-be 15-year-old.
Crosby decided in mid-June to attend U.S. prep school Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minn. He’ll play against teams the caliber of Jr. A hockey- effectively the level between midget and major junior. He chose Shattuck over Notre Dame in Wilcox, Sask., and Jr. A in Ontario.
After one year in Minnesota, Crosby will return to Nova Scotia and the QMJHL.
“I just want to have a better year and develop as a player,” Crosby said. “Maybe as I get older I’ll get bigger and faster and maybe get more of a scoring touch. I’ll always want to keep trying to improve my skills. I still have so much to learn.”
Because of that attitude, Crossley said Crosby definitely won’t rest on his laurels, even though he has already achieved so much.
“No chance at all,” Crossley said. “As long as he continues to enjoy the game and find challenges, he’s going to do great. It is amazing what he has done already as a 14-year-old, but you’d never know he was that young. He’s just so incredibly mature and humble that I’m sure he’ll do well no matter where he goes.”
At 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, Crosby will need some time to grow. He is considered small by hockey standards, but it’s not like his best growing years are behind him.
“To be honest, I don’t worry about size unless people ask,” Crosby said. “If I get bigger, great, but I’m only 14 and I have a lot of years left to be growing. All I can control is my skills and the type of hockey player I am”
Besides, he also knows that genetics should work in his favor. His father, Troy, is a sturdy 6-foot-1 former goalie who was drafted 240th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in 1984.