TORONTO – The Pittsburgh Penguins are in the playoffs for a 16th consecutive season – the longest active streak of any team in five major professional team sports in North America – largely because Sidney Crosby, their permanent star center, has quietly had one of the best seasons ever. One was in the NHL at the age of 34.
Only seven current NHL players have been around longer than Crosby, and another six joined the league with him in 2005. With the exception of Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals forward who is chasing the record for career goals of Wayne Gretzky, no player of Crosby’s age has been as dominant with 17 seasons under or under his skates.
Elite athletes such as Tom Brady (44), Tiger Woods (46), Serena Williams (40) and Rafael Nadal (35) have worked to stay on top of their game with varying degrees of success. Crosby, who has won three Stanley Cups and piled on individual rewards in a physically brutal sport that gets quicker and shorter by the year, is paying attention.
No one has seen Crosby more closely than Andy O’Brien. A strength and conditioning coach, O’Brien met Crosby at summer hockey school when the player was 13 years old. This summer will be his 22nd assignment at Crosby’s off-season home near Halifax, Nova Scotia.
But Crosby doesn’t run for summer. The Penguins made their first-round playoff series debut against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.
“It’s unbelievable that he’s still one of the top players in the league at his age,” said O’Brien, who is based in Toronto and also serves as a high performance consultant with the Florida Panthers.
“I don’t see it because that’s peaking and now we’re trying to slow that decline,” O’Brien said. “He has been able to put together a season that is better than any season he has ever had. He is relentless on his development as an athlete, ready to adapt and find new ways to be effective. And the best measuring stick we have is what he’s doing on the ice.”
What Crosby did in 69 games this year was 31 goals (nine of them game-winners) and 53 assists, and he remained in a game that took a toll on the body. His 84 points tied him for the team lead with left wing Jake Guenzel, who is seven years younger than Crosby and played seven more games.
Crosby missed the start of the season due to wrist surgery and Covid-19, but it has been great since then. His five hundred teammates picked him last week as the most complete player in the league. and he still looks easy,
“You have to take care of your body a little bit more,” Crosby said. “It’s more of a year of wear and tear, and on top of that, you have to find ways to adjust your game. There are so many little things you can do. But taking care of your body is the biggest.”
Crosby, first selected in 2005 by the Penguins and with hopes of taking the NHL out of its lockout season, played his 1,000th career game in February 2021 and scored 500th goal One year later. The Stanley Cup in 2009, 2016 and 2017, and several Hart, Conn Smith, Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophies, two Olympic gold medals, more than 100 points in six seasons and the most playoff points of any active player, made his career Huh. Until now.
“He never got to the point where he says, ‘Okay, that’s good enough, I just need to be there,'” O’Brien said. “He constantly pushes himself.”
Crosby still sneaks into corners, battles with boards and scores nifty goals – on breakaways and tic-tac-toe, through the back door and behind the net, on one knee and behind him and over the goalkeeper’s head. Almighty skating and sleight-of-hand playmaking can, in an instant, give way to scuffles from opposing players. He’s a strong man and an escape artist who can thunder forward, turn that way and he can burst into an open space and find the net, which he did 586 times, including in the playoffs, entering Tuesday Was.
This is notable given his injury history: a high ankle sprain from hitting the board in 2008; devastating setbacks that caused him to miss most of the two seasons in 2011 and 2012; a broken jaw in 2013; Another concussion in practice in 2016; Core Muscle Surgery in 2019; Left wrist injury from 2014 that required two surgeries in the past two years.
‘His athleticism is as good as it was before.’
Crosby, O’Brien said, has two special gifts, the first being the ability to endure unusually high workloads.
“He can put in these crazy long workouts with a high intensity and then go on the ice and do the same thing,” O’Brien said. “And then feel ready to go the next day. I’ve had other clients of mine who’ve tried to hang out with her, and they just can’t recover in the way that’s normal for her.
O’Brien said that Crosby has a “highly parasympathetic nervous system”—which allows for a lower heart rate and a longer state of recovery for his body. “He’s great at relaxing, so when he’s not training, his nervous system is in a really calm state.”
Crosby, who has prioritized strength throughout his career, turns 35 in August. “His overall athleticism — speed, agility, balance — is as good as it ever was,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said that Crosby had an unusual ability to perform maximum physical exertion while skating, carrying and absorbing pucks and delivering hits, and that his low heart rate helped him cognitively.
“A lot of athletes who think of the game at a high level and are really good at processing are usually slow athletes,” O’Brien said. “He has the best of both worlds.”
‘You are always looking for inspiration.’
Crosby is a big fan of other sports like football, golf and especially tennis – playing and watching – and he studies how aging superstars endure.
“You look at Nadal, he’s just a horse and he’s determined to do his job,” Crosby said. “He always looks like he’s working hard. Then a guy like Federer, nothing seems clumsy. He’s pretty and doesn’t look like he’s working hard enough, even if he is. Both have success You are always looking for inspiration.”
O’Brien said that tennis and ice hockey are remarkably similar. (See Roger Federer on ice skates.)
Footwork — lunges, plantings, crossing overs, pivoting and continuous twisting through the trunk — can help develop motor skills for hockey. “The upper body is constantly doing something different from the lower body in both,” O’Brien said.
From 2015 to 2020, O’Brien worked with Penguin as their director of sports science and performance. Seeing Crosby during the season allowed for subtle adjustments to Crosby’s workload, recovery, nutrition, sleep and stress response, “his whole physiology,” O’Brien said.
Then there’s the hockey skill part. Crosby said he has learned to play under the puck, and with more patience, rein in his inherent need for forward momentum until just the right moment. “If you’re not down to the puck, especially on the defensive side, it can be a long night,” he said. “When you trust your pace, you always feel like you are going to have a chance. It takes time to learn to find that balance.”
‘You just appreciate the years.’
Crosby’s parents, Trina and Troy, were in Pittsburgh for his 500th goal. The milestone cast a long lens on his son’s career and what happened to it. In recent years, both of Crosby’s grandmothers have died, as has his yellow Labrador Sam, who was 15 years old.
“You just appreciate the years,” said Trina. “All these hockey games and all these have been special times, and life is happening in between. This is what I saw as the years went by. He’s got a lot of injuries, and gets up every day and does something he really enjoys. ,
Crosby has three years remaining on the $104.4 million contract he signed when he was 24. As for Superstition, it has always hit a salary cap of $8.7 million per season. (He wears the number 87 for his date of birth, August 7, 1987.)
“I try to watch it a year at a time,” he said. “I keep trying to learn things all year long, but then you try to figure out where you need to be better and use the summer to do that. I feel really good, I really I want to emphasize it. But yes, you know.
“I mean, I’m much closer to the end than I’m in the middle. I understand it, but you try to maintain the same mindset that you’ve always had.”