CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. (AP) Sidney Crosby likes his summers short. Really short. Short summers for Crosby means long playoff runs for the Pittsburgh Penguins, ones that usually end with parades through the city in mid-June, the Penguins captain holding the Stanley Cup aloft.
There is no other feeling like it. So the question isn’t why would Crosby want to cut the celebration short, but why would he want to put off starting the process all over again?
So just 88 days after Pittsburgh closed out Nashville in six games to become the first team in nearly two decades to repeat as Stanley Cup champions, Crosby found himself out on the ice with assorted prospects, many of whom have little chance of making it to the NHL this season.
That didn’t stop Crosby and his familiar No. 87 jersey serving as perhaps the most decorated “welcome wagon” in professional sports. For the better part of an hour the face of the game skated with the newcomers. Later in the afternoon the more established players went through a workout of their own, well aware of the message Crosby’s appearance in the building earlier in the day sent.
“I think that’s where it starts with this team,” said forward Carl Hagelin after a voluntary workout. “Any new guy that comes up or any new guy that gets traded here, they get treated extremely well by Sid first of all and then the organization. You kind of follow his lead. There’s a good culture within this locker room and within this organization. When you get here, you’ve got to follow or you’re going to get left behind.”
Crosby makes it a point to be the first one to extend a hand, even though it can make for occasionally awkward moments, particularly for players like forward Ryan Reaves. The Penguins acquired Reaves from St. Louis over the summer looking to give their lineup a physical presence. The issue, of course, is that part of Reaves’ responsibilities during his time in St. Louis was making Crosby as uncomfortable as possible whenever the two teams met.
“I would say me and Sid’s relationship before this was rocky,” Reaves said with a laugh. “But I don’t know many people that like me on the ice though. But we’ve hung out a couple times. Really nice guy for sure.”
Reaves joined some of his new teammates in a fantasy football draft over the weekend. Reaves believes he has an eye for talent. He also has an eye for leadership. He wasn’t exactly surprised when he arrived at the rink and Crosby was already out there working with kids who may never actually play alongside him.
“That’s why he’s the best in the world,” Reaves said. “He does things like that and he makes the younger guys better and he pushes everybody to be the best. He’s the best in the world for a reason.”
One intent on guiding the Penguins to a third consecutive Cup, something that hasn’t been done since the New York Islanders ripped off four straight in the early 1980s, long before the salary cap came around, a move designed to level the playing field both financially and competitively. It didn’t look like that last spring as the Penguins raced by Columbus, outlasted Washington and Ottawa then pulled away from the upstart Predators in the final.
“Last year everyone said it was impossible to do, winning two in a row,” said Hagelin, whose empty-net goal in the final seconds of Game 6 quieted the “Smashville” crowd and clinched Pittsburgh’s fifth Cup. “Everyone is going to come after you. Now we’re used to that and we’re expecting the same thing this year. There’s going to be no surprises this year obviously.”
Doing it means enduring training camp, a six-month regular season followed by eight more weeks in the crucible of playoff hockey. The Penguins were supposed to be too tired from the Cup run in 2016 to do it again. And yet they did. As the official opening of camp looms, the lure of history is giving even established players like Hagelin a dose of adrenaline.
“Usually this time of year, you have such a short summer, maybe you’re kind of dreading it a little bit,” Hagelin said.
Not Hagelin. He missed a chunk of the regular season and the playoffs with injuries but returned in time to make an impact in the final, his legs a blur as he sped away from the Predators to flip in the goal that secured his name on the Cup for a second time.
“Focusing on coming out and getting a good start, that’s usually the tough part, to have every guy on the same page in the beginning of the year to really dig down and make sure you win those games,” he said. “That’s our goal. After that we just keep playing and keep getting better, that’s the type of team we’re trying to be.”