As Sidney Crosby nears 1,000-point mark, moments with teammates resonate more than stats

"I'm going to miss the competition and competing No. 1," said Crosby when asked what he'll miss when his career ends. "But then it would be just hanging out with the guys. All the laughs and stories. Everything that comes along with playing on a team." Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire

PITTSBURGH -- Even before Sidney Crosby pressed play on the video former roommate Colby Armstrong had sent along, Crosby had a sense of what it would show.

The Pittsburgh Penguins center wasn't disappointed.

The video was of Armstrong making an impossible shot, throwing an empty water bottle into a hotel-room garbage can.

"Yeah, I knew exactly what was coming," Crosby said with a laugh. "He used to call his shot when we were roommates on the road. He'd try to make some crazy shot. We'd find out where the garbage can was and then we'd try to make the longest, hardest shot. As soon as the text came through, I was like, 'This one's going to be unbelievable.' And it was. He's doing the commentating on it too, which makes it even better."

For Crosby, who is on the verge of reaching the 1,000 career-point milestone, it was a poignant reminder of a journey more than a decade in the making.

Armstrong remembers that sometimes the two young NHLers would take turns trying to make their shots, wildly celebrating the ones that went in -- and hoping that they would be a harbinger of good fortune in their team's next real game.

The two became roommates halfway through Crosby's first NHL season, 2005-06, and remained so until Armstrong was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers, in 2008.

"I like my routine, but he was a good roommate," Crosby said. "There aren't too many guys who could ... sleep through his snoring. He's one of the worst I've ever heard."

Crosby has 997 career points and looks to become the 86th player in NHL history to reach 1,000 career points. The Penguins play at home against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday.

Dressed in shorts and a T-shirt and sitting barefoot on a couch between the players' lounge and the locker room at PPG Paints Arena on Monday afternoon, Crosby laughed easily at memories and spoke candidly about how he imagines his future. And it seemed fitting to discuss it all in that location, for if there's a setting in which to try to put those nearly 1,000 points accumulated over just 752 games in perspective, this was the place to do it -- in Crosby's office, as it were.

It's not just members of the media who find that this moment lends itself to reflection. Crosby has always had a keen sense of how the past invariably influences the present and the future.

Specifically, Crosby has found that approaching this particular milestone has led him to reflect on those early days -- starting with his rookie season of 2005-06 -- and the players with whom he played, the special moments with teammates resonating now more than the statistics.

He recalled the painfully small visitors' dressing room at Continental Airlines Arena in New Jersey, where he played his first NHL game and where the Penguins held a birthday celebration for owner, teammate and Crosby's then-landlord Mario Lemieux after the game.

"I remember I was so happy to be in my first game and then on my first shift I get an unbelievable chance right in front all alone --and [Martin] Brodeur stones me," Crosby recalled. "Usually I'd be pretty upset that I'd missed a chance like that. I think I was just like, 'I just got stopped by Marty Brodeur, first shift in the NHL. Could be worse.'"

By the end of his first season, Crosby would have 102 points, Ed Olczyk would be replaced as Pittsburgh's head coach by Michel Therrien, and a cadre of young players would join the team and go on to form the nucleus of the Penguins moving forward.

Max Talbot first met Crosby when Talbot was 16 and Crosby was 13, at a summer camp put on by their shared agent, Pat Brisson.

Even then, Crosby was impossibly talented and equally composed -- but used to the attention and the expectations, Talbot recalled.

Talbot would, on occasion, visit Crosby during the offseason in Nova Scotia. He recalled Crosby's determination to correct flaws in his game, such as focusing on becoming better at faceoffs and at being a more dangerous shooter.

"He's always been a guy who thinks one step ahead of the game," Talbot said. "All of his actions on or off the ice are calculated for him to be the best player he can be."

It would stand to reason there is a certain complexity and intensity that comes from being the best at anything. But there are also very simple, common elements about Crosby that have made him so popular with his teammates over the years. Like his determination that he not be treated differently or that whatever demands are made on him because of his status do not disrupt the daily ebbs and flows of the team.

Armstrong still recalled with fondness Crosby's easy acceptance of being made sport of like the rest of his teammates.

"We used to tease him about how fat his butt is," Armstrong said. "He'd kind of sit there and giggle. Just being one of the guys."

Not long after Armstrong was traded, the Thrashers played in Pittsburgh. Armstrong flew on his own to Pittsburgh, expecting his then-girlfriend (and now wife) Melissa to pick him up at the airport -- only to find Crosby waiting.

Crosby drove Armstrong home, spent the evening with his old pal and then drove him to the rink in the morning. Once there, Crosby headed to the Penguins' room while Armstrong made the strange trek to the visitors' room at Mellon Arena.

"That's just the kind of guy he is," Armstrong said.

Bill Guerin was acquired by the Penguins at the 2009 trade deadline, a few months before the team's first Stanley Cup win since 1992.

Crosby estimated it took 10 seconds after the two met until Guerin was busting his chops about the small pads that are attached to the shoulders of the undershirt Crosby wears -- and still wears to this day -- under his equipment.

"I think he referred to those old blazers, in women's blazers, they used to have those big pads," Crosby said, laughing at the memory. "He's probably used it a few times since then. He likes to recycle those ones."

Guerin said he was shocked that Crosby did, in fact, put his pants on one leg at a time like the rest of them.

"But when you put your gear on and went out for practice, you saw he was different," Guerin said. "You saw a different person. The focus, the motivation, the drive. Especially for me, being late in my career where I thought I'd seen everything."

Guerin, now an assistant GM of the Penguins, remains not just a friend but a touchstone for Crosby, a cherished part of Crosby's history and the history of the franchise -- but a reminder, too, of how quickly the days pass.

"You know when you think about how one day you're not going to be able to play, and wonder: What are you going to miss the most?" Crosby asked. "I would tell you I'm going to miss the competition and competing, No. 1. But then it would be just hanging out with the guys. All the laughs and all the stories. Everything that comes along with playing on a team. That's what you're going to miss the most."

At the end of that first season, Therrien asked Crosby to think about wearing the captain's "C" during his sophomore season.

"And he came back after the summer, he told me that he was not quite ready. He wanted to earn respect, not only from his own team, but around the league," Therrien said.

The next season, in 2006-07, the Penguins went without a captain. At the All-Star break, GM Ray Shero, who'd come to Pittsburgh from the Nashville Predators after Crosby's first season, asked the 19-year-old he was ready to be the captain. The team was light years ahead of expectations, but Crosby didn't want to do anything that could possibly disrupt its karma. So it wasn't until after he'd won his first scoring title that second season that he finally donned the "C" that now feels as though it's been affixed to his jersey forever.

"That shows maturity for a 19-year-old," Therrien said.

For Crosby, it was a simple decision. To that point, he had always been the youngest player on every team on which he'd played, a testament to his exceptional skill set. So he'd never been asked formally to take on a leadership role. When he decided it was time to do so, it was due in large part to his peers, the other young Penguins whom he would lead.

"We were all kind of learning together, so I didn't need to know everything right off the hop," Crosby said. "I didn't want it to be something I thought about too much, to the point where it affected my game. And I thought once my game was in the right place that I was ready to handle that responsibility."

One thousand points isn't an end point, obviously. It might not even be a crossroads. But it does bring into sharper focus the question of "What next?" Or, more to the point, "How long?"

Crosby will be 30 this summer.

He is intensely private but does allow that he thinks far more often about having children and the finish line of his career than he did a few short years ago.

"I see guys bringing their kids around to the rink and I think it's cool, because their kids are going to get to see them play and they're going to remember that," Crosby said.

He remembered Lemieux telling him how important it was that Lemieux's son, Austin, got to see him play after he came out of retirement. "I probably didn't think about that five years ago," Crosby said. "I can tell you that. That wasn't crossing my mind."

But he sees Trevor Daley's son and Matt Cullen's boys in the dressing room every day and he wonders what that might be like for him.

"Your mindset changes a little bit that way too," he said.

Children are only part of what remains unknown about his future. His current contract will take Crosby to age 37. With so many accomplishments already part of the record -- the two Stanley Cups, the two Olympic gold medals, a World Cup of Hockey championship -- Crosby seems to relish that the script remains fluid.

"I think 37, to me, would be great," Crosby said. "But that may change, and I think that that's the beauty of it. You don't know how you're going to feel. You don't know what your mentality will be when you get to that point. Are you going to be able to play at the level that you want to and will that be good enough for you to keep playing? Will I be a guy who'll say, 'Oh, I just want them to kick me out. I want to keep playing as long as I can'? So, we'll see."

If there is one thing he hopes for, it's to go out in a positive way.

"It doesn't matter how it is, as long as it's on good terms," he said. "I think that's all you can really hope for."