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February 08, 2010
It's the moment hockey's Next One was made for: a chance at a gold medal on Canadian ice—with losing not an option. Now Sidney Crosby will really find out what it's like to be the center of attention
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February 08, 2010

Destiny's Child

It's the moment hockey's Next One was made for: a chance at a gold medal on Canadian ice—with losing not an option. Now Sidney Crosby will really find out what it's like to be the center of attention

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The signs got to him first. He was ready for the official one on the right there, just as they rolled past the town limit—COLE HARBOUR, HOME OF SIDNEY CROSBY—but then they kept coming, block letters slapped up on light boards at the businesses lining Cole Harbour Road: WELCOME HOME at the Petro-Canada station, HAPPY BIRTHDAY at Kyte's Pharmasave, CONGRATS! at Chris Brothers Meats. And the thought began to rise: I didn't dream this alone. They wanted it for me too....

Still, he was doing O.K., waving and flashing that boy-band grin from the antique fire truck, one hand on the massive silver prize. Indeed, this had pretty much been the plan when, just minutes after leading Pittsburgh to the 2009 Stanley Cup championship, the Penguins' center had been the first to reserve—captain's prerogative—his day with the legendary Cup: August 7, his 22nd birthday. His jersey number (87) and salary ($8.7 million) had been famously chosen to honor the 8/7/87 arrival of Canada's Next One; it was only right—not to mention superstitious and relentlessly cute—that after fulfilling all the promise and hype, after proving himself the heir of Howe and Orr and Gretzky, Crosby would choose this day to bring the supreme token of success home to Nova Scotia.

Yet if the complaint about Sidney Crosby—voiced most emphatically by fans of his exuberant and gap-toothed archrival, Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals—is that he is too bland or corporate, it doesn't account for the rare times when Crosby's control fails him. Because now that it was happening—the plan melting into reality, the ultimate conquering-hero fantasy come true—a whelming sense of joy, sadness, nostalgia and pride seized hold. People packed in along the roadsides, waving signs they'd brought from Ontario, from Alberta, from across the nation, all whooping and smiling, and as the procession hit the center of town, the intersection of Cole Harbour Road and Forest Hills Parkway, it was as if Crosby, for the first time this day, began to understand exactly where he was.

Here was the street where he once ran on chill early mornings. Here was the neighborhood where he'd Rollerbladed to his buddies' homes. There was the pizza place that made the family dinner all those Friday nights, the Subway where he always grabbed the same cold-cut sandwich, the sports store that supplied the tape for his first sticks, the stone to sharpen his little blades. Take a right here? In two minutes he'd be at the house where his parents, Troy and Trina, struggled to pay the mortgage, to buy oil for a few months' heat—but made damn sure that Sidney had new skates each season, and cash enough to pay for the next tournament motel. In two minutes he'd be walking the same streets where, at 11 years old, he would split the paper route with his mom on dim Sunday afternoons, going three hours door-to-door to deliver the weekly shopper.

Yes, he still came back each summer, to the home he'd customized back in the country, loving how his celebrity shrank among old friends. With space to roam, no traffic or crowds, Cole Harbour boasts a rare quiet; you could always hear your feet there, crunching in snow, slapping pavement—until today. Because as the truck made the left turn onto Forest Hills, Crosby finally got a look at what lay ahead in the mile left before the parade's terminus at a recreation complex named Cole Harbour Place: tens of thousands more people, a roiling, sun-blasted sea of faces lined 10, 20 deep as far as he could see.

It looked, sounded, felt so ... different. Estimates on the crowd would later range as high as 65,000, bigger than any that had ever attended an individual's Stanley Cup party, bigger than Cole Harbour (population: 25,934), bigger than even Crosby's ability to imagine it. But it was two faces there in the hugeness—one small boy, clapping and jumping, then an old woman under an umbrella—that struck some vague chord about time and renewal and hockey's role, his role, in all that, and he felt his chest tighten. He could barely breathe. He began to cry, tried to stop, cried harder.

"Bawling my eyes out," Crosby says.

But the parade didn't end at Cup and superstar—the very picture of precocious success. Trailing just behind, a drop-top scarlet Cadillac showcased the more common hockey portrait. Trina Crosby, 44, all but grew up at a rink waiting on two older brothers who played; one of them reached college level and earned a minor league tryout that went nowhere. Troy, a goalie, got closer, just enough to taste it. The Canadiens chose him as their last pick in the 1984 draft, and he played two years in the Quebec Juniors before his career died. He was 22.

Still, he had a moment or two. Troy can still see future Pittsburgh legend Mario Lemieux, en route to shattering the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League scoring record during the 1983--84 season, rifling pucks past him, "but I stopped him on a couple breakaways too," he says. "Two in one shift."

Years later, after he had become the Penguins' co-owner and just before he became Sidney's boss, Lemieux told Troy over dinner that he remembered scoring—but not Troy stopping him. "I'm telling you, I did," Troy, 43, says. "Back in '84 there wasn't a lot of video. But I did."

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