He arrived for the last game of his first season, here in the self-proclaimed epicentre of hockey, with 100 points and his name in the National Hockey League record book and little, if anything, left to prove.
Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins teenage star, may not win the Calder Trophy as the season's best rookie -- the media voters seem to lean heavily toward Washington's Alexander Ovechkin -- but as he finished off one of the most tremendous rookie campaigns in history, he felt older and wiser and as though it passed far too quickly.
"It felt like half a year it went so fast," he said last night before taking the ice at the Air Canada Centre for the final game of the season against the Toronto Maple Leafs. And now it is over.
His mother, Trina, and 10-year-old sister, Taylor, flew in from Halifax for the night, to see the end of what began a little more than seven months ago on a crisp fall night in New Jersey. His father, Troy, who has attended dozens of games this season at home and on the road, flew in from Pittsburgh, where on Monday night he watched his boy, the one he taught to skate and shoot in the basement at the age of 2½, register his historic 100th point.
Before an electric, standing-room-only crowd of more than 17,000 delighted but long-suffering fans, Mr. Crosby had three artful assists in the Penguins 6-1 victory over the New York Islanders. He was 18 years, 253 days old, 100 days younger than Dale Hawerchuk was when he reached the 100-point mark previously.
"It was really nice to have my dad there," he said. "And it was nice to do it in front of the home fans. Once I was close I really wanted to do it. It was a tough year not winning games. You don't want to judge yourself by points. It doesn't make the season. But it's a pretty nice accomplishment."
Last night, Mr. Crosby added a goal and an assist in a 5-3 loss to the Leafs, leaving him with 39 goals and 102 points for the season. And what a season it has been. It took the Penguins, who started the year with a mix of the top draft pick in Mr. Crosby and pricey veterans, 10 games to win their first. Mr. Crosby was accused of being a diver in Philadelphia and whining to the officials. Coach Eddie Olczyk was fired. Mr. Crosby was passed over by Wayne Gretzky for a spot on the Olympic team.
Mario Lemieux, the Hall of Fame centre who opened his home to the young protégé, fell ill with an irregular heartbeat and was forced to retire. Mr. Crosby's most dependable linemate, Ziggy Palffy, suddenly retired, complaining of a sore shoulder. Critics said Mr. Crosby was too young to be an alternate captain.
But with each setback the 18-year-old centreman excelled. Besides being the youngest ever to score 100 points, he has matched Mr. Lemieux's team record of 100 points by a rookie. On Monday, he took home four of a possible seven team awards, including best rookie, most valuable player and the 'good guy' award given to the player who is most co-operative with the media for the patient hours he has spent at their disposal through
the most trying times.
The Penguins suffered through several 10-game losing streaks and had a 22-45-14 record entering last night. Yet he was their best player from his first game.
"I had no idea what to expect," he said. "My goal was just to get comfortable and adjust. I just tried to improve off of that. That was the main thing. In your first year in any league you want to get your confidence there. I stayed pretty consistent.
"I feel like I've gotten more responsibility as the season's gone on. I think I've gotten better."
Losing so much was easily the worst of it; one of the best was just being there. "Getting to play against players I've been seeing on TV for so long has been really special," he said. "I finally got a chance to play against them and beat some of them."
Mr. Hawerchuk, who holds the record for most points scored by an 18-year-old -- he scored 103 with the Winnipeg Jets in 1982-83 and led the club to the biggest single-season turnaround in NHL history -- said recently that he has been impressed by Mr. Crosby's first season.
"Records are made to be broken," Mr. Hawerchuk said from his farm in Orangeville, Ont. "But having said that it's a lot of points for an 18-year-old. It was back then and it still is. I think what he's done this season is pretty amazing considering how much the team struggled. He's definitely worth the price of admission."
Jack Riley, the former general manager of the Penguins in the late '60s and early '70s, said he believes Mr. Crosby's playing style will define a whole new type of hockey player for generations to come.
At 86, Mr. Riley figures to have watched some 5,000 hockey games over the years and has seen all the greats up close. He said Mr. Crosby's speed and strength, timing and vision, coupled with his well-measured mix of grit and finesse, makes him unlike anyone who has come before.
"I've never seen a kid like him," he said. "He doesn't play like Mario; he doesn't play like Gretzky. He has a little of [Peter] Forsberg in him. He passes like Orr. But really, he's one of a kind. He plays like Crosby. And one day in the future I think we're going to see a whole crop of young players coming up who are compared to him."
If this season is any indication, in his sophomore campaign he will be not much older but so much wiser.
"I have no idea what the ceiling is with him," said Ryan Malone, the Penguins forward who scored on the pass that gave Mr. Crosby 100 points. "He's already a leader and one of the best I've seen. But he's also a great teammate. He's one of us. He doesn't think he's better than anyone. But he's also unbelievable."
Greatest rookie scorers
TEEMU SELANNE: 132 POINTS
Winnipeg Jets - 1992-93
PETER STASTNY: 109 POINTS
Quebec Nordiques - 1980-81
ALEXANDER OVECHKIN: 106 POINTS
Washington Capitals - 2005-06
DALE HAWERCHUK: 103 POINTS
Winnipeg Jets - 1981-82
SIDNEY CROSBY: 102 POINTS
Pittsburgh Penguins - 2005-06
JOE JUNEAU: 102 POINTS
Boston Bruins - 1992-93
MARIO LEMIEUX: 100 POINTS
Pittsburgh Penguins - 1984-85