Three years ago, Evgeni Malkin needed help, but he was a bit nervous to ask for it.
He wanted, badly, to raise money for families of the Lokomotiv hockey players/personnel that died in that awful airplane crash. Malkin called in some favors to help organize an auction of hockey items. Many of the items contained autographs. Some were signed by Russian players such as Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk, with others by then-Penguins teammates like Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury.
There was a lot of Sidney Crosby stuff, too.
That made sense. Malkin and Crosby were about to enter their sixth season as teammates.
Still, the collection available for bid also had items donated by players with whom Malkin is not reputably close – players such as Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks and Zach Parise, then of the Devils.
Malkin had not reached out to these players personally. He had asked Crosby to do it on his behalf.
Crosby did not hesitate, saying then he could tell how important the auction was to Malkin.
Crosby at the time was not in the best of places. He had not yet recovered from a concussion that had cost him the previous season, a concussion that would delay his return to the upcoming campaign.
Malkin, too, had missed the end of the previous season. A knee injury forced him to miss the playoffs.
That summer, Malkin trained like he never had before – and his payoff was the MVP and a second scoring title.
Malkin was magnificent that season, deserving every accolade he received because he was at his best largely with Crosby not playing.
He also was at his best off the ice.
Though he had claimed the title of “world’s best player” for the 2011-12 season, Malkin never missed a chance to remind the public – and at times teammates – that the Penguins were “Sid’s team.”
Crosby was the best player, Malkin said.
Crosby was the top center, Malkin said.
Crosby was the captain, Malkin said.
These were not grand announcements, but rather subtle reminders delivered deliberately over the course of six months.
Crosby was away, but Malkin was determined to make sure that everybody knew Crosby’s place with the Penguins would be there when he returned.
Malkin and Crosby are vastly different people from different backgrounds and, literally, different parts of our world.
They arrived at this burgh each as franchise-altering players – and it probably should have gone a lot different than it has. That is not to suggest that the Penguins should have won more championships with Crosby and Malkin together, just that there was every reason to believe – based off the precedent of sports and elite athletes’ egos – that Pittsburgh would never see Crosby and Malkin play the bulk of, let alone their entire, careers together.
They probably will. Each has signed long-term deals that contain no-trade clauses.
They will do that as friends, too.
This is something that often goes unnoticed when viewing everything through championship-or-bust lenses.
So, think about it now.
Indeed, these are athletes, paid magnificently, and they should always be judged most for what they do on the ice.
However, these athletes are human.
If two of them – especially two such as Crosby and Malkin, who were tasked at a young age with breathing life into a franchise – can find something that goes beyond the borders of a rink… well, that is something worth appreciating.
That is something we should all be so lucky to experience in our lives.
>> Sid, Geno and The Talk: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5789532-74/malkin-crosby-penguins#axzz2wcpEsCsw
>> ICYMI, the Book on the Penguins: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5789461-74/penguins-game-games#axzz2wcpEsCsw
>> And, finally…
Not a day goes by that I should not say it more, but say it 60 times on Sunday I should – and then repeat every day for the next year.
I love you, Mom. Thanks for everything.
Be EXCELLENT to each other (and your mothers),