DETROIT – Mario Lemieux had some high praise for Sidney Crosby just hours before the start of the Stanley Cup final.
The Pittsburgh Penguins owner – and one of the greatest NHL players of all-time – indicated that Crosby is much better at age 21 than he was. Lemieux thinks the team’s captain is a lot more mature, too.
“He’s a special kid,” Lemieux said Saturday night. “He’s a better player than I was at the same age, for sure. Some of the things that he does on the ice, his strength, skating ability is incredible. His passion for the game and his will to be the best each and every shift.
“His work ethic, he’s got it all.”
Crosby has lived with Lemieux since entering the league four years ago and has become like another member of the family. The two men speak about hockey “all the time,” according to Lemieux.
Lemieux is part of an ownership group that purchased the Penguins out of bankruptcy in 1999 and is thrilled to see the franchise back on stable footing. He’s enjoying every minute of another run to the Stanley Cup final.
“It’s been so much fun this year to see the team, especially the last month of the season, turn it around from what we were,” said Lemieux. “It’s been a lot of fun to follow these guys every game and to watch them win series after series, and hopefully, achieve our goal.”
Crosby is one of the main reasons they have a chance.
He and teammate led the playoffs in scoring through three rounds with 28 points apiece, bringing back memories of the Penguins glory days with Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr. Lemieux has been particularly impressed with the play of Crosby.
“He’s been playing unbelievable throughout the playoffs, and I think he’s on a mission to hopefully achieve his goal to win the Stanley Cup and win the championship in Pittsburgh,” said Lemieux. “You know, he’s been dreaming about this time since he was a little boy.”
DOIN’ IT FOR DETROIT
The Red Wings have even more motivation than usual during this Stanley Cup final.
Everyone within the organization is keenly aware of the large number of people that have been affected by the struggling economy in the Detroit region and have talked about the importance of winning for the community.
“I know tons of families that have lost their jobs and are losing their homes,” said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock. “My kids are all in sports and there’s two or three people on their teams losing jobs. And I’m not talking just your run-of-the-mill jobs. I’m talking guys that have worked for companies for 20 years, been engineers and don’t have jobs and are losing their home.
“We know one family that’s moving out of their home this weekend. That’s going on all over Michigan, obviously.”
It hasn’t kept people from coming to Joe Louis Arena to cheer on the home team. There will be sellouts for every game played here during the Stanley Cup final.
Dan Bylsma figures his Pittsburgh Penguins need to be aware of not giving the Detroit Red Wings too much respect during the championship series.
It’s a message the Penguins coach delivered to his players before the start of Game 1.
“You respect your opponent too much when you stand around and watch them play,” said Bylsma. “They’re a good team. They have good people in different positions. They play a pretty good brand of hockey, puck possession, they can get to the offensive zone.
“But when you stand around in awe of them, you play into their hands. I think we have a sense that maybe that’s what happened last year and want to learn from that experience.”
The Stanley Cup final rematch between the Penguins and Red Wings is full of stars, from Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom.
But the teams also feature a few off-the-ice luminaries.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have taken in a Penguins playoff game or two in recent weeks, while the Wings count among their celebrity backers actress Kristen Bell and musician Kid Rock.
Actor John C. McGinley, a Red Wings fan, watches the games from his home in Malibu, Calif., and he tends to be a tad superstitious.
“I rotate throughout the house like I do for New York Giants football games. Whenever things are going bad, I switch my seat,” said the star of the ABC comedy “Scrubs.”
McGinley’s rooting interest in Detroit stems from his friendship with 47-year-old Wings defenceman Chris Chelios, who lives and trains part of the year in Malibu.
A Detroit-area seafood company hosted an “octopus tasting party” on Saturday, treating guests to a free sampling of octopus chili, octopus salad and even barbecued octopus.
The Superior Fish Company has gained a reputation as a go-to place to buy the slimy mollusks, which have been tossed onto the Red Wings’ ice over the past half-century to celebrate a good play or goal.
“We’re offering everybody the opportunity to savour the flavour of a hockey tradition,” said co-owner Kevin Dean.
The Royal Oak business also is displaying a giant octopus, which it had flown in from Seattle.
Wings fans and other curious folks have been rolling into Superior Fish since the playoffs began to have their pictures taken next to the octopus.
With files from The Associated Press.