Sidney Crosby's 'roller coaster' watching Canadian sporting heroes being made at Copa America

Millions of Canadians watched Canada’s men’s national team storm to the Copa America semi-finals with a dramatic win in penalties over heavily-favoured Venezuela. But only one Canadian sports legend watched the team up close before sharing his own words of wisdom afterwards — Pittsburgh Penguins star and Olympic gold medallist Sidney Crosby.

“It was a roller coaster,” Crosby told The Athletic of the game, shaking his head and smiling. “I feel like there’s been a lot more eyeballs, a lot more attention on this team.”

Crosby, wearing Canada’s red home kit, watched one of the more thrilling games of Copa America. Canada took an early lead thanks to Jacob Shaffelburg, who not only comes from the same province as Crosby, Nova Scotia, but is just the second men’s national team player from the province. Canada’s very own ‘Maritime Messi’.

Venezuela tied the game thanks to captain Salomon Rondon’s long-range chip in the 64th minute but Canada looked composed through penalties and midfielder Ismael Kone scored the winning spot-kick.

And not long after Canada entered their locker room to continue celebrating, Crosby joined them.

“Crosby said it was an ‘Unbelievable Canadian moment,’” defender Alistair Johnston said. “He said ‘The penalties were insane’ and something that he couldn’t even imagine doing.”

Crosby then singled out what midfielder Jonathan Osorio called the “guts of the group” to step up and score in penalties. “They look like a real tight-knit group,” Crosby said.

Crosby’s visit to Canada’s dressing-room soon began trickling out on social media but it wasn’t planned. Crosby said that every summer he and a group of teammates from his days playing junior hockey for Rimouski Oceanic in the Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League organize a trip together. This year, once Canada qualified for the quarterfinal, they made the decision to travel south to Arlington.

It was only in the hours leading up to the game that a mutual friend of one of the Canadian players extended an invite to Crosby to come into the dressing room.

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Crosby visited the Canada players in the locker room (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

As he made his way around the room, Canadian players beamed. Osorio said Crosby nabbed Shaffelburg’s jersey postgame.

“I got to see a Nova Scotia legend,” Shaffelburg said. “I’ve always looked up to (Crosby). To meet him was unbelievable.”

Crosby then encouraged the team for the future and reminded them how proud they have made Canadians.

“His words mean a lot,” goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau said. “But it’s an example of how we are slowly changing things for our country.”

Crosby then posed for a photo with the entire team. He’s no stranger to winning over the hearts of an entire country, having scored arguably the most important goal in Canadian sports history to win the 2010 Olympic gold medal over the United States.

And Crosby understands what so many others are coming to learn as well: This Canadian team is becoming a truly special one.

“The way they reacted after (Venezuela’s tying goal) — it’s a tough goal to give up, but they kept coming,” Crosby said when asked what makes this team special.

Canada is no stranger to having heroes visit the team: Famed astronaut Chris Hadfield joined them for a pre-game speech before their 2022 World Cup opener.

But Crosby’s star status is as radiant as they come in Canada. For generations, Canada’s national team was looked at as an afterthought. Qualifying for the World Cup began to change the perception of the team at home. Yet what they have lacked as of late are results against top teams to earn more fans.

That’s changing, and Crosby isn’t just witness to it. Against Venezuela, he was part of it. “With the games that they’ve put together, they’re only going to get more and more (attention). It’s fun to see. They deserve it. It seems like they’re a really great group of guys,” Crosby said.

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Shaffelburg gave his shirt to Crosby after the game (Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

This Canadian team is tasked not just with winning matches as they’ve done under new head coach Jesse Marsch; they also understand it’s their responsibility to continue to grow a game that might enjoy heavy participation among children but still falls behind hockey in terms of national popularity.

“What a legend to have on our side,” Marsch said of Crosby. “This is important for us in 2026 (at the World Cup with Canada hosting alongside the U.S. and Mecico). We want to feel the power of the entire nation.”

Now, the team is looking at Crosby’s endorsement as another example of their own star in Canada growing brighter.

“You can tell how much it means to the team that we are taking that next step in Canadian pop culture,” Johnston said. “You could see that we’re reaching a bigger crowd than just the football mad crowd. We’re inspiring a lot of people.”

Canada’s next chance to inspire will undoubtedly be their most difficult test yet: A semifinal against world champions Argentina.

As difficult a test as it might be, Canadian players all agree they believe more people than ever will be watching their team. And that includes Crosby.

(Top photo: Crosby celebrates with the team. Credit: Canada Soccer)

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