Many fans pan what they consider to be the spoiled, temperamental attitude of Penguins star Sidney Crosby, but it is little different from those of most superstars of yore.

Crosby no choirboy.

NBC Sports hockey analyst Mike Milbury’s comments earlier this week to a Philadelphia radio station regarding Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby landed the colorful former GM in some hot water, resulting in an apology from Milbury to the Penguins organization, if not directly to Crosby himself.

Milbury was talking about Crosby’s role sparking a late-game melee between the Flyers and Penguins last Sunday:

Little goody two shoes (Crosby) goes into the corner and gives a shot to [Braydon] Schenn. Schenn was late to the party, he should have turned around and drilled him right away, but I guess better late than never,” said Milbury, who is an analyst on CBC and NBC.

“So you know, Crosby gets cross-checked, big whoop. He said after he came back from his 35th concussion, ‘I’m not going to do this anymore, I’m not going to get into this scrums, I’m going to stay away from that stuff.’ He couldn’t help himself because there’s a little punk in Crosby.

“He’s not the perfect gentleman. He’s not the sweet kid you see in interviews with his hat pulled down over his eyes. I’d say screw him, hit him.” 

That prompted considerable outrage from Penguins pundits, bloggers and fans, as well as Crosby supporters around the league.

Yahoo! Sports’ “Puck Daddy” Greg Wyshynski, meanwhile, wondered what game Milbury has been watching the past seven years, since it’s been apparent to anyone with eyes Crosby is far from being a “little goody two shoes”.

Crosby’s always had these shades of gray. He’s never been the Golden Boy. It’s one of the reasons he’s the NHL’s most popular and divisive player: Awe-inspiring talent mixed with an attitude and behavior that’ll agitate you with the fury of 1,000 Esa Tikkanens.”

He’s the kind of player Milbury will love when he realizes he’s raging against a reputation Crosby’s hasn’t had since he was a rookie.”

Crosby established that long ago, during his NHL debut season, when he became the first NHL rookie to reach 100 points and 100 PIMs.

Milbury, while wrong to make light of Crosby’s concussion history, is nevertheless correct – belatedly so – when he said Crosby isn’t a squeaky clean player. As Wyshynski noted, it’s just weird Milbury’s only arriving at that conclusion now. Talk about “late to the party”.

The darker side of Crosby’s on-ice personality has drawn criticism from some pundits, bloggers and fans over the years, from his complaining to officials, to his jumping an unprepared Brett McLean during a face-off, to his nut-shotting Boris Valabik.

Many of the worst infractions occurred earlier in Crosby’s career, and it can be argued he’s put his worst tactics behind him as he’s matured. Regardless, there’s no denying he still plays with a gritty edge which infuriates his critics.

Crosby is no “goody two shoes”. But then again, most superstars of his ilk throughout hockey history never were, with some committing infractions more grievous than anything “Sid the Kid” has done on his worst day.

Montreal Canadiens legend Maurice “Rocket” Richard was as renowned back in the day for his fiery temper as much as for his goal-scoring ability.

Richard finally snapped in March 1955 when, during a brawl against the Boston Bruins, he struck Bruins forward Hal Laycoe three times with three different sticks (!), then twice punched the linesman who was trying to restrain him.

For that, Richard was suspended for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs, sparking the infamous “Richard Riot” in downtown Montreal.

“Mr. Hockey”, Gordie Howe, receives a considerable amount of fawning press nowadays over the effectiveness of his tactic of sneakily elbowing opponents in the face and head in an effort to both intimidate them, and prevent them from trying to knock him off the puck.

ESPN  did a memorably funny promo  over a decade ago,with Howe showing then-ESPN anchor Keith Olbermann what he’d do to get respect from opponents. It was done for laughs, but make no mistake, Howe did those things for real during his long, stellar career, and those on the receiving end weren’t laughing.

Howe also wasn’t shy about laying on the lumber, or shoving an official if he didn’t agree with a call.

If a modern player employed such tactics nowadays, he’d be pilloried for deliberately trying to injure opponents and being disrespectful toward officials.

Boston’s beloved “Number 4”, Bobby Orr, was never a dirty player, nor did he go out of his way to hurt opponents, but when angered would go almost berserk attacking and beating any player who dared cross him. Orr also wasn’t above giving officials a piece of his mind when calls didn’t go his way.

“The Great One”, Wayne Gretzky, was frequently criticized by opposing fans during his glory years in Edmonton for whining to officials over questionable calls.

Mario “Le Magnifique” Lemieux was often taunted and called out by fans for not only complaining to officials, but for trying to draw penalties by diving, a tactic which in today’s NHL would result in penalties, fines or suspension.

Flyers fans in particular absolutely despise Crosby, which is part of what makes the rivalry between the two teams so enjoyable. They have every right to taunt Crosby, but they also shouldn’t forget the greatest Flyer of all time, former team captain Bobby Clarke, was considered in his day one of the dirtiest players in the game.

Some of the very tactics Flyers fans deride Crosby for became part of Clarke’s legend, something most chuckle about or gloss over when remembering what a truly great player he was.

Crosby’s antics are no different than his predecessors. If anything, they’re mild compared to those of some of hockey’s past greats. He’s not a “golden boy” beyond reproach, but neither is he “a punk”.

Sure, his occasional antics can be said to detract from his superior talent, but perhaps if so many of his lesser-talented opponents weren’t trying to take liberties, perhaps he wouldn’t feel the need to get in his own digs.

As Crosby matures, it’s likely that chip on his shoulder will wear down, just as it did for many stars before him.

Crosby’s one of those great players whose drive to succeed also harbors a bit of a mean streak, which occasionally bubbles to the surface, but he’s not a headhunter, nor does he go out of his way to deliberately injure an opponent.

Crosby’s no “Mr Nice Guy”, but he’s never pretended, or tried to be, that kind of player. He’s a supremely gifted superstar with a bit of a edge. Over time, especially after he’s retired (which hopefully won’t be anytime soon) and his greatness finally and fully acknowledged by fan and foe alike, that edgy part of his game will be forgiven, ignored or forgotten. Just like his predecessors.

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2 Responses to Crosby No “Goody-Two-Shoes”.

  1. Jon says:

    Lyle,

    I’m sure most Crosby detractors, if being fair, will acknowledge that he is not doing anything that hasn’t already been done. But what your article fails to address the biggest issue most have with his antics: regardless of whether Crosby views himself as a “golden boy,” the NHL and its officiating crews view do. As a fan of a rival club (the Flyers, so yes, I’m biased, but I truly am trying to view this as any non-Penguins/Crosby fan), when watching games against the Penguins, I get a real feeling that he is permitted to get away with much more than other players. Stick-work, plays after the whistle, late hits, etc. seem to go unnoticed. I will acknowledge that its a fast game, and referees miss infractions all the time, without any “conspiratorial” motivations. However, some of Crosby’s infractions are just so blatant sometimes, one begins to wonder how they could be missed so frequently for one player. With that said, I feel that Malkin gets some of the same type of preferential treatment. Sure, he is penalized more frequently, but those are typically limited to obstruction type infractions. I can specifically recall him attempting to punch Claude Giroux in the head at center ice in an earlier game this season. Fortunately, he missed, but with the crack-down on head-shots the league is allegedly making, you would think that it would have warranted at least a minor penalty during the game, and at the very least a call afterwards from Brendan Shannahan about his conduct (perhaps there was, but I haven’t read anything about that happening).

    We all understand that regardless of the sport, you need recognizable figures to help sell the game and I think most would agree that both Crosby and Malkin have done enough with their play to warrant being “faces of the NHL.” I personally respect the unique talents that each bring to the game. I dislike them in the typical fashion that any fan of a rival club would, because they’re really good. But beyond that, I dislike them for the preferential treatment it seems they receive. Sunday’s game against Philly is a perfect example. Neither player did anything that was “out of bounds” or something that doesn’t happen regularly in the NHL or any highly competitive hockey league. However, the fans of the other teams want to feel like Crosby and Malkin aren’t above the repercussions of their actions.

  2. JJB says:

    Agree with everything you say Lyle, disagree with ya Jon. I am not a Crosby or a Penguins fan but I don’t believe that he gets some sort of pass … that is the same argument I hear from everyone about the Bruins and getting some sort of pass. When a fan is paying attention looking for infractions on one player on the TV screen or live they are going to notice a lot more.

    Take any team and just watch one play on the ice for three or four games and you will realize that a lot of things are missed in hockey because the refs don’t have eyes everywhere. Yes when there are big huge things (players on the bench playing the puck) then we have a right to be in arms. But a lot of the little things that are complained about these days detract from the game.

    Philly itself is a team that has built its LEGEND on being big, physical, and dirty. Do they play that way so much as they did in the past, I would argue no, but it is apart of the game. I like that Crosby rocks an edge to his game and I don’t think I’d come close to saying he nor any talent in the league gets some sort of special treatment.

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