It's a Friday night at a Pittsburgh area dek hockey rink. You have the ball on your stick, racing towards your opponents' goal crease. You're watching the goaltender's eyes, trying to anticipate his next move.
Then you realize the goalie you're trying to out-think looks remarkably like Sidney Crosby.
Such was the scene at Dek Star last weekend, as the most famous hockey player on Earth strapped on the goalie gear and played for a ball hockey team in a 26-and-over league -- unannounced and completely anonymous to his foes until his identity was revealed later in the game.
"The greatest hockey player in the world was next to me, talking. It was super cool of him to be able to try and be like us normal guys, just come out and play with the guys," said Joseph Heaney, a ref at Dek Star for seven years that officiated the game.
Like the rest of his NHL peers, the Pittsburgh Penguins captain has been locked out since mid-September. Many of them have left for ice rinks in Europe; Crosby, meanwhile, opted to stay local for near-daily practices with his Penguins teammates on the ice — and the occasional goaltending foray onto a hard plastic dek hockey rink, apparently.
Crosby's moonlighting at Dek Star, located about 10 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh, was first reported by The Pensblog on Monday. Seth Rorabaugh of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette caught up with Crosby, and a few folks at the facility, to confirm the validity of this surreal moment.
How, exactly, did Crosby end up playing goalie for a dek hockey team?
"My buddy plays in the league there. I talked to him about playing," Crosby said. "I played a lot of goalie in street hockey growing up and stuff. Just asked if he needed a goalie. He said sure and I came out. It was cool."
Due to his equipment, the presence of hockey's most recognizable figure was not known by those at the rink until late in the contest. "I had all the [goaltending] gear on," Crosby said. "I was talking to the ref once toward the end of the game and I think he recognized me."
(Sidney Crosby, talking to a referee? Boy there's something you never see ...)
"My referee walked over just to kind of say, 'Hey, you're not the normal goalie. It's about time they get a goalie.' " said Chris Evans, general manager of Dek Star. "Instead, he looked at him and he was like, 'Holy [cow] that's Sidney Crosby.' "
"The other team played against him for an hour and had no idea. They didn't even know until I told them until after he left."
For the record, the team he played against was nicknamed "Flyers Suck." You just can't make this stuff up...
According to Heaney, Crosby "pitched a 4-0 shutout" in the game.
This shouldn't come as a surprise, mind you: Crosby frequently tends goal during road hockey games in the offseason in Canada, and has strapped on the pads during Pittsburgh Penguins practice before. He also played street hockey during his day with the Stanley Cup.
Hockey fans have been drained of joy by the NHL lockout, which is threatening the viability of the 2012-13 season. But there have been some surreal benefits to the work stoppage, from charity games with NHL stars to impromptu street hockey games with players … to Sidney Crosby, ball hockey goalie.
"I'd like to thank him for the experience," said Heaney.
"It's one that I'll be able to tell my 7-month-old son. As soon as he knows who Sid is."
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