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The procession finally inched into the parking lot of Cole Harbour Place, but by then Crosby's truck seemed more like the leading edge of a great flood. It's not often that you can physically see what it means to have a town, a region, a whole nation even, pushing one man forward. But after Crosby passed, the crowd swamped the pavement and fell in behind; when he reached the stage and looked back over the expanse it was impossible to see a way out. "There was no ... empty," Crosby says.
They sang Happy Birthday. The mayor read a proclamation, Crosby raised the Cup above his head, the world roared. You couldn't blame him, really, for thinking the day was about him.
Yet around the grounds there were other agendas at work. Dads marched their boys inside the rec center to take in the poster of three-year-old Sidney in his basement, stick in hand, and above it the word dreams; three clothes dryers spent the day getting dinged old by young, male and female sharpshooters; everyone, it seemed, had to show they could play the only game that matters. As one Cole Harbour sign declared, BASEBALL FILLS THE GAP BETWEEN HOCKEY SEASONS. Which helps explain why it was often unclear which was the bigger celebrity—Sid the Kid or the Cup.
Allene Barrett and her two kids, Brooke, 17, and Brandon, 15, had driven in five hours from New Brunswick. All his life, her husband, Wayne, an industrial league player and longtime coach in the Fundy Minor Hockey Association, had yearned to see the trophy; the Maritimes don't produce pros—and resulting Cup tours—like the bigger provinces. On the night Pittsburgh won it, the family made plans. "He was going to see the Cup. Finally," Allene says.
Cancer had ravaged Wayne's health for two years. He beat back one fatal prognosis last winter, but then, two weeks before Crosby's party, Wayne died at 39. Every flower arrangement at the funeral had a hockey theme; all his players wore jerseys. Canceling the trip to Cole Harbour wasn't an option. When Crosby's truck neared their spot, Allene saw the Cup shining and her eyes went blurry and the kids got quiet. "Dad's here now," Brooke said.
Indeed, Crosby's rise has often served as a vehicle for matters beyond his ken. It wasn't enough that he was charged, at 18, with saving the postlockout NHL. When Paul Mason, one of Crosby's youth coaches, says "the NHL needed another Wayne Gretzky," he means more than just another great who sells tickets. He means another in the line of Canadian transcendents, another hair-raising Howe or Orr to provide what Andrew Podnieks, the author of A Canadian Saturday Night: Hockey and the Culture of a Country, calls "marketing in a psychological or spiritual sense." Crosby reassures his nation that, when it comes to hockey, the Great White North is still No. 1.
It's a full-time job, and not just for him. Fans have pilgrimaged to Cole Harbour for years, leaving items at his parents' house to be signed, knocking long after business hours are over. Sometimes it's sweet: Last summer a van from Vancouver pulled up and a man asked if this was, indeed, Sid's boyhood home. When Trina said yes, he screamed, "It's her!" and more than a dozen people spilled out of the van. Other times mailbox notes will demand jerseys, favors, cash. "The occasional wack job will come by," Trina says. "You don't know what you're dealing with when you open the front door."
Such approachability, though, is part of Crosby's appeal. His low-key demeanor also happens to dovetail with the Canadian self-image—self-effacing, deceptively tough—and gets inflated into a philosophic pose anytime Ovechkin, his lone competition for best player alive, pantomimes a hot stick or taunts Crosby with a chicken dance. Mention Alex the Great's habit of hurling himself into the glass after scoring to anyone in Camp Crosby, and you'll invariably hear, "But 60 times a season?"
Crosby himself has sniffed at Ovechkin's celebrations ("Some people like it, some don't. Personally I don't"), but he says he's more concerned with how "dangerous" Ovechkin can be—as both a scorer and a headhunter. "When we started to play each other, it was more like people were celebrating two players," Crosby says. "But it seemed like, with each game, he was just trying to line me up. So we start having run-ins, and the media is watching. Then, with it getting stirred around off the ice, it built into more of a hate relationship."
Ovechkin denies this, says that he looks to hit everybody, that the rivalry is a media concoction. But Crosby can't shake the feeling that Ovechkin enjoys stirring the pot and the more publicly the better. "Our games can speak for themselves," Crosby says. "He wants to play hard, great, I look forward to that. But ... I don't allow there to be a story that's not there. I think he may look for that, and that's something that unfortunately I have to answer to."