TORONTO — When Sidney Crosby first stepped on the international stage, Team Canada fell flat.
It was 13 years ago in the summer of 2003 and Crosby had just turned 16. He was by far the youngest player on an under-18 squad shooting for an eighth consecutive gold medal at the junior World Cup. Canada finished a distant fourth, trounced 8-2 by the hometown Czechs in the bronze-medal game.
It was by no means a preview of what was to come for Crosby on the world stage. He has won nearly everything there is to win while wearing the Maple Leaf — except the World Cup of Hockey, which he will play in for the first time later this week.
He has won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Crosby has come up golden at the world juniors, world championships and twice at the Olympics.
“I feel like every time you put on a Team Canada jersey, you’re representing your country, there’s a lot of pride that comes with that,” Crosby said Thursday at World Cup media day.
His “golden goal” at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver stands as one of the most impactful goals in the country’s history. Indeed, Crosby has met expectations on the international stage, despite the bright spotlight and increased pressure that comes with being the most hyped player of his generation.
“For Sid and a lot of these kids coming up, they have a little bit of an unfair target on their back at all times,” said Ryan Getzlaf, a frequent teammate with Canada. “People expect so much out of them on a daily basis that they forget that they’re still players and they’re still humans. It’s part of the role I guess that he’s taken on his back and he’s done a great job with it.”
Crosby was again the youngest player for Canada when he helped the team win silver at the 2004 world junior championships. A year later, on a loaded squad that included Getzlaf, Shea Weber and Patrice Bergeron, among others, the Canadians emerged with gold, trouncing Russia 6-1.
Crosby had a team-leading eight goals and 16 points in only nine games at the 2006 world championships, but the Canadians finished fourth.
Then came 2010 and that unforgettable moment at the Vancouver Olympics. Crosby’s overtime goal sunk the U.S. in the final and handed Canada, under especially potent pressure on home soil, a satisfying victory.
Crosby says he doesn’t think about the moment much, though it remains a “great memory.” While it may lack the significance of the Olympics, the World Cup is another chance at international glory on home turf for Canada.
Crosby thinks home-ice advantage can help.
“I think there’s always pressure, there’s always expectations (and) you may feel that a little bit more being at home,” said Crosby. “But I think it’s something you can definitely embrace and use to help you, too.”
If not statistically productive at the 2014 Olympics, Crosby still made a dent in Sochi. He was a mostly controlling force with the puck, scoring in the gold medal match against Sweden — a 3-0 win and second straight Olympic gold for Canada.
Crosby flew to the Czech Republic for the 2015 world championships where he helped Canada snap an eight-year gold-medal drought. Crosby mustered 11 points in nine games, including a goal and an assist in the final.
“I think anytime I go on the ice I try to work hard and try to be at my best, but I think you know the circumstances in most of these events — it’s one game, it’s not a playoff series,” Crosby said. “I think with that kind of format I think it brings out the best in everyone and that desperation level’s probably at the highest it could be.”
Next up is the World Cup, where Crosby will serve again as Team Canada’s captain and the biggest star among stars.
“He always has the spotlight on him,” said John Tavares, picked first overall at the NHL draft four years after Crosby. “He’s obviously accomplished a lot (and) he’s very deserving of all of the accolades and then obviously a lot of the attention he gets as well. And he handles it extremely well, I think that’s what’s most impressive.”