When it comes to the game, though, Crosby says he is a determined “traditionalist.” In Winnipeg recently to play the Jets, he insisted on walking down Portage Avenue in minus-40-with-windchill weather, so he could “feel the Canadian winter” and get in a proper frame of mind for the game.
He also thinks that players have a responsibility to their fans. Basketball superstar Charles Barkley once famously said, “I’m not a role model. … Just because I dunk a basketball, doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” Crosby believes the opposite, and he takes it very seriously.
“He had time to question his future,” says Brisson of Crosby’s time away from the rink. “It gave him time to reflect. He had to think about things from a different perspective.”
During last summer’s contract talks, Crosby became deeply involved in the negotiations, particularly over his concern that his concussion history might deprive him of full insurance. It forced him to recognize the fragility of a hockey career and made him more aware of players with far less security.
“From a business standpoint,” Brisson says, “he grew a lot from those two years. It’s another chapter in his book.”
But there was more than business to reflect on over those long months when he could not play. There’s the question of safety, of course. “The grassroots have to kind of help to build that,” he says, “but as a league you have to be aware of that, too. Because that’s what all the kids and all the young players are trying to play as – that’s what they’re watching.”
But he also got to think about the journey – and the geography – of his hockey career. He believes that while hockey is the same game in the United States and Canada, it is also not the same – as he was reminded by the couple of thousand young players and parents who crammed into that small Ottawa rink this week.
“I don’t think you can describe it unless you’ve grown up in it and have experienced it,” he says. “I’ve been in Pittsburgh a long time now and I’ve seen the passion that people have for hockey there, but there’s also football and baseball in town.
“I think when you look in the Canadian cities it’s hockey. Hockey is the big thing in town and it’s all about that team. I think that’s really what separates it from everything else.”
And with that heritage in mind, he promises there will be more to come from the new Voice of Hockey. “I don’t feel I need to share my opinion on everything in the world,” he says. “But when I feel pretty passionate about something I will speak up.”
And they will listen.