ST. CLOUD, Minn. — In her third year at St. Cloud State, Taylor Crosby has become absorbed in ethics and philosophy courses.
“I like those because they’re open-ended,” said Crosby, a goalie on the Huskies’ women’s hockey team. “There’s like a billion answers.”
Through much of her adolescence, hockey seemed to be the only topic anyone wanted to discuss with her. That’s natural when your older brother is one of the sport’s biggest stars.
The comparisons, the constant questions from the news media and strangers wanting to know more about her brother, Sidney, were overwhelming and invasive at times. Carving her own identity, particularly on the ice, became more challenging as her only sibling’s spotlight grew with each Stanley Cup (three so far) and individual accolade.
Taylor Crosby has always been proud of her brother’s success. And at 21, she has come to peace with the merits of her own hockey career by recognizing that the game does not have to be her defining legacy.
“The older I get, the more I see how important that is,” Crosby said.
Since she was 2 weeks old, the rinks around Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, became Crosby’s second home. There, she watched her brother garner national media attention as he dominated youth and junior leagues. Crosby was an invested fan and protective sister, yelling at players when they hit her brother, but she never had much inclination to play, at least at first.
When she finally decided she wanted to try being a goalie, it took her two years to persuade her parents, Troy and Trina.
Troy, a former goalie who was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens, relented and bought her a set of pads when she was 10.
“Both my parents were a little skeptical,” Crosby said. “I think they wanted to make sure I wanted to play for me and not just because of my brother. They wanted me to feel like I was my own person and I didn’t pick goalie just to be kind of different from him, but that I actually wanted to be a goalie.”
Crosby attended Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minn., a hockey talent factory whose alumni include several members of the United States women’s national team. (Her brother also attended the boarding school for one year.)
When she was 17, Crosby, too, started gaining recognition at the highest levels of women’s hockey. During the summer of 2013, she was invited to a junior camp held by Hockey Canada and traveled to Sheffield, England, for a camp run by the International Ice Hockey Federation.
After graduating from Shattuck, Crosby enrolled at Northeastern. But she never found her footing in Boston and transferred after one year. The invitations to prestigious camps and tryouts also tapered off. As her hockey career reached its first detour, she began thinking about the game in more abstract terms.
“To sum it up, it just wasn’t the right fit,” Crosby said. “It seemed like the right fit at the time, but when I got there, whether it was playing time — it just didn’t feel like home.”
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Crosby thought a return to Minnesota could be stabilizing. At St. Cloud State, she was not given any promises for playing time, but she saw an environment similar to Cole Harbour’s. With Shattuck classmates in abundance there, the small-town atmosphere meshed well with the pace she sought in her life and granted her a degree of anonymity.
When a new class arrives on campus, incoming freshmen can become star-struck when they discover Crosby’s lineage. But older teammates have become cognizant to quickly address any overbearing inquiries.
“We try to tell them she has a name, too — it’s Taylor,” the junior forward Jordan Stewart said. “Regardless of her brother, get to know her for her. But she’s pretty open about it.”
New teammates quickly learn Crosby has a sense of humor about her surname. She wrote in her player bio that her older brother “also plays hockey.”
They also recognize Crosby’s presence as a team leader. Before games, she breaks up tension by dancing or emitting primordial animal sounds. Between periods, when not in net, she relays feedback to forwards on where the ice is opening up and the opposing goalie’s tendencies.
Katie Fitzgerald, a goaltender for the Metropolitan Riveters of the National Women’s Hockey League, was Crosby’s teammate at St. Cloud State during the 2015-16 season. Fitzgerald started a majority of games that year and said Crosby was crucial to how she changed her mental and physical preparation for games.
“She’s a big voice on this team, and without her it would not be the same,” Stewart said. “She is just the most humble, hard-working person I think I’ve ever met.”
Crosby is currently a backup goaltender for the Huskies, who are 3-12. In an exhibition game on Oct. 13 against the Minnesota Whitecaps, a semipro team consisting of some of the Midwest’s top players, Crosby made 35 saves in a 2-1 win.
She is unsure what role hockey will play in her life after college. She would like to help grow the sport — the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the N.W.H.L. are two professional options — but envisions herself being just as content traveling or staying in St. Cloud.
“It changes every day,” Crosby said. “I’m not sure where the wind will blow.”
Carrying the indecision and wonder of most college students her age, Crosby embraces the current ambiguity surrounding her future. It also brings peace to her brother, watching his little sister come of age on her own accord.
“That’s so important to me,” Sidney Crosby said last month after a game against the Rangers. “As her brother, you just want to see her happy and having fun and doing what she loves to do, and she’s doing that. Unfortunately, I don’t get to see her as often as you’d probably like. The fact that she does change her mind often, she’s pretty open-minded, that’s good.
“She’s learning, and she’ll figure it out. I kind of laugh because we’re kind of similar in that way. I can certainly relate to that and hopefully help her out and let her know there’s not quite a big rush, and take her time to figure out what she wants to do.”