PITTSBURGH — The 2005 National Hockey League Entry Draft started with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ choice of top prospect Sidney Crosby as the first overall pick, launching a career that would make “Sid the Kid” a superstar. His first season started slowly that October, and the team would finish at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
That Crosby became a Penguin at all was something of a fluke. Draft order is typically determined by team performance in the prior season, but since that season was canceled due to the NHL lockout, team picks were ordered based on a weighted lottery that became known as the “Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes.”
Penguins player-owner Mario Lemieux welcomed Crosby to the team by inviting the 18-year-old to live in his family home, and Crosby accepted. The duo carpooled to practice and grew close as Lemieux mentored Crosby.
The unconventional arrangement of a living hockey legend setting up house with his protégé and his team’s new franchise player was a comfortable one, and Crosby would continue to live with the family for several years.
As the season started, the expectations for the team were high, but when Martin Brodeur, the goalie for the New Jersey Devils, took to the ice on Oct. 5, 2005, he already had three Stanley Cup rings and a long list of records, and he was not about to be intimidated by the hopeful press that Pittsburgh’s highly-anticipated new player was getting.
On his first shift on NHL ice and with his parents in the stands watching him, Crosby found the puck and tried to channel his excitement into a memorable backhand, only to have Brodeur shrug off destiny.
Brodeur, one of the greatest goaltenders in the history of the game, had taught Crosby his first professional lesson in a “welcome to the NHL” stonewall that Crosby would never forget.
“When I look back on that moment, it’s the only time I can remember smiling or laughing at missing a scoring chance. It was my first NHL game, my first shift and you get robbed by Martin Brodeur,” said Crosby. “It could be a lot worse.”
The Devils were a powerhouse team playing on home ice, and even though the Penguins fired shot after shot at Brodeur, pummeling him with a seven-to-one ratio of inbound pucks, the Devils were soon ahead by four.
Entering the third period scoreless, Lemieux couldn’t get a puck past the fortress Brodeur had built either. The rookie sharing the ice was more promise than production so far until finally, in the last six minutes, Crosby made his first assist to Mark Recchi to give the Penguins their first goal of the season, saving them from the indignity of a shutout loss.
The second game of the season, on Oct. 7, 2005, went slightly better, but Crosby’s second NHL assist still left the Penguins blown away by the Carolina Hurricanes. The losses were starting to pile up, weighing on the hopes of Pittsburgh fans. Lemieux’s comeback looked to be stalling, Crosby wasn’t scoring and tensions were ratcheting higher.
On Oct. 8, 2005, the Penguins hosted the Boston Bruins for the first home game of the season and Crosby’s first-ever home game. The overflow crowd roared as the fast-paced game saw the teams trading goal for goal through most of the first two periods, including one from a reinvigorated Lemieux.
Finally, at the end of the second period, after two earlier assists and with the Penguins leading 5-4 and on a power play, Crosby rocketed the puck into the side of the net for his first NHL goal. Crosby slammed his back into the glass boards with his arms raised in celebration, as the crowd cheered and gave him a standing ovation that long outlasted the goal horn.
In what would become a pattern for the Penguins during the 2005-2006 season, they soon squandered the lead and found themselves coming up short in overtime.
The rest of the season would see Lemieux retire again and for the final time, head coach Ed Olczyk replaced by Michel Therrien, and Crosby controversially named as an alternate team captain despite his youth and inexperience in the NHL.
While Crosby set franchise records in assists and points for a rookie (passing Lemieux in both categories) and became the youngest player in NHL history to reach 100 points in a season, his personal success didn’t extend to the team, which missed the playoffs by a wide margin.
The Penguins have had winning seasons and have made the playoffs every year since then, with three Stanley Cup victories (2009, 2016, and 2017), led by Crosby as team captain.
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