Dec 14, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) in the third period against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. Pittsburgh won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Penguins Gameday Skate: Sidney Crosby is the real sportsman of 2013

On Sunday night, Sports Illustrated announced its selection for Sportsman of the Year on NBC during halftime of the Pittsburgh Steelers-Cincinnati Bengals game. Since SI football scribe Peter King did the honors, we could’ve guessed the honoree would come from the NFL.

That quick prediction came to pass when Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was revealed as the face on the latest edition of the magazine. All respect to the folks at SI, whom were are proud to be affiliated with through FanSided, but Manning was the safest, most boring choice they could’ve made.

I get the “everyman” appeal of Manning, and I understand the need to sell magazines. But if you’re looking for a star player returning from what could’ve been a career-ending injury to his rightful spot atop a sport, gaze no further than Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby.

Let me count the ways Crosby is more deserving of Sportsman of the Year 2013 than Manning. First, the 26-year-old Crosby is in his prime as an athlete, whereas the 37-year-old Manning is trying to squeeze the last bit of top-level productivity out of his career. If the task is encapsulating a year in sports, I’d rather it be someone who’s at (or near) the peak of his or her powers.

Second, Sid shunned the macho sports culture when he listened to his body during his long and arduous concussion rehabilitation, setting an example for pro athletes and – more importantly – countless youngsters in the future. Thanks to the cautious way Crosby handled his frustratingly persistent brain injury, we have a role model for what real toughness is. Nothing against Manning, who had his own gauntlet to traverse with his neck woes, but Crosby’s ordeal is more relevant to the time we live in.

(That’s not even mentioning the fluke broken jaw Crosby suffered while running away with the 2013 scoring race. He was pretty good when he returned a month later in the playoffs.)

Third, let’s mix it up a bit. At one time, the Sportsman of the Year had more variety, and do we really need to further glorify a star in the most popular league in North America? What is there to write or say about Manning that most of the general public hasn’t already been exposed to? Wayne Gretzky was the previous hockey player to be feted by Sports Illustrated, and that was 31 years ago. The NHL – and hockey in general – is more popular than it’s ever been in this country, much more so than it was in Gretzky’s prime.

Time to introduce a fresh character on the national stage.

Same old story

Speaking of notable forums, the first-place Penguins (24-10-1, 49 points) will take the ice at Madison Square Garden at 8 p.m. Wednesday night for another battle with the New York Rangers (16-17-1, 33 points). The Pens dropped their only previous meeting with the Blueshirts on Nov. 6, a 5-1 defeat that started a three-game losing streak.

Since the end of that slump, Pittsburgh has gone 13-3-1, including their ongoing run of nine wins in 10 games. If not for allowing two goals in the final two minutes Dec. 7 at Boston, the Pens would have their fourth win streak of 10 or more in the past four seasons.

As it stands, they’ve taken four straight, including a rousing 3-1 decision over Toronto on Monday with seven AHL call-ups in the lineup. The injury situation won’t be any better for Wednesday night’s nationally-televised tilt, as Evgeni Malkin has been ruled out, as has Kris Letang.

Rookie winger Jayson Megna became the latest Penguin to hit the injured reserve list, as he suffered an injury which colliding with Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier in the third period Monday. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s leading scorer Brian Gibbons (27 points in 23 games) was called up to take Megna’s place on the second line; Gibbons skated alongside Jussi Jokinen and Harry Zolnierczyk during the Penguins’ morning workout at MSG.

Youth movement continues

Former Penguins defenseman and current Rangers assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson was at Consol Energy Center on Monday to watch his son Philip Samuelsson make his NHL debut with more than 15 minutes of ice time. Ulf’s feelings will be a little more conflicted Wednesday as he watches from the New York bench.

The younger Samuelsson was one of three first-year Penguins to man the blueline against Toronto, with Brian Dumoulin playing his second NHL game that night and 19-year-old Olli Maatta continuing his remarkable first run through the league. Sophomores Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo also took regular shifts, making 27-year-old Matt Niskanen the old man of the group.

That same group of six is expected to dress against the Rangers. NBC Sports Network has the TV coverage while Mike Lange and Phil Bourque handle the radio broadcast on 105.9 The X.

Tags: Brian Gibbons Philip Samuelsson Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby

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