A dozen reporters pressed around Sidney Crosby, who had barely removed his helmet, in the Pittsburgh Penguins' dressing room after practice yesterday, hoping to hear how upset he was over not being chosen for the Canadian Olympic hockey team.
Naturally, the kid hurts some. Who wouldn't?
But this is for sure: Crosby may well believe he has what it takes to be on Team Canada, but he would never want to be included at the expense of another player.
"It's not one of those things I try to think about like that," Crosby said. "I try to go out and give myself an opportunity to play. I'm not second-guessing any guy there. They all deserve to be there. It's tough because I thought I had a chance. But it's not tough because I think I should replace someone else. It's not like that at all."
In three months of chronicling Crosby's rookie National Hockey League season, of seeing and talking to him nearly every day and of watching most every game and practice, there is no doubt he deserved a spot on the 23-man roster. Putting him on the three-player taxi squad was a no-brainer. He was named to neither. Why?
He had a good start to his NHL career, was the league's rookie of the month in October, has consistently been the best player on the Penguins and has amassed 33 points in 33 games, all while handling more scrutiny and attention than any hockey player of his age in history. He has been productive on the ice and graceful off.
Forget the comparisons to Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux. If Sid the Kid shows shades of any hockey predecessor at this stage of his career, it is Gentleman Jean Béliveau. Crosby would have been a fan favourite at the Turin Olympics. He would have been a marketer's dream. Did the Nike-sponsored squad wince at the idea of putting the face of Reebok Hockey on its team? That would be preposterous. Crosby is the future of Team Canada; Hockey Canada executives said so themselves.
Putting him on the team now would have given him the experience he will need in 2010, when, Gretzky says, he might be captain of the team for the Vancouver Olympics. Brazil brought Ronaldo to soccer's World Cup in 1994. He was just 16, but the team wanted him to watch and learn and soak up the experience. Why not do the same with Crosby?
"We would have liked to have seen him get on it," said Penguins forward Mark Recchi, who was on Canada's Olympic team in 1998. "But it's right the guys who played on it before and won gold be on it. There are so many good players. That's the problem."
Team Canada is long on experienced veterans but short on youthful magic, the kind Crosby, even playing a limited role as a newcomer, could provide.
He won a gold medal at the world junior championship last year. He made the adjustment to the NHL from junior hockey without missing a beat. He can take over a game, as he did last month when the Penguins scored a rare victory in Philadelphia. Crosby had a goal, an assist and the game winner on a breakaway in overtime, all after having his mouth bashed in with some dirty stickwork.
Penguins coach Michel Therrien said the Olympics would have been "a great experience" for his star rookie, but that he shouldn't take his exclusion too hard.
"For an 18-year-old, just to be mentioned in conversation that he has a good chance to make the Canadian team, it's just phenomenal," Therrien said. "He's going to have plenty of time to participate in the Olympics. As far as I'm concerned, I would have liked for Sid to go there. Just for his name to be mentioned, you don't see that often for an 18-year-old."
Crosby handled the pokes and prods with the same poise he has everything else.
"When you're that close, it's tough because you don't know what's going to happen when you're 22 or 26, you don't know if the opportunity's still going to be there," he said. "It definitely gives you something to think about and something to work toward for the next one. It's up to me to earn that opportunity and to play for that opportunity in four years."
Crosby will be a great player for a long time; he undoubtedly has scoring titles and the Stanley Cup and Olympic Games in his future. And four years hence, he will have made it impossible for Hockey Canada to make any decision but the obvious one. It should have been obvious this time.
The Globe and Mail's Shawna Richer is following the exploits of Sidney Crosby for the 2005-06 NHL season. She is additionally contracted to write a book about Crosby.