The last year the Stanley Cup sat on the shelf was 1919, when an influenza epidemic wiped out the playoffs. There is under the weather, and then there is laid low, which is pro hockey's posture as the N.H.L. opens play this month. Truth is, hockey has been backsliding for years, even before money came between the owners and the players, forcing last season's cancellation. Scoring has taken a leave of absence, the networks have backed off, and fans in time-honored hockey hubs (Phoenix! Nashville!) aren't quite sure what they're cheering for.
Into the identity breach skates teenager Sidney Crosby, from Cole Harbor, Nova Scotia, who is now charged with hefting hockey back to relevance. The game's best prospect in 20 years, Crosby is the type of player with the ability and appeal (and healthy endorsement deals with Reebok and Gatorade) to draw the casual masses to his sport, like an A-Rod or an M.J., or even Gretzky, "the Great One," himself.
Sidney doesn't yet carry a majestic nickname. (For the time being, let's call him Kid Crosby; his agent, after all, first eyed him at age 13.) But now that the Pittsburgh Penguins have signed him, he's lugging around some pretty unfair expectations. After Crosby's unprecedented back-to-back honors as M.V.P. and top scorer in the Canadian junior leagues, Gretzky said that the upstart could very well break his seemingly unbreakable N.H.L. records. "I've always wanted to be the best, but so do a lot of other people," says the deferential Crosby, who has the requisite aw-shucks Canadian temperament to help him straddle that tricky divide between winning everyone over and kicking everyone's ass.
And now the Big Ice cometh. "I've been waiting for this a long time," Crosby says. How long? The Kid, last time we checked, was just out of high school.
Source: Vanity Fair, October 2005, pages 306-7.
I live in Pittsburgh, and I saw this kid in training camp four of five times in the last week--and he really is as good as advertised. If anyone can get hockey some damn attention, he can.