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Best local athlete

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

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Photo: Heather Mull

Skating on the ice during a recent practice at Mellon Arena, Sidney Crosby charged the net with all the force of a guy trying to break a 2-2 tie in overtime against the Ottawa Senators. This was only practice, but you just knew that in a matter of seconds, "Sid the Kid" was going to lay that puck into the net.

He quickly swung behind the goal, emerged on the other side and pushed the puck, smoothly but forcefully, through what appeared to be a 2-millimeter space between the goalie's glove and the left pipe. From the stands, it looked like a great shot -- and it must have been, given the high-pitched wows from his teammates.

"Woo-hooo," Crosby chortled as he rocked back on one skate and pumped his fist.

Sidney Crosby loves hockey, and Pittsburghers love Sidney Crosby. Despite stiff competition from the likes of Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward, City Paper's readers named Crosby their favorite local athlete.

It's support that Crosby says he's deeply grateful for.

"I'm very appreciative of the fans of this city," Crosby said after that Nov. 28 practice. "I came here when I was 18 years old. I didn't know anything about the city and I didn't know one person here, and the fans have been great to me since I got here."

Crosby arrived in 2005, when the Penguins drafted the highly touted rookie after being plagued by a run of sub-par seasons. He made an impact immediately, playing alongside Mario Lemieux in his first season and being named team captain in his second. All the while, Crosby's popularity kept growing.

Crosby says he enjoys the city, but is still adjusting to his new home -- especially the unique navigational challenges the city presents.

"It's not the easiest town to get around," Crosby says. "Plus, I'm not the best directionally.

"I know the places I need to go and I know how to get there, but I don't go too many new places. A lot of the time I stay home."

Such travails notwithstanding, Crosby -- who grew up in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia -- says, "The thing I like the most about this city is the people. I compare the people in Pittsburgh to the people in my own hometown.

"When I have family and friends come in from out of town, they always remark about how nice and friendly the people are. I think that says a lot."

While it's true that Crosby is a nice, likable young man, it's not the only thing that endears him to Penguins fans. He shares their desire for winning. He has already set numerous franchise and NHL records and won several awards, including the Lester B. Pearson award, given to the league's outstanding player as chosen by the players themselves. Crosby also became the youngest player to win the NHL's scoring title.

And he says he's not finished.

"I want this team to win the Stanley Cup," Crosby says. "Of course, there are 29 other teams in the NHL trying to do the same thing. It's not an easy feat, but that's what we're here for. We've got a great core group and we're still learning, still gaining experience, but that's what we want to do."

Crosby also has another goal in mind. In this age of big money in sports, players don't spend their whole career in one city very often. But Lemieux did it, and Crosby hopes to follow his example.

"It's a huge honor for any guy to spend his entire career with one team," Crosby says. "I think staying in one place the entire time says a lot about a player, the team and the city. I definitely hope it works out that way."

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