TORONTO – The Pittsburgh Penguins are in the playoffs for the 16th consecutive season – the longest active streak in any of the five major professional team sports in North America – largely because Sidney Crosby, their enduring star center, has quietly had one of the best seasons. in the NHL at age 34.
Only seven current NHL players have been at Crosby longer than this, and six others have come into the league with him in 2005. With the exception of Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals forward who is chasing Wayne Gretzky’s career goals record, no player of Crosby’s age. Or with 17 seasons under his skates has been as dominant.
Elite athletes like Tom Brady (44), Tiger Woods (46), Serena Williams (40) and Rafael Nadal (35) have worked to stay on top of their sports, with varying degrees of success. Crosby, who has won three Stanley Cups and a boatload of individual awards in a physical brutal game that becomes faster and younger by the year, has been paying attention.
No one has watched Crosby more closely than Andy O’Brien. A strength and conditioning coach, O’Brien met Crosby at a summer hockey school when the player was 13. This summer will be his 22nd working together in Crosby’s off-season home near Halifax, Nova Scotia.
But Crosby does not rush toward summer. The Penguins opened their first-round playoff series against the Rangers on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
“It’s incredible 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 works as a high-performance consultant with the Florida Panthers.
“I don’t look at it as he peaked and now we’re just trying to slow down that decline,” O’Brien said. “He’s capable of putting together a season that is better than any season he ever had. He’s relentless at his growth as an athlete, willing to adapt and find new ways to be effective. And the best measuring stick that we have is what he’s doing on the ice. “
What Crosby did in 69 games this year was to score 31 goals (nine of them game-winners) and make 53 assists, and he continued in a sport that exacts a toll on the body. His 84 points tied him for the team lead with left wing Jake Guentzel, who is seven years younger than Crosby and played seven more games.
Crosby missed the season because of wrist surgery and Covid-19, but has been terrific since. Five hundred of his peers picked him up last week as the league’s most complete player. And he still makes it look easyGeneral Chat Chat Lounge
“You have to take care of your body a little bit more,” Crosby said. “It’s more years of wear and tear, and on top of that, you’ve got to find ways to adjust your game. There are tons of little things you can do. But taking care of your body is the biggest one. “
Crosby, selected by the Penguins first overall in 2005 and heaped with expectations to lead the NHL out of its lockout season, played its 1,000th career game in February 2021 and scored 500th goal one year later. Stanley Cups in 2009, 2016 and 2017, and numerous Hart, Conn Smythe, Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophies, two Olympic gold medals, more than 100 points in six seasons and most active playoff points of any active player, make up his career. So far.
“He never arrived at a point where he says, ‘OK, that’s good enough, I just need to stay there,'” O’Brien said. “He constantly pushes himself.”
Crosby still barges into the corners, battles with the boards and scores nifty goals – on breakaways and tic-tac-toes, from the back door and behind the net, one knees and one behind and off a goalie’s head. Almighty skating and sleight-of-hand playmaking can, in an instant, give way to manhandling opposing players. He is a strongman and an escape artist who can thunder forward, turn this way and that, burst into an open spot and find the net, which he has done 586 times, including in the playoffs, entering Tuesday.
It is remarkable considering his injury history: crashing from a high ankle sprain into the boards in 2008; devastating concussions that caused him to miss the bulk of the two seasons in 2011 and 2012; a broken jaw in 2013; another concussion in practice in 2016; core muscle surgery in 2019; A left wrist injury from 2014 that required two surgeries in the past two years.
‘His athleticism is as good as it has ever been.’
Crosby, O’Brien said, has two special gifts, the first being an ability to tolerate an unusually high workload.
“He can put in these crazy long workouts with high intensities and then go on the ice and do the exact same thing,” O’Brien said. “And then feel ready to go the next day. I’ve had other clients of mine that have tried to hang with him, and they just can’t recover in a way that is normal for him. “
O’Brien said Crosby has a “very parasympathetic nervous system” – which allows for a lower heart rate and for his body to stay in state recovery longer. “He’s very good at rest, 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 has ever been,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said Crosby had an unusual ability to operate at maximum physical exertion while skating, carrying the puck and absorbing and delivering hits, and that his low heart rate helped him cognitively.
“A lot of athletes that think the game is at a high level and are really good at processing typically tend to be slower athletes,” O’Brien said. “He is the best of both worlds.”
‘You’re always looking for inspiration.’
Crosby is a huge 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 so determined with his work ethic,” Crosby said. “He always looks like he’s working hard. Then a guy like Federer, nothing looks clumsy. He is so graceful and doesnt look like he is working quite as hard even though he is. Both have had success. You’re always looking for inspiration. “
O’Brien said tennis and ice hockey were remarkably similar. (Although don’t look for Roger Federer on ice skates any time soon.)
Footwork – lunging, planting, crossing over, pivoting and constant rotations through the trunk – can help develop motor skills for hockey. “The upper body is constantly doing something different than the lower body in both,” O’Brien said.
From 2015 to 2020, O’Brien worked with the Penguins as their director of sports science and performance. Seeing Crosby during the season allowed for nuanced adjustments to Crosby’s workload, recovery, nutrition, sleep and stress response, “his entire physiology,” O’Brien said.
Then there ‘s the hockey skills part. Crosby said he had learned to play underneath the puck more and with more patience, reining in the inherent need for forward motion until the right time. “If you’re not down the puck, especially on the defensive side, it can be a long night,” he said. “When you rely on your speed, you always feel like you’re going to get a chance. Finding that balance takes time learning. “
‘You just appreciate the years.’
Crosby’s parents, Trina and Troy, were in Pittsburgh for their 500th goal. The milestone cast is a long lens on his son’s career and what has happened near it. In recent years, both of Crosby’s grandmothers have died, as did his yellow Labrador, Sam, who was 15.
“You just appreciate the years,” Trina said. “There have been all these hockey games and all these special times, and life is happening in between. That ‘s so much of what I saw as the years go by. He’s had severe injuries, and he gets to get up every day and does something that he absolutely loves. “
Crosby has three years remaining on a $ 104.4 million contract that he signed when he was 24. For the sake of the superstition, it has always made a salary cap of $ 8.7 million per season. (He wears No. 87.)
“I just try to look at it a year at a time,” he said. “I keep trying to learn things throughout the year, but then you try to figure out where you’ve got to get better and use that summer. I feel really good, I want to really emphasize this. But yeah, you ‘re aware.
“I mean, I’m a lot closer to the end than I am to the middle. I understand that, but you try to keep that same mind-set you had all along. “