Number 87 was born on 8-7-87. That means Sidney Crosby turned 35 on Sunday. Can you believe it? Sid the Kid came into the NHL with the Penguins at 18 in 2005. Now he's closer to the big 4-0 than he is to 30? Where does time go?
What a perfect time to reflect.
I was in a dark room at Mellon Arena on July 22, 2005, watching the NHL draft lottery on television. The tension was suffocating before the ping-pong ball bounced the Penguins' way, giving them the right to make Crosby the No. 1 overall pick in that summer's entry draft.
A franchise was saved.
The Penguins wouldn't be here without that fortuitous bounce. They wouldn't have beautiful PPG Paints Arena without it and the NHL lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season but leveled the financial ice for all the clubs.
We like to think of ourselves as a fabulous hockey town. But we haven't always been. We were a lousy hockey town until Mario Lemieux arrived in 1984 and then again until Crosby came along. I have no doubt the Penguins would be in Kansas City.
I remember Crosby stepping up to and staring down the intense scrutiny that dogged him since he was young, an off-the-charts prodigy. It wasn't easy. Some of the Penguins' veterans, perhaps out of jealousy, went out of their way to challenge Crosby early on. It became so bad that Eddie Olczyk, then the coach, had to step in and call out the vets. He is convinced he lost the team because of it. Even though he knew he would be fired, he has said many times he had to do what was right for Crosby. The franchise should be grateful to Olczyk.
The Penguins made Crosby the youngest captain in NHL history in May 2007. He was 19. He has since become one of the best captains in NHL history, leading by example, always the team's hardest worker, always welcoming to new teammates.
"Sid just represents everything that's right about hockey," Mike Sullivan has often said. "His work ethic is off the charts. He's a great leader. He's a fierce competitor. He carries himself with such humility. He represents our sport and the Pittsburgh Penguins with such dignity and class."
Crosby, unlike Lemieux before him, willingly took on the added role of being the face of the NHL. I still can see him in the early days doing interview after interview, in both English and French. He would do just about anything to sell hockey. It was easy for him. I've never known a Pittsburgh athlete who loves his sport more. That's why I can see him playing until he's 45, health-permitting.