CALGARY – He’s not playing, but Sidney Crosby’s tour of Western Canada continues to remind him of his goal that won the gold medal for his country at the Vancouver Olympics.
His Pittsburgh Penguins opened their season with a 4-3 shootout win Thursday over the Canucks in the same building Crosby scored the historic overtime winner versus the United States on Feb. 28, 2010.
Pittsburgh’s second stop of the season is in Calgary on Saturday and features Flames captain Jarome Iginla, who assisted on Crosby’s goal.
Iginla heard Crosby cry “Iggy” and got a pass away before he was knocked to the ice. Iginla didn’t see the winning goal, but knew from Crosby’s celebration that the gold was theirs.
“It was cool the way that ended,” Iginla said Friday.
Iginla wished Crosby’s recovery from last season’s concussions was quicker, so he could face his former linemate in Calgary’s season-opener.
“To be honest, disappointed,” Iginla said. “More so just health wise. He’s huge for the game and an exciting player for fans to watch.”
Crosby continued to skate and skate well with the Penguins on Friday, but it’s still 24-year-old up in the air as to when he’ll be cleared for contact in practice. If he and Iginla, 34, reunite while the Penguins are in Calgary, it will be off the ice.
“I grew up watching him so to have the chance to play with him and be together on that goal was pretty special,” Crosby said, who appreciated Iginla’s wish to play against him Saturday.
“It’s a compliment and at the same time, you don’t want to rush back because guys want you back. It’s nice to get that kind of response. Trust me, I miss it. I want to get back a lot and I’m anxious to as well. That being said, it certainly means a lot coming from him.”
The Penguins play in Calgary every other season. Calgary lost 3-1 at home to the Pens back on Jan 10, 2010, just a few weeks before Iginla and Crosby made Canadian hockey history.
Crosby scored a hat trick in a 4-1 win over the visiting Flames last season.
“He did light us up last year,” Iginla said. “On that side of it, people might laugh when I say I’m disappointed, but it’s part of competing. I know our fans would have liked to see him for sure. They don’t get to see him very often.”
The extended absence of the NHL’s best player, and a Canadian one at that, has created a sea change in hockey down to the minor levels in this country. Hockey Canada, headquartered in Calgary, has banned all head hits in minor and female hockey.
The major junior leagues in the Canadian Hockey League, where Crosby once starred, cracked down hard on head shots. Like the NHL, the Western, Ontario and Quebec leagues have started their seasons suspending players and some for multiple games for hitting the heads of opposing players.
“For kids growing up now, it will be easier for them to adjust,” Crosby said. “They’re going to know there’s no head shots and I’m sure they’ll adapt according to that, but for us, it’s a little bit different.
“There’s an adjustment there and we didn’t grow up with those rules. Everyone has to be more responsible and figure things out, but I think it’s a step in the right direction for sure.”
Iginla may be alone among the Flames in his desire to see Crosby line up against them Saturday. Flames winger Alex Tanguay wasn’t sad at the prospect of playing Pittsburgh minus Crosby.
“I can’t honestly say I’m disappointed,” Tanguay said. “For us, we’re trying to get two points so I’d rather not see him in the lineup for sure.”
Flames coach Brent Sutter, Crosby’s coach for Canada in the 2005 world junior hockey championships, is pleased to see he’s close to a return and also pleased that he’s not quite there yet.
“Obviously a very, very talented player and the best in the game, so it’s great to have the best back and he will be back soon,” Sutter said. “But I’m glad he’s not playing against us.”