One of the things I enjoy doing is reading books about sports figures. Their stories are always interesting and different. I received a few sports books as Christmas gifts this year. My favorite was “The Rookie”, a book by Shawna Richer, chronicling the first exciting season Crosby spent in the NHL.
I will admit to being positively green with envy that I didn’t come up with this great idea, but when I got over that, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Shawna Richer is a national correspondent and Atlantic Canada bureau chief of the Globe and Mail, based in Halifax. She joined Canada’s national newspaper in 1997 as a sportswriter in Toronto and Montreal, where she covered professional football, hockey, baseball and basketball.
She refers to her idea to cover Crosby’s rookie season as “singularly brilliant” and she is right. There were so many stories within the story.
With the NHL coming back after the long lockout, the lottery to determine who would win Crosby was exciting. He would now be playing with Mario Lemieux, not to mention living with him and his family. All the promise Crosby showed in juniors was about to be put on display for the world to see. The one Gretzky called “The Next One” was about to have his day.
Richer convinced her bosses that this was a story worth doing. She moved to Pittsburgh for the season, and covered the team and Crosby as a beat reporter, even traveling to the away games. After the season ended, she was able to compile the experiences into this book. Her tale is light on statistics, thank goodness, but they can all be found in the back of the book for those who are interested.
Not long into the season, part of Crosby’s story unraveled as Lemieux was forced to retire again with a heart ailment. The Canadian hockey team ignored Crosby and the Penguins’ season was falling short of anything near the playoff rounds.
Richer has a way of presenting the team, the players, their comments, and the reactions of fans in such a way that the reader feels a part of it all. Crosby finished the season with 102 points, but never let on to opponents that he played the last several games with a partially separated shoulder. The team said he had the mysterious (and inaccurate) “lower body injury” to keep opponents from going after the shoulder.
Richer presents Crosby, warts and all, in her tale of the 2005-06 season. She watches him mature in hockey and in life. She views the reaction in Montreal when the reporters realize Crosby learned French in order to do interviews without an interpreter. She is there to witness his unwavering desire to do every, single media request, sign as many autographs as possible, and represent himself, the Penguins and the NHL in the best light possible.
His many young teammates are learning too and there is reference to some “problem” with veteran leader, Mark Recchi, along the way. The best passages of the book occur when she is describing Crosby in the dressing room, padding around in stocking feet, being a kid with a high-pitched giggle and not as guarded as he usually is with the media. She had a way of drawing him out and getting him to talk a little more freely, maybe because they are both from Nova Scotia. Crosby is well-schooled in media training and rarely says anything that could be taken as controversial. He says all the right things – which is generally a pretty boring interview. She balances him and that lets us see that he is part kid, part adult, trying to find the best path but never, ever deterred from his strict, self-imposed goals. The other overriding concept that comes through is his sheer competitiveness.
How cool must it have been writing this book? And how cool will it be many years from now to be able to pull it off the shelf and remember every moment? Maybe on the day Crosby wins his first Stanley Cup or enters the Hall of Fame?
Gosh, I’m turning green again!