25 January 2007

Guest Post: "And Then Sidney Crosby Met Reality"

Today's guest post comes courtesy of SportsFrog.com Hall Of Famer Scottie, who put his unique and highly intelligent spin on Crosby's "shutout" in last night's All-Star Game. Reposted (cribbed) here from the original at The Swamp:

When Wayne Gretzky was a kid playing in his first NHL All-Star game, the NHL's best did the exact same thing to him. They shut him out, shunned him.

Make no mistake . . . this was a loud and clear message. No points.

Make no mistake.

At any level of hockey there are men who have paid the price and devoted their lives to this game. There are people who have spilled their blood and broken their bones in the name of winning. Some have won, some have not. Few hoist Lord Stanley's metal. Many attacked the very idea of even making it to the NHL with every bone in their body only to be told they never had a chance. Anguish is a dream denied.

And then a 19-year old kid who has never won any NHL hardware comes along and, no fault of his own, the NHL hypes him beyond far too much. He becomes suddenly the poster kid for the very All Star shirts they are wearing. Golden Boy. Unproven assumed savior. You can safely blame Bettman, Reebok, and the Love Of Money.

Did you really expect a vet like (oh, let's say) Brendan Shanahan to set him up for easy goals so the game can be all about The Boy Wonder? So Sid can go out and get 4 goals and 5 assists and be All-Star MVP at the age of 19 making the NHL even more Crosby-centric? No way. Not in our game. No. That doesn't happen in hockey. Hockey does not give away legacies on the cheap.

The message was clear. You must know your place. Wanna be in the Pantheon? Earn it. You're good. You're damned good. We even like you. But there are guys out here that are damned good, too. And you just haven't earned it yet, baby.

Don't get me wrong. At the end of the day Sidney Crosby is one of those guys that NHL players consider to be good people; exceptionally good people in fact. He's almost impossible to dislike as a person. Yet perceived flawlessness inevitably conceives contempt; some will hate him just because he is who he is. Consider Dany Heatley, who killed his best friend and has fought through that personal hell to become one of the best living players. Heatley was never going to play supporting role for the hype, not after all of his own battles. Heatley is viciously scarred, and therefore not flawless. You see it in his face every night. But he has earned NHL respect. And over the All Star Celebration nights in Dallas, Heatley did not say a single word to Crosby. Nothing. This is experience glaring at possibility. This is one person forced to be matured beyond their years sizing up another person forced to be matured beyond their years. In an announcers' booth far enough above the ice surface Mark Messier and Brett Hull brazenly pronounce Crosby as The Next. Down on the ice, this message is unheard by many who are far from finished the writing of their own personal epics.

There was no way they were going to turn this into the Crosby Show. No way.

Not yet. Not until you win a few.

The NHL's best did this to Gretzky in his first All-Star game, too. But he worked out to be a half decent player. Being brilliant, he saw the lesson and learned.

The message will not be lost on Sid. In fact, I'd wager it was clear to him early in the first period. And he'll learn. And he'll understand much deeper just how ephemeral and tenuous being larger than life actually is. He's as close as a 19-year old can get to understanding. But he's not there. No. The lesson is that you are an individual. You are alone. You are vulnerable. And rising to the greatest heights is one helluva long and hard-fought road. And no matter what industry you are in, if you have better skills than most people in that industry, they will try to bring you down. Or at least make you prove undoubtedly worthy of your build up. That's life. Ovechkin got the cold shoulder, too. And Malkin the night before.

He hasn't earned it yet. No. But he will. Count on it.

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