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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Sidney Crosby is a real mensch.

You wouldn't understand. [Especially if you are a cement-head fan of the Flyers, Rangers, Caps, Jackets, et cetera.] It's a Pittsburgh thing.

From Pittsburgh's other newspaper:

When it comes to giving, Sidney Crosby does as much as he can ...

By Jason Mackey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It’s hardly uncommon for Penguins president/CEO David Morehouse to escort a group of kids into the home team’s dressing room at PPG Paints Arena after a game. Not to talk or celebrate, simply to soak in the scene.

During one particular game last year, Morehouse had to step out and instructed the group to stay off to the side and not bother anyone. But when he returned, the kids weren’t keeping quiet in the corner.
They were getting quizzed by Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.

“He was asking if they played hockey, who they played for, if they won their last game,” Morehouse said. “And it’s not stuff that’s coming out because he has to. He’s genuinely interested.”

Sidney Crosby will soon reach 1,000 NHL points, but that doesn’t come close to fully painting the picture of a polite, humble and strikingly thoughtful native of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.

“People from my hometown have always made it a point to give back,” Crosby said. “I always told myself that, if I ever get to this point, I would do the same.

“I think a lot of guys have the same approach. You feel lucky to do what you do. If you can help out in other ways, and this puts you in that position, you try to do your best.”

Crosby and Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux once shared a roof, so it should come as no surprise that they share a philosophy when it comes to doing good deeds.

Both are happy to help and legitimately enjoy it, but Crosby, like Lemieux, makes it a point to carve out some one-on-one time, to ensure that whomever he’s hosting or helping knows he’s not doing it for the attention.

“It’s not about that at all for him,” said Penguins director of communications Jen Bullano.

She would certainly know.

In 2011, Crosby was out of the lineup with a concussion, and the Penguins made their annual visit to Children’s Hospital.

Crosby got along so well with one boy there and was so touched that he later asked Bullano to go back ... just the two of them, no cameras, no attention.

When Bullano and Crosby met for the follow-up visit, Crosby appeared clutching a pair of Toys “R” Us bags, filled with a Transformer toy the two had discussed.

“He literally bought every type of this toy they make,” Bullano said. “[Crosby] had never seen it before and thought it was so cool.

“There are no pictures of this. There’s no video. He was laying in the bed with the kid. They were just playing. We were there for over two hours. I got to know the mom really well because we were just sitting there.

“The kid had no idea. Didn’t expect it. They had no idea he was coming. We got there and he said, ‘Hey buddy. hope you don’t mind that I came back.’ The kid couldn’t believe it.

“[Crosby’s] crazy cool about stuff like that.”

What’s crazy is trying to recount the many times stuff like this has happened with Crosby:

• The Little Penguins Learn to Play program has been around for nine seasons, outfitting now 1,200 kids with free head-to-toe hockey equipment. Not only does Crosby serve as the face of the program — which the NHL has now adopted — but he helps fund it, too.

“There’s an awareness of what a person in his position can bring,” Penguins vice president of communications Tom McMillan said. “I think he activates that as much as anybody I’ve seen during his playing career.”

• After a recent practice, Crosby noticed a local family in the Penguins dressing room, approached them, introduced himself, learned their story and wound up giving them a signed stick.

Nobody asked Crosby to do that, and he wanted zero credit when discussing it a couple days later.

“For people who have the opportunity to come in here, people dealing with certain things, if you can brighten their day a bit or spend some time with them, it’s something that’s special for all of us,” Crosby said.

• A few years ago, through a team charity event, Crosby befriended a 4-year-old Amish boy with cancer. Crosby remarked to Bullano how much he loved talking to the boy because of how engaging the boy was and how he wasn’t consumed with technology. Crosby even tried to visit the boy but learned he had passed away.

• He learns the first and last names of the kids who attend his hockey school in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.

“Two kids came from Japan its first year,” Bullano recalled. “He was so blown away by that. He couldn’t wait to meet them.”

• Earlier this season, the Penguins welcomed Grant Chupinka, 24-year-old cancer patient, into the dressing room. Crosby chatted up Grant and his parents, Steve and Kim.

He spent his usual time — about two or three times the requirement. Gave the tour. Then found out the Chupinkas didn’t have tickets for that night’s game and decided he would pay for them to go.

“I’m sure he could just give them an autographed puck or something, but he takes his time to go out and see them and talk to them and get to know them,” Brian Dumoulin said. “It speaks volumes for him and who he is as a person.”

Spend any length of time with Crosby during his visits with those less fortunate, and a few things become obvious.

One, Crosby is really good at these. Smooth but not in a slimy way. Sweet. You know how when you’re around someone talking and they go out of their way to make eye contact with everyone around? That’s Crosby.

He’s also humble, always introducing himself like those he’s meeting don’t already know. Holding a hand is no issue. And Crosby is the rare 20-something pro athlete without kids who acts every bit like he does.

“It is not an easy situation to talk to someone with terminal cancer,” McMillan said. “A lot of people couldn’t do that. He has an amazing ability to do that and make that person feel good.”

Crosby has welcomed several Make-a-Wish kids and tries, if at all possible, to schedule such events for practice days — to maximize the time he’s able to spend.

He’s developed a special friendship with Patrick McIlvain, a soldier who nearly died when he took a bullet to the head in Afghanistan. McIlvain actually does physical therapy with one of Crosby’s sticks.

A former club hockey player at Cal U, McIlvain comes by every year, and the Penguins don’t even bother to tell Crosby. Either he already knows or immediately stops what he’s doing to come say hello.

“He’s not doing it to leave a legacy,” said Terry Kalna, Penguins vice president of sales and broadcasting. “His numbers leave the legacy. He’s just a down-to-Earth, good guy.”

Before a visit, Crosby has Bullano email him what is essentially a scouting report on who he’s going to meet. He likes to learn about them, their situation and what they’ve been through. As much information as he can ingest. Crosby never just swoops in, shake a hand and leave.

“As much as anyone has ever seen, he accepts the responsibilities of being not just a professional athlete but a star professional athlete,” McMillan said. “He views it as part of the job. Like coming to the morning skate. That’s just what you do.”

Put another way, “he owns those moments,” says Kalna.

Said Bullano, “He’s just a good human being.”

There are also the stories of humility from within the team. When Carter Rowney was called up for the first time, he was taken aback when Crosby dropped in on his workout to chat.

“Someone like him and he included me?” Rowney wondered aloud. “I didn’t know him or anything like that. It was cool to see him come over and say hi.”

Scott Wilson remembers waiting in line for preseason photos a couple of years ago when Crosby, with a jam-packed schedule, was told to jump in line.

“Sid actually turned to me and said, ‘Is it OK if I got ahead?’ ” Wilson said. “Little things like that.”
The most astounding, though, is the charity work. Some that the Penguins ask him to do, as much or more that they don’t. It would make Roberto Clemente proud as a charitable ambassador of Pittsburgh.

“We couldn’t ask for anyone better or anything more, both on and off the ice,” Morehouse said. “As a hockey player and as a leader, we literally hit the lottery with Sidney Crosby.

“He’s the person we’ve built the team around. He’s the person we built the brand around. Built a new arena because of. The off-the-ice stuff was instrumental in the growth of youth hockey in Western Pennsylvania. It’s a good illustration of our ownership’s commitment to giving back to the community.

“He exemplifies who we are to the very core.”

TheChurchMilitant: Sometimes anti-social, but always anti-fascist since 2005.

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