Shortly before Sidney Crosby discovered he had been passed over for the Canadian men's Olympic hockey team, he was playing shinny with the small daughters of Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Jocelyn Thibault, softly passing the puck to the tuqued tots as though he did not have a care in the world.
When he left the ice at the Igloo yesterday, after participating in the team's family Christmas skating party, he telephoned his agent, Pat Brisson, to ask whether Hockey Canada executives called players before announcing the team. Brisson told Crosby that the team was in the process of being revealed.
"That was tough," Crosby said last night of not being selected. "But there are so many good players. I knew the opportunity was there, I knew I was in the mix. But hopefully down the road, I'll have an opportunity to represent Canada. I really hope so."
After a visit from Team Canada executive director Wayne Gretzky a few weeks ago and much speculation that Crosby's terrific rookie season would land him a spot on Team Canada, the 18-year-old Penguins centre was not on the 23-man roster or the three-player taxi squad.
He is second among rookies and 29th in the National Hockey League with 14 goals and 19 assists for 33 points in as many games. But for the first time in his hockey career, it was not his time. He was disappointed, but upbeat and introspective.
"It would have been nice, definitely," he said. "But there are so many good players in Canada, and being so young, I don't think I expected to be picked. I prepared myself. I tried to have the best first half possible and give myself an opportunity, and I was right in the mix. I'm not there, but at least I can say I gave it a good shot.
"Like with world juniors, when you play so much hockey you always know there's other teams to play for. But if you focus on playing for your own team, everything else takes care of itself. For me, that's the way it was. I just tried to worry about helping the team here. If I can contribute and make things happen here, then that's the best way I can make a difference."
Kevin Lowe, Team Canada's assistant executive director, said "there's a good chance Sidney could be the leader of the team in 2010," but that the team wanted to go with veteran players.
Crosby, who was 15 when he volunteered to be a stick boy with the 2003 world junior team, would have benefited enormously by being selected, even to the taxi squad.
He was the only player under 18 invited to join Canada's world junior team in 2004 and was the youngest ever to score for them when he did so in Helsinki on Dec. 28, 2003. He was 16 years 4 months 24 days old. The puck is in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
"It's a competitive nature to say you want to be there," he said. "But it's not up to me and it's just one of those things. There are so many guys that are so close and it depends on so many things. It just wasn't one of those things that worked out."
The Canadians will be trying to defend the gold medal won at the Salt Lake Games in 2002, the country's first Olympic title in 50 years. Mario Lemieux was captain of that team, and when he stepped aside for this team, Crosby, his young protégé, was supposed to step in. At least, that's the way Hollywood would have written it. Real life does not always follow a script.
When Gretzky travelled to Pittsburgh several weeks ago to watch Crosby play against the Colorado Avalanche, he called Crosby "a breath of fresh air for the NHL" and "tremendous for the game."
It was easy to believe that Crosby had a legitimate shot, especially since Lemieux, who removed himself from consideration because he has been suffering with an irregular heartbeat and is out of the Penguins' lineup indefinitely, said last month he should be on the team.
"They can only take so many guys," Crosby said. "It's easy to say I'm young, but when you're that close, you want to do it. But those guys definitely deserve it and I wish them the best."
He said last night he will spend the Olympic break working out and skating in Pittsburgh and at home in Nova Scotia.
"But I'll be watching," he said. "Canada is going to have a good team."