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Still, he never deluded himself. Asked how it felt to play against one of the game's greatest talents, Troy, now retired after years as a facilities manager at a law firm, shrugs. "I wished I was him, actually," he says. "I wished I had that: When he was 18 he had the world in front of him. He was Mario Lemieux, and I wanted to be that player."
Instead he and his wife had that player. Sidney found his skating legs at three and never knew a day of clumsiness. "When he threw a baseball it was like he was a 20-year-old, the form," Trina says. "That sounds ridiculous, I know, but when it came to motor skills, he could do everything." The lifeguard at Sidney's YMCA preschool couldn't hide her astonishment. "I've never seen a four-year-old," she told Trina, "with developed pecs before."
At seven he gave his first newspaper interview: "You have to do your best and work hard and things will happen," Sidney said. "You can make it if you try." Coaches noticed, year after year. Sidney wasn't just more talented: He loved the game, lived it harder than any teammate. "He'd call me to hang out when we were kids, and with other guys they're calling to come over and watch movies or play video games," says Mike Chiasson, 23, a goalie at Nova Scotia's Acadia University. "But with Sid you knew you were always going in his basement to play hockey, have a shootout. His passion, his hard work: That's what got him there."
Crosby had observed his parents. He remembered his dad early mornings, working out with the thought of becoming a firefighter. "I didn't see him play, but everything else he did, whether it was fixing a pipe under the house or whatever—he got it done," Sidney says. "He wasn't going to quit on it. If he told me he was going to do something, he did it; if he said, 'I'm going to bring you to practice today,' he didn't call and say, 'I can't make it.' He was always there."
The competitiveness was there too: Sidney wanted to beat his dad. Troy stepped out of the basement goal for good when the boy was eight and starting to lift the puck, left him down there alone to shoot for hours, the misses leaving the clothes dryer dented and scarred with black streaks. Troy sported a QMJHL championship ring he won with Verdun in 1985, and when the two would watch Hockey Night in Canada or the Olympics and talk about getting there someday, to Sidney that seemed too ambitious. But a QMJHL title ring? Going higher in the NHL draft than Troy did? He could see that.
Still, as Sidney kept playing up a year or two, as he tore through the Cole Harbour Timbits and Atom and Pee-Wee seasons, his name grew, and with fame came the ugly side of hockey fever. Titles were won, tournaments dominated but resentment festered: He was too good. Whoever stopped him could make a name. By the time Sidney was 11, he'd sit in the stands during tournaments while waiting for his team's turn to play, wearing shoulder pads but no sweater; too often parents, seeing the name on his jersey, had jeered him to the point of tears.
"I remember being in Pee-Wee, a guy trying to break my leg," Sidney says, swinging an imaginary stick to demonstrate. "It wasn't even during a play: I was going to a face-off, and a guy just two-handed it right at my knee—like a baseball bat."
When, at 14, Crosby ransacked Midget AAA opponents for an absurd 193 points in 74 games, his parents grew frightened. Men in the stands, frustrated at the way Crosby overshadowed their sons, would yell about breaking his neck, how he was going to get killed; come game time, Sidney found himself slashed, punched, hammered from behind. Such ugliness was one reason the family decided that he should leave the country, and at 15 he shipped out to Shattuck--St. Mary's boarding school in Faribault, Minn. His one year there—he won a 17-and-under national championship—left Trina and his little sister, Taylor, heartbroken. But Troy was all but in mourning. For the first time, he couldn't be in the stands to see Sidney go. For the second time, the game had left him behind.
That's why, even with all that has come since—Gretzky's anointing of Sidney as the player capable of breaking his records, the Ross, Hart and Pearson trophies, that on-ice father-son hug after the Stanley Cup win, the ain't-life-strange fact that, for five years now, his son has lived during the season with, yes, Lemieux and his family, staying at Super Mario's house in suburban Pittsburgh—nothing quite matches the thrill of seeing him compete. Because it's there that Troy can see his boy's bone-deep joy: In the morning skates, the breathless workouts, in the daily battle that Troy still, at his core, wants for himself.
"It's in his blood," Troy says. "The ones that have it? You know. I have it; I still have it: There's nothing I'd rather do more than play hockey. And after I stopped playing, it was ... him. I didn't want to miss a game. I just love watching him play."