TORONTO – Until 10:43 p.m. Thursday, only one hockey player in history could say he’d won a world championship, world junior gold, Olympic gold, World Cup of Hockey gold, two Stanley Cups, a Hart Trophy, and a Conn Smythe Trophy.
Joe Sakic now has company in that exclusive group, and his name is Sidney Crosby — your unanimous World Cup most valuable player.
Quantifying Crosby’s excellence has been many a hockey writer’s task. If Sakic is the standard for breadth of team and individual wins, then know this: Sakic didn’t finish his resume until he was 35.
Crosby is 29. Here are some things he has that Hall of Famer Sakic does not: a second Hart, two Art Ross Trophies, a World Cup MVP, and an active playing career.
“I’m not going to say it’s the best hockey he’s ever played because he plays so well in the NHL all the time. But from when I’ve been playing with him, in the three [previous international] tournaments,” Ryan Getzlaf said, “I would say he’s playing unbelievable.
“Things are working for him now. He’s hot.”
When Canada trailed Game 2 1-0, it was Crosby that roughed up Team Europe’s Dennis Seidenberg and grabbed a piece of Anze Kopitar at the first-period buzzer, trying to awaken his teammates, most of whom came out dozy.
And it was Crosby that began Canada’s energetic push in the final 10 minutes of regulation and set up the third-period tying goal on the power play.
A couple of days before Crosby hoisted the Frank Gehry–designed World Cup prize, the one that has been best described as a clenched bouquet of freeze pops, Wayne Gretzky called him the world’s greatest player because of course.
“He’s a good, good, good, good player,” said Team Canada coach Mike Babcock, using one good for each distinct major international championship he and Crosby have now won. “A serial winner.”
During a June convocation address at the University of Saskatchewan, Babcock pushed to the essence of the greatest athletes he’s ever coached — the elite of the elite, like Crosby.
“Everybody talks about their skill,” Babcock said. Talent is not why they keep winning. “It’s their drive train. It’s their passion… It’s in their heart. It’s in their soul.”
Babcock this week on Crosby: “He’s that high-end competitor. He’s a good leader because he tries to do it right all the time. He demands a lot out of himself. In doing so, he demands a lot out of his teammates.”
Fourth-liner Matt Duchene tried to describe Canada’s dressing room culture, the interactions between 23 men who’ve won everything except Putin’s heart, who will take an eight-year-old 16-0 streak into PyeongChang or wherever the next World Cup lives.
“It’s a locker room full of alpha males. The cool part about it is — and I don’t know whether it’s being Canadian or the hockey culture — that we all respect each other and identify what the other brings. We don’t have one alpha over everybody else.
“We know we’re a group of elite players and elite pros who want to be The Guy all the time, but we know you can’t always be that. We check our ego at the door, and you see the result.”
They say you don’t get this far without an ego. Almost as cool as it is to witness Crosby’s repeated winning maintained over years, his resilience through scary concussions and that confounding scoring drought of early 2015-16, is watching him act a goofball with Cole Harbour pal Nathan MacKinnon in prank coffee commercials or hearing about the time this summer that he low-key rerouted his vehicle to answer the plea of a plywood sign — “Sid, please sign my jersey” — and surprise a Nova Scotian family with a knock on the door.
Babcock believes Crosby has matured, grown more comfortable with who he is.
“He’s under a microscope all the time, as you know, but he’s a joy to be around,” Babcock said. “You can be a fierce competitor in everything you do and still be a great human being.”
Runner-up Thomas Vanek said Crosby inspires him. Losing coach Ralph Krueger labeled No. 87 “the ultimate professional.” Shea Weber, embracing his captain during one final O Canada said Crosby wields the power to “impose his will or change the game at any time.”
Canada’s top line of Crosby, Bergeron and Brad Marchand (who may wish to give Sid, say, two per cent of the $49 million he was awarded this week) was easily the tourney’s most dangerous, exploding for 25 points in six games. Crosby led all World Cup players in points (10), assists (seven) and plus/minus (+9) and never took a penalty.
“It looks like he is a man on a mission out there,” Steven Stamkos said. “He has always played when called upon for his country.
“The guys in our room feel he is the best player in the world, and we’re glad he is on our team.”
“Us too,” said Canada.