After three games where he registered just a single point, four really, if you count the 60 minutes of regulation time against the States in the final, the critics were ready to pounce on Sidney Crosby.
Too young. Not as good as Ovechkin. Will never be the next Gretzky.
The native of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia came into the Olympic tournament, for better or worse, as the face of Canadian hockey. With an NHL co-leading 42 goals already this year and on the heels of a Stanley Cup championship last spring (not to mention a decade's worth of hype), pre-tournament expectations were almost out of control. Sid was named an assistant captain and his line was pencilled in as the number one unit. He was saddled with the label of the man who would lead Canada to Gold and that saddle weighed about a billion pounds.
Crosby had been good, but not great the entire tournament. He answered the bell in the shootout against Switzerland and used his speed and strength (does anyone use his body better in the corners?) to create chances in every game but never could get comfortable with any of his wingers, never had the breakout performance everyone was waiting for.
Then in overtime, in front of 20,000 delirious fans at Canada Hockey Place and a nation more watching on television, Crosby turned a one-on-four rush into a Gold medal winning goal for Canada.
And the legend grew.
Crosby has now won Olympic Gold and the Stanley Cup in the last two years. The year before that he lost in the Cup finals. He led Rimouski to the Memorial Cup final during his last year of junior hockey and also won a World Junior Championship.
Sid might not reach the individual point totals that were projected when he went from junior phenom to a 100 point NHL player as an 18 year-old and then followed that up with an astounding 120 points in his second year, but he sure does win. A lot.
The Gretzky comparisons seemed reasonable those first couple of years and for all we knew 150 point seasons were right around the corner. In hindsight, Crosby was actually almost a finished product when he arrived in the NHL. His game hasn't progressed as much as it has matured. Sure he's found small areas to focus on (face-offs, shot release), ways to make his overall game better, but he's probably not as offensively talented as Ovie or Malkin, and definitely not destined to erase Gretzky from the record book.
Crosby hasn't dominated the scoring races like he was supposed to but it's time to focus on what he is rather than what he isn't. He's 22 years-old and already has one of the most illustrious hockey resumes in history. All along the way he's scored, made plays and led every one of his teams through playoff battles and out the other side.
You can have Ovechkin and the highlight reels. I'll take Crosby and the championships.