SCOTT TOWNSHIP, Pa. – Sidney Crosby isn’t just a superstar veteran at hockey. The Pittsburgh Penguins center is pretty smooth during the team’s annual player ticket delivery promotion, too.
He’s been inside 20 or more fans’ homes over the years – he thinks this was his 11th year, usually with a couple stops each time — laughing and talking hockey with them, happily signing their memorabilia, taking photos with them, occasionally playing driveway hockey with their children or grandchildren, and some years even eating their homemade chocolate chip cookies.
Crosby’s comfort level seems to spread to the randomly selected fans he visits shortly before training camp opens.
“You see how welcoming they are,” he said Monday during such an outing. “You see how excited they are to have a player come and deliver the tickets. Just to get a chance to meet them face-to-face. You see the masses (in the stands), but you don’t get to meet them. It’s cool to be able to do that, hear their stories, how long they’ve had tickets. You hear their story, like today where they have a draft within the family to see who gets certain games. That’s fun. That’s what hockey does. It’s fun to be able to hear those things.”
Monday, Crosby was one of 16 Penguins who spread across Western Pennsylvania as well-paid and welcomed delivery men. His first stop was to Tony and Betsy Villiotti’s home in Scott. They invited their son, Dave, and his wife, Alicia, and their daughter, Gina, and her husband, James, along with grandchildren Sidney (a girl who might or might not have been named after Crosby), Addison, Grace, Joey and Sophia.
The three generations gathered in the living room with a blow-up Stanley Cup and waited by a large window. When two SUVs pulled up, anticipation fogged up the room. When they saw it was Crosby, the room erupted:
After visiting and having Crosby autograph some things, the group moved out to the driveway, where Crosby and the kids played a little hockey.
“First when the Penguins called me and told me that one of the Penguins was going to be delivering the tickets (this) day, it was a surprise just to hear that we had been picked,” Tony Villiotti said. “As the day approached, we tried to guess who it was. Of course, they wouldn’t tell us.
“When we saw Sid walking up the steps, everybody was over the moon with that. The cheers broke out in the living room. Like everybody else in Pittsburgh, they’re big Sidney Crosby fans. It just made the day.”
Villiotti got a kick out of watching the face of the NHL playing driveway hockey with his grandchildren.
“They’ll remember this day the rest of their lives,” he said. “That means a lot to me. I had a pretty serious illness in the last year. I’ve recovered from that. It kind of puts things in perspective in term of enjoying the little things in life, and to see my grandkids have fun just makes my day. It’s a true highlight of my life.”
A Little Hockey Talk
Crosby took a few minutes to speak to reporters about, you know, hockey stuff, after his visit with the Villiotti family.
On whether he is ready for training camp, which starts Friday:
“It would be nice if it started tomorrow, to be honest. At this point you’ve trained all summer and everyone’s back in town. You’re just counting down the days now. It would nice if camp started a little earlier, but it is what it is.”
On what he learned coming off the Penguins Cup win in 2009 and then going seven years before winning the first of two more back-to-back:
“No year is the same. Regardless of if you have a lot of the same personnel and expectations are the same, no year ever really goes the same. There’s always things you can use to compare, experiences and things like that, but to try to replicate something isn’t always the best way. You want to have habits. You want to have a way that you go about things, but understanding that in some way, shape or form, it’s going to shake out a little bit differently.”
On where the Penguins fit in the Eastern Conference with Washington as the defending champion and an improved Toronto team with John Tavares:
I’d like to think we’re right in that mix, but I think those two teams are probably the favorites right away, with Washington not losing a lot of guys, and Toronto doing what they did. There are always teams that are the mix. With how close the league is, you’ve just got to find a way to get in the playoffs. That’s the most important thing.