VANCOUVER – The NHL’s crown prince has finally completed the tour of his domain.
A huge media circus rolled through Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver last week as Sidney Crosby played his first games in the three Western Canadian cities as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
At every stop the 20-year-old with the kid’s smile and veteran’s manner faced television cameras and microphones. His 100-watt grin was splashed across the front pages of newspapers. His each word was recorded and analyzed.
For fans, Crosby’s first appearance in their towns was the highlight of the season. For the well-spoken native of Cole Harbour, N.S., it was another day in what has become his life.
“It was great to play in some new places,” said Crosby, after the Penguins completed their sweep of western teams with a 2-1 shootout victory against the Vancouver Canucks Saturday.
“To come here and get all six (points), it’s huge. I think we’re all excited for the fact we played in some new places against some quality teams and got some wins.”
It’s taken three years, but Crosby has now played in all 30 NHL cities. Will the hoopla be less the next time Pittsburgh comes to down?
“We’ll see if it’s like that,” Crosby chuckled. “I guess there is no new surprises or anything like that. It’s good it get it out of the way.”
Crosby is following in the steps of hockey superstars like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr. They were players who combined skill with personality to transcend the game. Even people who aren’t hockey fans know their names.
Being the face of a game can be a heavy load. Some people crumble under the pressure, but Crosby doesn’t seem to struggle with the weight.
“It’s easy for him,” said teammate Georges Laraque, who was traded to the Penguins from Phoenix in February. “It’s like this every game. It’s not just like this on this tour.
“Everywhere we go he gets this attention. He’s a great ambassador. Hockey is lucky in the fact Mario and Wayne were great ambassadors on and off the ice. Crosby is taking over from them. He handles himself really good in front of the cameras. We’re just lucky the NHL has such a great kid to be the face of the NHL.”
Crosby understands his role. In Calgary, he signed autographs at the airport at 2 a.m.
He went to Edmonton knowing there would be the comparisons with Gretzky.
“I don’t think anybody is Gretzky,” said Crosby, who was nine months hold when Gretzky won his last Stanley Cup with the Oilers.
The fan crush was so huge in Edmonton Crosby was forced to stay in his hotel with two security guards outside the door.
Any resentment Vancouver fans had for Crosby not playing in the January 2005 CHL Top Prospects game was forgotten. One young woman appeared at the rink with a sign that said “I’d give a kidney to makeout with Sidney.”
“It’s part of it,” he shrugged.
While Crosby made the headlines in each city he wasn’t always the story of the game.
He didn’t score a goal all trip and was held pointless after collecting three, third-period assists in the Penguins 4-2, come-from-behind victory against the Oilers. He didn’t register a shot on goal in a Pittsburgh’s 3-2 shootout win over the Flames.
Crosby had the chance to write a Hollywood ending against the Canucks.
He was awarded a penalty shot in overtime after being hauled down by defenceman Aaron Miller on a breakaway, but failed to score.
He could have won the game for Pittsburgh in the shootout but again was denied by Canuck goaltender Roberto Luongo.
“Those are opportunities you thrive on,” said Crosby. “You hope to get those, unfortunately they didn’t go it.”
He was satisfied with his play Saturday.
“I thought I created a little more than in Calgary,” said Crosby, the NHL’s scoring leader and most valuable player last year, who has gone five games without a goal. “I’m a lot happier with this game than Calgary for sure.”
While Crosby may not have played his best hockey no one complained. There’s little doubt his presence brings the best out of not only his teammates, but the opposition.
“Just playing against those kinds of guys you want to have your best effort,” said Alex Burrows, part of the checking line that shadowed Crosby all night in Vancouver. “You don’t want to be looking dumb out there. If you don’t have your A game, he will just walk all over you.”
Penguins coach Michel Therrien was pleased his team won its fourth consecutive game and improved its record to 15-12-2.
“For him (Crosby) to come out West was really demanding with all the attention he got,” said Therrien. “He played hard.”