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. 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 now, nothing quite matches the thrill of seeing him compete. It's there that Troy can see his boy's bone-deep joy, and not just when he's skating on an ice surface over the Olympic rings with all Canada at his back, but also in the morning skates, the breathless workouts, the daily battle. "It's in his blood," Troy says. "The ones that have it? You know. 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."
"EVERY SPECIAL TALENT HAS TO BE A LITTLE CRAZY, and he's definitely crazy," says Max Talbot, Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins teammate. "You can't argue with him; you can't win an argument. And superstitious: Everything needs to be right. Every damn thing needs to be perfect. I'm sitting beside him in the dressing room for two years now, and every day you see the same thing. But I've seen him grow. He's taking it more easy...a little bit."
In earlier years Crosby was less contained. As an 18-year-old Penguins rookie, on his way to becoming the youngest player to reach 100 NHL points, he had gotten into the habit of complaining to officials—a surefire way to get labeled a whiner or, as legendary commentator and self-styled guardian of the Canadian Way Don Cherry puts it, "a semisweetheart."
"I had many criticisms of him at the start: When he'd get hit he'd throw his head back as if he got really corked, a semidive," Cherry says. "But now he doesn't dive; he doesn't yap at the referees. I gave it to him pretty good, but you haven't heard me give it to him lately—because he acts the way he should act."
It was no accident. "It's something I've tried to work on," Crosby says. "Hopefully as I get older I get better."
With his natural gifts—wide-angle vision; uncanny timing; and, as former Penguins roommate Colby Armstrong, now with the Thrashers, puts it, "huge legs and a massive booty"—Crosby would've been a hockey Hall of Famer without changing a thing. But he also gave up his beloved chocolate-chip cookies at 16 and learned French when he played in Quebec. Even with the NHL's best backhanded shot and most explosive second gear, he has never stopped refining, pushing.
"He's dedicated like nothing I've ever seen," says Armstrong. "It shows when he comes back to camp every year; he's got that extra step that no one else has. He plays the game right for an elite player: He can blow a game open, but he also makes other players better. I'd pick his brain: Such little moves. But to do it at top speed? He's an up-and-down player with an unbelievable head on his shoulders."
He also grinds, albeit with a flair that no third-liner could summon. "He is the best hockey player in the world," said Team Canada winger Jarome Iginla in Vancouver. "Everybody is excited for the chance to play with him."
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." Even before he helped to deliver the Olympic gold medal, Crosby reassured his nation that when it comes to hockey, the Great White North is still No. 1.