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Thursday, 6 May 2010

TBC: The Rookie

It's kind of funny to be reviewing this book now, but I feel that the information contained within its covers makes a lot more sense today than it may have a few years ago. Today, Teebz's Book Club is proud to review The Rookie, written by Shawna Richer and published by McClelland & Stewart. Shawna Richer, a sportswriter for the Globe and Mail in Canada, decided that she would like to follow around the NHL's most-hyped freshman in some time during his first year in the spotlight in the NHL as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, chronicling his season as he embarked on an NHL career. What she found in her year-long tailing of Sidney Crosby is that the young man is remarkable in terms of the time he gives to fans, and how dedicated to and passionate about hockey he is.

Shawna Richer was the Globe and Mail's Atlantic bureau chief before embarking on her year-long crusade following Pittsburgh's new star. She was based in Halifax where she got to see and hear a lot about Sidney Crosby's exploits as he made his way towards the NHL. Richer worked as editor-in-chief for the Telegraph-Journal in New Brunswick, but is now writing for the Globe and Mail once again.

Miss Richer leaves no stone unturned in her examination of Crosby's rookie season in the NHL. She documents how the Penguins were awarded the first pick in the NHL Draft Lottery coming out of the 2005 Lockout, and how lightning would strike again as the Penguins - in dire financial straits - found another dynamic, young player to pull them out of the fire when they needed it most. Much like his idol and new owner, Mario Lemieux saved the Penguins from financial despair when he was drafted, and now Crosby would be suiting up in the same dressing room as his favorite player.

It was rather interesting to hear Crosby's perspective on his first season in the NHL. The Penguins had a rather poor season in the win-loss column, but there were definitely highlights that Miss Richer identified. From Crosby's phenomenal play that allowed him to join the 100-point club as an 18 year-old to his competition with Washington's Alexander Ovechkin for the Calder Trophy to the development of the younger Penguins to the adversity his team went through, Crosby's views on the Pittsburgh Penguins show an extraordinary young man through Miss Richer's recordings.

There was a lot of adversity in his first year. A couple of injuries slowed Crosby down. A Olympic team roster spot was put on hold when Wayne Gretzky and his management team decided to leave the youngster at home. But the biggest surprises came in January 2006. On January 18, a frustrated Zigmund Palffy - one of Pittsburgh's prized free agent signings - walking into GM Craig Patrick's office and asked a simple question: "Can we talk?"

Patrick didn't have to be clairvoyant to see what was coming. Palffy stated that he was retiring due to a shoulder injury that simply hadn't felt right all season long. Due to his personal reasons, Patrick was hardly in a position to convince the winger to stay on, and Palffy left mid-season despite playing on a line with Crosby.

The second biggest surprise came just six days later on January 24. The man who had saved the Pittsburgh Penguins on a number of occasions, both on and off the ice, had found himself as an old man in a young man's game. Mario Lemieux, standing before Pittsburgh media and his teammates, announced he was retiring from the game of hockey at the age of forty. Crosby's landlord, idol, captain, and friend was leaving the game just as Crosby was beginning. However, in Lemieux's eyes, the torch had been passed to Crosby as the rookie led the Penguins in scoring.

It's interesting to see how Crosby kept all of these events from becoming much larger than some people were making them. Through all of the disappointment, he was realistic and practical about the events unfolding around him. On not being selected for the 2006 Canadian Olympic team:

"It would have been nice, definitely. But there are so many good players in Canada, and being so young, I don't think I expected to be picked. I prepared myself. I tried to have the best first half possible and give myself an opportunity, and I was right in the mix. I'm not there, but at least I can say I gave it a good shot. Like with World Juniors, when you play so much hockey you always know there's other teams to play for. But if you focus on playing for your own team, everything else takes care of itself. I just tried to worry about helping the team here. If I can contribute and make things happen here, then that's the best way I can make a difference."
That's a pretty good sign that Crosby had been prepared for moments like this for a long time. And it's not just the maturity he shows, but the way he handles himself and speaks glowingly about others that shows he might be one of the most mature eighteen year-olds to ever play in the NHL.

The Rookie is a very interesting look at the Penguins' season and how Crosby worked through his first professional season. Shawna Richer wrote the book in a chronological manner, but her insight into Crosby's past allows for a number of excellent side stories to be told. The Rookie is probably not the best story for non-Penguins fans, but it is certainly a story worth reading by hockey fans, and I encourage everyone to put aside any "Crosby bias" to give this book a shot. I enjoyed reading it, and I feel it is worthy of the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval for its honest look at Crosby's first season in the NHL. Richer does editorialize occasionally, but she's on the mark with most of her comments in reflection.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Robert Ullman said...

Teebz, I actually just picked this up myself a couple weeks back...only about halfway through (and I must admit, I've been skipping around), but I'm pretty impressed so far. As a Pens fan, it really captures the feeling of excitement at the draft lottery result and pre-season assemblage of talent, as well as the disappointment when the season goes almost immediately and comically downhill for the team.

Robert Ullman said...

OH! And I should add, as I just realized it this morning...south of the 49th parallel, the book is called "The Kid", not "The Rookie"...just to spare you some consternation when you're asking for it at Borders or looking it up on Amazon!