How does a die-hard Pittsburgh sports fan living in Los Angeles experience games from 2,500 miles away? For actor Joe Manganiello, it’s not slipping on a hat and finding a spot in a crowded bar like others in his industry.
“You get the big TV, the big couch, and you just get your friends to come over in the morning for Steeler games and sometimes in the evening for the hockey games,” Manganiello told NBC Sports last week.
Manganiello’s love of hockey and the Penguins led him to narrate the team’s 50th anniversary documentary and hosting duties at the 2017 NHL Awards show. His latest project focuses on Sidney Crosby‘s 2005-06 rookie season that helped change the course of the franchise.
Sidney Crosby: The Rookie Year is an audio documentary from Audible.com that premieres Wednesday and chronicles the 2005-06 Penguins’ season, an important one for Crosby and the team. Crosby, his parents, and former teammates like Mario Lemieux, Colby Armstrong, Ryan Whitney, and Mark Recchi are among those who detail what life was like that year, which started with promise and ended with a 100-point campaign for the 18-year-old center.
We spoke to Manganiello last week about what he learned about Crosby during the making of the project, how the Penguins’ captain handled the pressure to succeed, and more.
Q. In this age of social media, we know so much about celebrities and athletes. Yet, Crosby has remained pretty private. Was there anything you learned doing this project that you didn’t know beforehand?
MANGANIELLO: “There’s so much that is an insider’s look into his life during that year — whether that’s Lemieux talking about Sid living with him, which I knew that Sid lived with Lemieux and his family, but I had never had a conversation with Mario about. And with this documentary there’s a real sense of that. Hearing his parents remembering what it was like on the night of the draft when Sid went No. 1, there’s a real insider’s feel to this where you’re like a fly on the wall. You’re privy to things that you shouldn’t be privy to. Even when we get into Sid in the NHL as an 18-year-old hanging out with these older guys on the road. We get into that, too.
“I think there’s a lot to be discovered. There are these big monumental events that we all know about: Sid getting his teeth knocked out in Philly, the night of the draft, we know about these big events but what I didn’t know was what went on inside.”
Q. Did it surprise you that Sid’s rookie season, a very important one with the future of the franchise in question, saw an 18-year-old kid deal with the enormous pressure and expectations and succeed?
MANGANIELLO: “It helps when, for me, being in entertainment and understanding what happens to child actors who have that fame or money or pressure from their parents to perform and it very rarely goes well. So to be someone with that pressure, but handle it like a role model, it really does speak to not only Sid but I think it speaks to his level of discipline. The difference between a child actor and someone like a Sid is that Sid had that type of discipline. He had sports and athletics, which is a really healthy outlet. The other trick of it is you’re coming into a league at 18 years old and, as we all know, sometimes young athletes get in trouble, and he never did. And that’s what’s really incredible. Maybe that’s his love of hockey, but I kind of want to ask him the next time I see him what, on an internal level, that’s all about.”
Q. Episode 1 hits on the 2005 NHL Draft and the burden of the franchise being placed on him. The arena situation was in flux, there was the possibility the franchise could move. It’s kind of remarkable to think in an alternate universe the last 17 years could have gone a totally different way if Sid didn’t handle the pressure and was a bust. You could have been walking around LA wearing a Kansas City Penguins hat.
MANGANIELLO: “Yeah, that’s right. They very well most likely would have moved away had it not been for Sid. Sid came in at a time when the team was about to file for bankruptcy [and] leave. Lemieux kept them from leaving, but that probably doesn’t work out unless we get Sid. All of sudden attendance goes up, we can’t wait to see this kid play, he’s just as good as everyone thought he was. If he wasn’t, people wouldn’t have gone. … His rookie season, this doesn’t end in a championship, we all know that. But what it ends in is a 100-plus point season for a rookie and you realize how much went into gaining that achievement. I think that sets the tone when you know that then you know he wound up OK and this is how, this is why. And he did save the franchise.”
Q. Colby Armstrong told a story about sitting next to Sid on the bus after the game and taking a peek as Crosby was looking on his flip phone and seeing a congratulatory text from Lemieux. You’ve celebrated the Stanley Cup with them and know some of the guys. Has Joe Manganiello ever received a congratulatory text from No. 66?
MANGANIELLO: “Mario and I are both active with Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital, so that’s actually how I got to meet Mario in the first place. But no congratulatory texts from Mario … yet. That’s not to say it couldn’t happen or wouldn’t happen. But Sid was my first text after I found out I was getting this job. Sid and I definitely have some epic text threads. … I have to find something special that I’m doing [to get a text from Mario]. Maybe an awards show and I’m up for an award or something. Text me at the Emmys or something like that.”
Q. Finally, what’s your favorite Sidney Crosby memory as a Penguins fans?
MANGANIELLO: “You don’t want to admit it as an American but I was so happy for Sid at the  Olympics. As far as on the ice that’s probably be it, even though I shouldn’t it. But you’re just so proud, especially after the snubbing by [Wayne] Gretzky previously [during 2006 Canada Olympic roster selection], you felt happy for him. I wouldn’t call it comeuppence but he got what was coming to him and that was exciting.
“I hosted the  NHL Awards, which was also the night of the expansion draft for the Golden Knights. Sid and I were just hanging out backstage looking at all the players that were drafted and commenting on them. It was really fun, it was a fun night.”
Sidney Crosby: The Rookie Year is part of the Plus Catalogue membership