'Insatiable' Crosby hungry as ever as 1,000th game arrives

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FILE - Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby, center, heads after the puck after winning the face off against Philadelphia Flyers' Scott Laughton, right, with Michael Raffl, left, during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Philadelphia, in this Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, file photo. The Flyers won 6-3. A decade ago, Sidney Crosby's career was at a crossroads thanks to what became an extended absence due to a concussion. On the eve of his franchise-record 1000th regular season game, the superstar looks just as dangerous as ever, with no end in sight. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola, File)

PITTSBURGH – Sidney Crosby's relentlessness remains intact 15 years in. Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan sees it every day.

Every drill in practice, no matter how routine. Every shift during a game, no matter what the score. The player who has helped define his team, his adopted city and his sport for a generation remains as committed to his craft as he was as a kid in Canada firing puck after puck after puck into the dryer in his parent's basement in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.

Sullivan's spent the last five-plus years marveling from behind the bench, thankful that the player who gave him “nightmares” when Sullivan coached elsewhere is now sitting in front of him on the bench, setting a standard many emulate but few actually reach.

Crosby will cross another milestone Saturday night when he becomes the first Penguin to play in 1,000 regular-season games. More than co-owner and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux. More than the ageless Jaromir Jagr. More than longtime teammate Evgeni Malkin or any of the hundreds of others players who have passed through town over the last 53 years.

And at 33, Crosby isn't coasting. There's a chance he might not even be cresting. Fifteen games into his 16th season, Crosby remains a force at both ends of the ice. One shift he's redirecting a shot from teammate Kasperi Kapanen — as he did to give the Penguins a lead they wouldn't relinquish on Thursday night against the New York Islanders — the next he's backchecking like a rookie trying to earn a spot on the roster, not a player whose spot in the Hall of Fame whenever he decides to retire is already assured.

“He just has an insatiable appetite to be the best and he wants to be the best and he’s willing to put the time in and make the sacrifices to try and be the best,” Sullivan said Friday.

And that's where Sullivan believes Crosby separates himself from most of his contemporaries.

“He’s not ready to relinquish the best player in the game attribute or that he’s carried here for a decade-plus,” Sullivan said. “He’s an ultra-, ultra-competitive guy. There’s a lot of guys that want to win, but there aren’t a lot of guys that want to do what it takes to win. There's a lot of guys that want to be the best, but they don't want to do what it takes.”