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Afterward, the Penguins were so tired that they did the unthinkable: They turned down pizza and beer at their hotel to go to bed. The next day's practice would be canceled. But when Shero asked Crosby, "What do you think next year—West Point or Orlando?" Crosby replied, "We've got to come back here."
Warfare has fascinated Crosby since he visited Normandy on a teenage hockey trip and brought home a vial of sand. He is wary of parallels between the game and the military ("I don't think there is anything that compares to what they do"), but the focus of his interest offers a window into how his mind works. If he were a coach he might be intrigued by strategy, and if he were an enforcer he might be drawn to the brutality.
So what, specifically, interests Crosby?
"Snipers," Dupuis says.
Snipers, like scorers, are often misunderstood. People think it is all about the shot. But "marksmanship is a small part of it," says J.B. Spisso, a good friend of Crosby's who served in the U.S. Army Special Operations. Crosby reads books about snipers and asks Spisso about their preparation, discipline and perfectionism. "It's more than quick repetition," says Spisso. "It's precise repetition—very, very precise ability. It's not a run-and-gun scenario. It's very methodical. There is so much involved in shooting a bullet. [Sidney] understands that to be great at his game, he has to be involved in all facets of it."
The best snipers wait hours for their chance. And regardless of the stakes, that is Crosby. Outside of Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he owns a vacation home on Grand Lake, there is a legend about enormous sturgeon that swim far beneath the water's surface. Crosby has spent hours using high-tech equipment to search for the fish, even though he laughingly admits that they may not exist.
For a while, it was an analogy that worked to describe Crosby: the big fish that we couldn't see, and didn't know if we ever would again, because of the concussion. But he is back now, exceeding his considerable hype.
Chuck Daly, coach of the 1992 U.S. Olympic basketball Dream Team, loved to tell this story. The greatest players in the world showed up to practice for those Barcelona Games, but after a few days it was clear: Even among the best, Michael Jordan was on his own level.
That is Crosby now. Last year's league MVP, Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, is just 26. But there is no doubt that Crosby is better. Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin is still a sublime player, but the Crosby-Ovechkin debate has lost steam. For the moment, at least, Crosby has surpassed everybody.
Yet to many hockey fans—especially American ones—Crosby is unworthy of the throne once occupied by Gretzky and Lemieux. Crosby hears it in every road arena: He's an egomaniac, he whines, he dives, he's soft. Fans call him Cindy, and what the nickname lacks in creativity, it makes up for in misogyny. He was tabbed hockey's next great one (or Great One) as a child, and that has surely fed the narrative of Sid the Spoiled Kid.