NHL megastar Sidney Crosby's sister helps women's ice hockey

By Ollie WilliamsBBC Olympic sports reporter
Taylor Crosby: Canada's next Olympic star?

Taylor Crosby can walk unrecognised through the streets of Sheffield. But then, so can her brother.

While ice hockey has a dedicated UK fanbase, there are still few Britons who could tell you that Sidney Crosby is the NHL's highest-paid player (according to this Forbesexternal-link valuation), the man who scored Canada's game-winning goalexternal-link in the Vancouver 2010 Olympic final and widely considered the greatest player so far this century.

Taylor is his 17-year-old younger sister, setting out to carve her own niche on the ice despite her brother's lengthy shadow.

"I never wanted to do any other sport," says Taylor, whose ambition is to become the Canadian Olympic women's goalkeeper. "And I think some people are surprised at that."

She started ice hockey at the late age - by Canadian standards - of 10, the same summer her brother was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins and became an instant superstar.

Before that, she had watched him play hockey without showing any great interest. Now, 18-year-old Sid was the hottest property in North America and somewhere, subconsciously, something in Taylor clicked.

"I think maybe just seeing a goal come true," she says. "I wanted to have that feeling of reaching a goal - maybe not the NHL but on a hockey team.

"I'm really proud of him and I know how hard he works for it. If anything I'm a little jealous. He's done a lot of things that I wish I could be able to do and hopefully I will be able to win an Olympic gold medal."

The NHL is the world's biggest hockey league and its players are multi-million dollar assets; its teams - 'franchises' - occasionally move their home city, sometimes by thousands of miles, to find a bigger audience and more cash.

Hence a deal to let those men play at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics took months, years, for the NHL to agree with Russian organisers and world governing body the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).

When a box-office hockey player gets injured playing at the Olympics, nobody wants to foot the bill and someone loses a lot of money. Finance and marketing take priority over sport.

For women, things could not be more different. There is no NHL; there is barely any marketing.

"The Olympics is our Stanley Cup," says Melody Davidson, referring to the famed trophy men joyfully lift above their heads when they win the NHL play-offs. Davidson coached the Canadian women to Olympic gold in both 2006 and 2010.

"It's our top end. There are world championships, but who's kidding who? Countries want that Olympic medal to brag about and athletes want it around their necks.

"It's such a different world in the men's game with the professional ranks and the money involved - the games are not the same in a lot of areas. The game on the ice is relatively similar, but so many things behind the scenes are different."

Taylor Crosby has this routinely rubbed in her face, given the regularity with which her brother wins the many lucrative tournaments and awards the men's game has to offer.

"It's a bit frustrating," she admits, "but maybe one day there will be a female National Hockey League."

This is an argument being played out across a number of sports, recent demands for a women's Tour de France being a prominent example. But where female cyclists are pushing for the quality of their sport to be recognised, their ice hockey counterparts are fighting for the sport's life.

If women's ice hockey does not improve, the sport will be thrown out of the Olympics.

"Coming out of Vancouver 2010, Jacques Rogge challenged women's hockey that the game needed to get better and had to become more competitive if we wanted to stay in the Olympics," says Davidson.

The International Olympic Committee's problem with women's ice hockey is that so few teams are good enough to win gold at the Games. Only four teams have won medals since the women's game made its Olympic debut in 1998: Canada (three-time champions), the United States (victors in 1998), Sweden and Finland.

This is why Taylor Crosby is in Yorkshire. The sport's top nations have come together with a plan: make everybody else better, and fast.

Sheffield is home for the week to young, female hockey players from 18 different countries, including the US and Canada but also the likes of Latvia, Kazakhstan, Hungary and Great Britain.

"The idea is to bring a lot of nations together in a situation where they mix and everybody learns from each other, both culturally and sport-wise," says Darryl Easson, from the IIHF, who is running the camp.

"This is a high-performance camp. We have 10 players from the US and Canada but also a lot of coaches and mentors, working with a few of the best European coaches and mentors to pass ideas down, so they understand the skills, desire and determination needed to improve the game as a whole.

"Because if we continue to have one or two nations that are dominant, you start to question: why are we playing this sport?

"We're going to close the gap, but it's going to take a long time because Canada and the United States are so dominant. But they're willing to help. It isn't going to happen in four years or even eight years, but we will see the benefits in future."

As a two-time Olympic champion coach, Davidson's experience is invaluable to her European counterparts.

"All countries have two or three top-end players - the challenge is to build the depth underneath," she says.

"Great Britain are at that step where they're starting to have more and more of those players with an understanding of what's needed to be a high-performance athlete. The next step is building teams, not just players."

When Taylor Crosby plays, she's inspiring those around her and helping to make her sport stronger; helping to preserve its Olympic future.

But she also has her own Olympic future to think about. With Davidson in the stands and the announcement of Canada's national under-18 squad next month, she can't afford to be too generous with her focus.

"Sochi isn't going to be my year but maybe the next one in Korea," says Crosby. "Who knows what it will bring? I'm going to keep working towards it. The U18 national team have their tryouts, making those will be the next step, working hard, making myself better."

Can she make it to the Games? Davidson, who has been watching her play since she was 12, says the teenage Crosby has picked a hard path.

"She's a young goaltender and goaltending is an interesting position - some mature quickly, some it takes longer, and I think she's finding her way right now in terms of consistency and fitness," says the coach.

"Goaltending is hard to crack in our country. Since women's hockey was put into the Olympics in 1998, we've only used five or six goaltenders. It comes down to the athlete: what's their commitment level? How far are they willing to take it? It's a long process."

"It's in their hands as to how long they want to stay in it and what choices they are willing to make. But it's a long time for a young woman to put into a career that doesn't give you a contract."

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