SAN JOSE, California – Mathew Barzal couldn't believe his luck.
When the New York Islanders entered the Eastern Conference cabinet prior to NHL All-Star skills on Friday at the SAP Center, he discovered he had a great place for the weekend's celebrations – right next to his idol, Sidney Crosby .
As Jake Guentzel can attest, it may not be the most ideal place on a day-to-day crowd of media gathering around Crosby. But in such a situation, Barzal could not have been happier.
"I had a chance to skate with him this summer a little, and it was obviously just surreal, so here he comes ̵
And not only did Barzal dress up with his hockey hero – he had to play with him during the NHL All-Star Game on Saturday. Captain's head coach Todd Reirden, who was behind the bench for the Metro, said Barzal was thrilled to learn that news.
"I mentioned it to him, and he was like," Are you serious? Really? Wow. I'll get some sleep tonight, "Reirden said with a laugh.
Kris Letang also had to laugh as he watched players like Barzal, who were at Crosbys left and the hurricanes forwarded Sebastien Aho, who was at Crosbys right, interacts with him.
"You could see their faces sitting beside Sid and talking to him," said Letang.
On a weekend where many NHL stars Gathered in one place, Crosby shines the brightest – for them he is simply on another level with what he has achieved through his career and has been ambassador for the league for so long. younger players who grew up and look at him and give him are tough to see in times like theses.
"It's pretty amazing just to see him sitting across you. Just all the boys, pretty much, but of course Sid – he's Sid, said Ottawa Senator's rookie defenseman Thomas Chabot. "He is the way he is, and just to shake his hand and to see him around just for a day was great."
Buffalo Sabers forward Jack Eichel, who was the second overall pick in the NHL Draft in 2015, made his first All-Star appearance last year in Tampa. Meeting Crosby, who was his hockey hero grown up as Barzal, was a highlight.
"I had posters from him all my room growing up," Eichel said. "It was just super-surreal. He's definitely one of the greatest players ever to play. Just being around him was really cool. He was someone I looked up to so much. It was pretty amazing."
Most of Crosby's community statistics allow you to chat with him, and if they can grab a photo or a memento, it's an added bonus.
"I had him sign a sweater for me last year and I have it in my house," Eichel said.
Columbus Blue Jackets Forward Cam Atkinson played in his first All-Star Game in 2017 in Los Angeles. He said he was the star hit by Crosby, who made his first All-Star appearance for 10 years. But he was also impressed with how friendly Crosby was, so he worked hard to ask him for an autographed stick.
"He was like," only if I get one too, "" Atkinson recalled before he added with a laugh. "And I'm like," Are you sure you want an Atkinson twig? "He was like," Absolutely. "So it was sweet. I think we shared a few cool pictures and stuff like that, as it is about the weekend."
Some of the players even tell team members to keep an eye on any Interactions so they can take pictures, and of course their family and friends do the same. As Winnipeg Jets relay Mark Scheifele father Brad, who ran into Crosby in the family lounge after the game and introduced himself.
"We saw you talking to (Mark) on the ice and I said," We'll get a picture, "Brad said to Crosby." Even though it's back on their shirts. It's a once in a lifetime memory I tell you. We love to see you. We appreciate everything you do for hockey. "
On Croby's first All-Star Game back in 2007, he was the youngest guy alongside future Hall of Famers like Nicklas Lidstrom, Joe Sakic, Teemu Selanne, Martin St. Louis, Brendan Shanahan and Martin Brodeur, so he can relate to the players at the weekend, who were eager to spend time with him.
"When you are young – and we have all been there – I think it is the cool part of this weekend, you can interact with other guys , "says Crosby." And no matter how many games they've played in, or whether it's first or 10 th it's cool to have it. We are all competitive guys, and when we play against each other, we want to win. But we all love the game and we appreciate being able to spend a weekend competing against each other. "
However, it does not make it any less strange for Crosby.
" It is scary when you come to these and after a couple of years begin to realize that you are much more the older guy, "he laughed. . " It's a different role, but it's still a lot of fun. I think you appreciate how skilled and talented so many guys are. "
And the feeling is more than mutual.