Friday, December 24, 2010

Scott Russell wants you to shoot pucks at your dryer, too

I like Sidney Crosby. He's not a bad hockey player, and he provided my generation with its Henderson moment. That said, I dislike some of the attention and coverage he attracts. I can understand that the NHL markets this guy really hard, and why not, but when you have people sloppily talking about their obsession with Crosby beyond the hockey sphere, we have a problem. This is over-saturation.

Sidney, meet Scott Russell.

Few greater treasures exist for a hockey-loving nation than a player who has come to symbolize the sport most of us obsess over.

This is his opening line, and you already know where the article is headed.

Sidney Crosby glitters like gold because of what he does on the ice. This puckish, Pittsburgh Penguin star is considered to be a Canadian treasure. And in the Christmas celebration of 2010, Crosby's gift to the game still creates a sense of wonder.

Even for the Scrooge in those of us who have allowed hockey to lose its sheen, "Sid the Kid" has the ability to bring us back. Just like the brand new pair of skates that we once rushed to discover under the tree - Crosby is a little bit of magic.

I'm sure Crosby put in all that work as a kid, and continues to work out hard every day so that his craft is taken only as 'magic' to narrative zombies like Scott Russell. The 'sheen' that is described by Russell here refers to the time when players simply went out on the pond and goofed around with a puck for a few hours; Europeans need not apply.

What's funny is that Crosby is the complete opposite of that. He's not a family man. He's not some noble icon that sifts through the wall of commercialization of the National Hockey League to deliver us to a simpler time when men were men and all hockey was played outdoors. Didn't the city of Pittsburgh just build a new arena for the Penguins? Doesn't Crosby personify everything that's wrong with hockey to jerks like Russell?

By his playing hockey Sidney causes us to follow his amazing voyage of delight even when we are distracted by other things. He's so good that if you aren't watching him you're really not watching the game.

This conjures up the image of Scott Russell playing with keys being dangled in front of him unless Pittsburgh are on a power play.

Recently declared he was the most influential person in the realm of Canadian sport. He polled more votes than all the executives, administrators and people wearing expensive suits who scheme behind the scenes to transform games into entertainment properties and business propositions.

How quaint, even the suits adore Crosby.


It's because Sidney Crosby makes things happen by virtue of simply playing. He scored the "Golden Goal" that ignited a nation at the Olympics in Vancouver. In the end, he gave us the greatest celebration we could have hoped for. Others may have contributed but it was Crosby who, when all was said and done, was the founder of the feast.

This nation's love affair with Crosby began long before bumbling twits were given an excuse to. Remember that old Tim Horton's ad where Crosby is riding on the bus (because he's so old-timey and doesn't fly) and it breaks down? The one where Sidney just happens to have his hockey gear at the ready and joins some kids in a pond hockey game? I think that's where Scott is going with all this. Not only that that scene was real, but instead of practicing, working out, or eating 10,000 calorie meals, Crosby is always on the ice.

His scoring exploits this season are causing us to keep track of his statistics and check in on games when the Penguins are playing in spite of the fact that we've already lost faith in the Leafs and other beloved teams. You have to smile each time you see a kid wearing a Penguins sweater with Crosby's name tattooed on the back.

"To the bandwagon!"

He causes people to believe.

"And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." (Luke, 2:10)

I remember when my colleague Bruce Rainnie first introduced us to Sidney Crosby on Hockey Day in Canada a few years back and we all discovered the kid from Nova Scotia who was known to fire pucks at his mother's washer and dryer. I met him with Kelly Hrudey at Grand Parade Square in Halifax. He was just a smiling boy.

This is the underlying problem with a lot of media guys, who brush off everything that make sports great (a bunch of person-less jocks practice for 10 hours a day to make a game entertaining enough to watch) and talk about hockey players as if they play on a rink on Mount Olympus eating olives and drinking fine wine only playing if we make enough animal sacrifices to appease them.

No, it always comes back to that washer and dryer crap.

Crosby was a wonder then and remains a wonder now.

By 'wonder' Scott really means: he signs autographs and he smiles for the cameras. A lot of guys are so preoccupied making the game great that they can't appreciate the great things that actually happen in a hockey game. Would Scott stay up to watch the Vancouver Canucks play if Henrik and Daniel Sedin were Canadian? Would he have more faith in the Toronto Maple Leafs if Mikhail Grabovski didn't come from Belarus, but instead shot pucks at his garage door?

The gift of Sid is very welcome this Christmas. He is to hockey what spirit is to the season - the essential ingredient.

The Olympics were in February, but what the heck, sure.

Merry Christmas, 'Eh' Factor. I give you the gift of Sidney Crosby.

For the rest of the year, I'll mostly be sticking with World Junior game wraps, but my 'Top 10 Canadian Athlete' countdown (or Top 5, depending on how great my Christmas presents are) will be up sometime in the next week.

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