By Bry McDermott | Asst. Photo Editor
On Feb. 16, Sidney Crosby stripped Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler of the puck and sent a crisp pass over to teammate Chris Kunitz in the high slot. Kunitz’s shot made it past Jets goalie, Connor Hellebuyck, to give Crosby the primary assist, and his 1,000th career point.
The milestone was just another achievement to add to the long list of accolades Crosby has collected in his twelve NHL seasons. The man has won almost every trophy that hockey has to offer, even nabbing a regional Emmy.
But, it was perfect for the Pittsburgh captain to become the 86th NHL player to reach 1,000 points as the Penguins celebrate their 50th season.
Why? Because Crosby’s impact on Pittsburgh, the Penguins and the game of hockey stretch way beyond his on-ice statistics.
When an 18-year-old Crosby arrived in the Steel City, the Penguins were in a state of desperation. In 2004, Pittsburgh finished dead last in the NHL, sealing its third straight season of missing playoffs. Attendance dropped significantly and a lockout canceled the 2004-05 season, making the idea of relocation appear imminent.
Mario Lemieux had done everything a player and owner could do; the team needed a miracle, and one came in the form of a ping pong ball that gave the Penguins first dibs at top prospect Sidney Crosby.
While Crosby’s athletic performance brought the fans and eventually two more Stanley Cups, he also had a desire to share his passion for the game.
Crosby teamed up with the Penguins and multiple sponsors to create Sidney Crosby’s Little Penguins Learn to Play Hockey Program. Each year approximately 1,200 children ages 4-8 participate in the program at 25 local rinks, receiving a complete set of gear and hockey lessons for a reasonable, low cost.
By 2010, there were 120 percent more children age 10 and under playing hockey in Western Pennsylvania compared to 2008.
The 2016 World Cup of Hockey even saw four Pittsburgh-area natives compete for Team North America.
And the Penguins aren’t doing badly either. Since Crosby’s arrival, the Pens have recorded over 450 consecutive sellouts and their attendees were ranked as the NHL’s best fans by Forbes. Pittsburgh also held the top television market for the NHL for six seasons, only being dethroned by Buffalo last February.
When Pittsburgh received an NHL team in 1967, there was skepticism on whether or not it would succeed. Pittsburgh was a football town, there was no room for hockey.
They were right, Pittsburgh is a football town. But Sidney Crosby helped make it a hockey town, as well.