No matter what I do in a day, one thought never eludes me: I've watched Sidney Crosby lift the Stanley Cup from ice level.
I've written so many times now about how that's the culmination of everything I wanted to do as a photographer -- cover the Penguins, see a championship, be a part of the moments without being a part of them. That single moment should be the story I like to tell when I meet subscribers or those who just take an interest in what I do.
The story I love to tell most often when I'm discussing View from Ice Level is the last one I wrote during the 2018-19 season. It was a season as far from that championship run as I've photographed -- a sweep by the Islanders -- but the topic of that View is etched into my mind as Crosby's name is into Lord Stanley's Cup three times now.
"They just got swept, right?" I'll say. "They just got swept, and this is a team that shattered what's possible by going back-to-back in a salary cap era."
That's when I'll tell the same story linked above. The one about how I watched Crosby bend to the ice following the final horn, pick up the puck and skate it to the Penguins final officiating crew of the season. His team looking on, waiting to line up for the season-ending handshakes.
This is that image:
[caption id="attachment_868211" align="aligncenter" width="640"] MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]
In the locker room following the loss, I waited out the group surrounding Crosby in the Penguins locker room, approached him and asked about the puck.
"He told me how the Islanders would want the puck for winning the series and how he was making sure they'd get it," I tell the willing ears.
That's typically when the eyes get wide, the ears perk up and there's a feeling of being more than a hockey fan emanating from my partner in conversation. I can see, right then in that moment, that whomever I'm talking to realized just how much more Crosby is to the game of hockey than one of the best to ever play.
Forget raising the Cup. Forget the scenes of 'Sid' with his kids when he skates with the Little Penguins each season. Forget traveling to his hometown. Forget it all. But I won't forget that conversation, and what I saw. It's the difference between loving to play hockey and loving the game more than your own role in it.
Today, that ambassador that the game most likely doesn't deserve, celebrates his 32nd birthday. So, as I promised when I did the same for Evgeni Malkin on his 33rd, I've put together some of my favorite photographs of Crosby over my three years here at DKPittsburghSports.com.
Honestly, as much as I love what I have from him of that first season I was here, the Penguins second of the back-to-backs, my favorite photos -- and probably fan favorites -- are all from this most recent season.
One of those, of course, was the primal scream from out in Denver when Dejan Kovacevic and I made a return trip (having covered the Steelers there days prior) after a couple days of Penguins vs. Jets action.
[caption id="attachment_868213" align="aligncenter" width="640"] MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]
Now that I think about it, all three of the images I'm giving special space to made it into that piece I wrote in early July.
The next is one that I've found subscribers thinking is better than the scream, better than Antonio Brown's stretch, and better than the next one we will talk about. This was a shot I took on the Penguins' second trip to Buffalo when Crosby took on what seemed like the entire city in the Sabres' offensive zone:
[caption id="attachment_868214" align="aligncenter" width="640"] MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]
What he did in those few moments was incredible to witness ... I was just truly lucky that the Sabres chose to frame him for me the way they did.
The final image I wanted to give time to is the first one you see at the top of this article's gallery -- what I've learned to be another favorite from the readers. It's what I think sums up No. 87, Sidney Crosby, the Penguins' captain, the ambassador to the game.
It's the guy who loves the game more than his own role in it. It's the guy who picks up that puck. It's the guy who makes sure there will always be a future hockey lover to pick up someone else's puck.
As always, the rest of the photos can be seen following that one. This time, there are 32 photos total for his 32nd birthday -- double what I normally include in a gallery. And, as always, I'll see you guys and gals in the comments!