NASHVILLE — It was more than two hours after the triumphant Pittsburgh Penguins began celebrating on the Bridgestone Arena ice. In the Penguins’ dressing room that looked like a tornado had just blown through, Sidney Crosby was having almost a private moment with his mother, Trina.
The Penguins captain was still in his hockey pants and stockings, his skates at least replaced by sandals. Cradling hockey’s grandest prize for the third time in his career, he was wearing a Stanley Cup champions T-shirt, a ball cap bearing a similar message and a fatigued grin of complete satisfaction.
Countless beer cans and champagne bottles scattered on tables and the floor around them, with players and families milling noisily about, Crosby leaned close to his mother, looked her in the eye, exchanged a smile and said nothing at all.
Sometimes, silence is profoundly louder than words.
In a room across the hall sat the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to Crosby for the second straight year as the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It looked almost lonely, its only company four empty beer cans while a computer monitor above cycled through the logos of 30 NHL teams.
Make no mistake, Crosby is fiercely proud of having repeated as winner of the trophy. Only Philadelphia Flyers goalie Bernie Parent, in 1974 and 1975, and Penguins legend and co-owner Mario Lemieux, in 1991 and 1992, have won it consecutively since it was introduced in 1965.
But it’s the Stanley Cup — the pursuit of it, the capture of it — that fuels Crosby.
In the midst of the madness, I found a private moment to speak with the Penguins captain about late Montreal Canadiens legend Jean Béliveau. Le Gros Bill, one of the greatest players and ambassadors hockey has known, won 10 Stanley Cup titles with the Canadiens from 1956-71, his second five as captain.
Crosby’s father, Troy, adored the Canadiens earlier in his life and was selected by Montreal as a goalie in the 1984 NHL Draft (No. 240), though he never played in the NHL.
Clearly, Sidney Crosby also admires and respects Béliveau for his play on the ice and his exemplary life off it.
“There’s still a big part of Jean Béliveau in my heart,” he said, emotion in his voice.
In a doorway across the hall, the Conn Smythe behind them, Crosby and his father squeezed tight for a photo with the Stanley Cup that still was in the player’s grasp.
On the ice two hours earlier, Troy Crosby tried to find the words for a father who had just seen his son write another remarkable chapter in his life and that of the only team for which he’s played.
“It doesn’t get old. It’s awesome,” he said, watching his son try to navigate a rink packed with players, coaches, management, families and media.
“I’ve seen Sid grow as a person and a player. I’ve seen him mature into a great leader. They’re all great,” Troy Crosby said, unwilling to rank the three victories. “There’s a little gap there after the first one (in 2009) with injuries and things, so it’s nice for him to come back and win again.
“He’s a competitor and a winner, that’s all. He always was, so what we’ve seen this series isn’t anything new to me.”
Winning the Cup isn’t anything new to Crosby; he’s done it three times in his 12 NHL seasons. But across the rink, beaming, was Penguins assistant Jacques Martin, who waited 30 years in professional hockey to win his first Stanley Cup championship last season. Now he’s won two in a span of 12 months.
“This one’s definitely sweeter,” Martin said. “When you look at our team this year, the injuries we had to go through, the character, the number of players who played hurt, it was outstanding. It was a difficult road when you look at the teams that cheap nhl jerseys we had to play — Columbus, fourth overall, played really well, then Washington was the No. 1 team overall and it takes us seven games against them. Then Ottawa, who played extremely well, and then Nashville. It was a difficult path but one that was very rewarding. The guys are really happy with the result. It just shows the character of our team.”
A career hockey man hugely respected for his teaching, Martin liberally spread the credit for the Penguins’ victory.
“It’s a lot of credit to the organization,” he said. “The acquisitions we made at the [NHL Trade Deadline] were key as is the leadership we have on this team. It’s one of the best leaderships I’ve been associated with.
“Our coaching staff has great chemistry, we work really well together. We bring different dimensions and I think that (coach) Mike Sullivan has done an outstanding job managing the players, getting the best out of our star players as well as some of our young kids.”
Though Penguins goalie Matt Murray will get the lion’s share of credit for his goaltending down the playoff stretch, his shutout of the Nashville Predators in Game 6 a bold exclamation mark, Martin pointed to Marc-André Fleury as a tremendously valuable member of the Penguins.
“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to both of our goaltenders, this year it was really a team effort,” he said. “Marc-André really was a key cog in our first two series, allowing us to continue, then Matt came back in the third series and took it from there. To me it speaks highly of the people we have on this team.”
The Penguins partied deep into the wee hours, scheduling their charter back to Pittsburgh shortly before noon. The Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy would fly with them, a parade in the works, and the Cup will spend the summer traveling far and wide. Martin will again bring it to his hockey school outside of Montreal, and Crosby surely will celebrate for the second consecutive summer in his hometown of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.
But those are plans for future celebrations. For now, it was time to enjoy what they had just accomplished.
The last I saw Crosby early Monday morning, going on three hours after the Penguins successfully defended their championship, he was still in his hockey pants. And as captain, in a labyrinth of celebration, he unquestionably was custodian of and tour guide for the Stanley Cup, anyone who took it off his hands making sure they returned it.