NEW YORK — Sidney Crosby has heard all the taunts, chirps and mockery a hockey player can hear during his career. The biggest star in the NHL, he’s also perhaps its most derided: from Washington Capitals fans showing up to games with pacifiers to signs in Philadelphia challenging his manhood.
But on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, the ridicule was so scathing that the Pittsburgh Penguins captain actually felt compelled to reward it.
Nick Lipeika, a New York Rangers fan, received an autographed stick from Crosby after the Penguins’ 7-2 rout of the Rangers in New York. The inscription read: “Good chirps. Take it easy on me next time!”
“Not a lot of cool things happen to me, but this is up there, for sure,” Lipeika told ESPN on Thursday.
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He said a friend of his has season tickets to the Rangers, and their seats are located near the visiting team’s penalty box. Lipeika, who was wearing a Rangers jersey at the game, is a proud heckler and a prepared one. “I don’t have anything written down, but I have points I want to hit, for sure. For all I know, I have material on someone, and they don’t even come to the box,” he said.
Lipeika did have material ready in case the Penguins captain was penalized. At 2:55 in the first period, Crosby was sent to the sin bin after tripping Jesper Fast of the Rangers. “It was like a late Christmas present,” said Lipeika.
He began laying into him, starting each taunt with an exaggerated “heyyyyy Crosby” before shouting his chirps. “He’s probably heard it all. For me, I wanted to tell him things he hasn’t heard before,” he said. “He’s won everything. That’s why everyone wants to heckle him.”
Among the highlights:
“Hey Crosby, [Evgeni] Malkin would have more Cups if he had a better supporting cast.”
“Hey Crosby, you were voted third toughest Canadian, behind Celine Dion and a close second to Avril Lavigne.”
“Hey Crosby, when Gatorade wanted a tough guy, Justin Bieber turned them down so they settled for you.”
“Hey Crosby, Malkin wants to know where your Calder Memorial Trophy is.” (Note that for all of Crosby’s accomplishments, NHL rookie of the year was not one of them, while Malkin won it in 2007.)
How did Crosby react? With the time-honored penalty box tradition of squirting his water bottle through the crack in the glass and toward Lipeika.
Crosby ended up with a goal and an assist for the Penguins in their rout of the Rangers. Lipeika and his friends were preparing to leave after the loss when a man in a Pittsburgh track suit made his way from the Penguins bench, across the ice and over to them. He was carrying a stick.
Lipeika’s first reaction was that the stick was intended for one of the young Penguins fans in his section at MSG. A crowd of people congregated around him, attempting to grab the stick as the man pointed it over the glass.
“He pulled it back and he points to me. ‘No, this is for you.’ I’m thinking, ‘I’m not sure if I want this anymore,'” he joked.
Lipeika grabbed the stick and checked the blade, where he saw Crosby’s message and signature.
“I couldn’t believe it. And then I thought, ‘What did they do before they gave this stick to me?'” he joked.
The image of the stick went viral on Twitter on Thursday morning — partially because of the rarity of a heckler being rewarded for his mockery by a target, but also because Crosby isn’t exactly known for his sense of humor.
An act like this obviously can change perceptions of a player. It did for Lipeika.
“He’s that guy that when he’s on your team, you couldn’t own enough of his stuff. But if he’s not on your team, you’re praying that he just has a bad night,” he said. “I think he moved up a few spots for me.”
Lipeika said he didn’t realize that this moment had become a sensation until he went to work on Thursday morning, at a firehouse in Norwalk, Connecticut. A couple of his fellow firefighters had already seen the stick and were getting on Lipeika for it.
“I guess that’s why I’m a decent heckler,” he said. “Working there, you have to have thick skin.”