On the trail of Sid the Kid


PITTSBURGH — “Excuse me, were you just talking to Sidney Crosby?” the boy asked in wonder amid a swirl of people at the airport. “Because I go to Shattuck-St. Mary’s and that was his school.”


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PITTSBURGH — “Excuse me, were you just talking to Sidney Crosby?” the boy asked in wonder amid a swirl of people at the airport. “Because I go to Shattuck-St. Mary’s and that was his school.”

That’s the power of Sidney Crosby; he makes a celebrity, for at least eight seconds, of a newspaper writer with a cellphone. And Sid The Kid makes a tour guide of Vancouver Canucks assistant coach Rick Bowness.

There are a lot of big fish the Grand Lake, where Bowness spends his summers. The mightiest one has a house near the end of the lake outside Halifax.

“Sidney moved in about three years ago,” Bowness explained. “It’s funny — anytime someone comes to my house, they ask: ‘Where does Sidney live?’ So I’ll take them down in the boat. I never stop; we just keep going.

“But when I’m by myself or with [my wife] Judy, I’ll pull in if I see him and he’ll come down and we’ll talk hockey. He’ll come down to his dock and we’ll just sit on the deck and talk hockey. He wants to know about Louie.”

Louie is Roberto Luongo. Crosby will see him Saturday when his Pittsburgh Penguins play the Vancouver Canucks in a tantalizing matchup.

It is a clash featuring the National Hockey League’s two hottest teams, led by two of the game’s biggest stars — players who should be cornerstones for Canada at the Vancouver Olympics just 15 months from now.

Bowness, whose brother Laurie was part owner of the Halifax Junior A team that Sidney’s dad, Troy, played for in the early 1980s, said he doesn’t talk Olympics with Crosby when they’re sitting on the dock at Grand Lake.

Crosby hardly talks about it at all.

Wary of seeming presumptuous and understanding both his primary commitment to the Penguins and the calendar — “it’s not an Olympic year; there’s a long way to go,” he said — Crosby usually stickhandles around questions about the 2010 tournament.

Yet, it could be one of the defining moments of Crosby’s career, which is destined to be measured against the insanely high standards of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.

Crosby is acutely aware of expectations and his place in the game, and Friday morning conceded over the phone that the Olympics are something he is desperate to experience.

“It’s not just a hockey thing; it’s a life experience,” the 21-year-old said. “You’re talking about athletes in other sports who plan their whole lives to compete at the Olympics. So, yes, I’d love to be part of it.

“The Olympics in your home country, where people are so passionate about the sport . . . I’d love to be part of it. I’d love to win everything and anything possible. If there’s only one [chance to win an Olympic gold medal], obviously the heat is on.”

Ah, yes, the “one.”

The NHL has made no commitment to maintain Olympic participation beyond 2010.

The event in Turin was a disaster for the NHL four years ago — Canada and Team USA crashed out early from a tournament — and there is little appetite from owners to shut down their league again in 2014 and send players off to Russia, where they will risk injury playing in time slots that do nothing for North American television.

It was only the Players’ Association that pushed for participation in 2010, and the union’s Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in 2011.

So, 2010 could be it for the NHL at the Olympics, which means it could be it for Crosby, whose omission from the Turin team because he was an 18-year-old rookie (who went on that season to become the youngest 100-point scorer in history) was a mistake then and seems ludicrous now.

Gretzky played for Canada in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano and managed the gold medal team in Salt Lake City four years later. Lemieux was on the 2002 team. Vancouver may be Crosby’s only chance to keep pace with history.

He remembers Vancouver being awarded the Games in 2003. Crosby was 15 and had just finished his year at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, the elite academy in Minnesota.

“I remember, but it was so far away,” he said. “I think I was just happy that it was in Canada. There’s still a long way to go. A lot can happen between now and then. You’re going to see guys have a great first half [next season in the NHL, before Team Canada is selected] who aren’t even on the radar now. There are a lot of possibilities there.”

Here’s one: Crosby could captain Team Canada. Yes, at age 22.

Burnaby’s Joe Sakic, who captained Canada in Turin, turns 40 next summer.

Jarome Iginla will be 32 and the most logical pick to replace Sakic if Canada needs a new captain. But in Turin, none of the the other top Canadian forwards — Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Vince Lecavalier — seemed especially keen to get out front and lead.

The 2010 lineup will be profoundly different from the Turin crew. It’s likely the defence will have only one or two holdovers from 2006 and feature young players like Dion Phaneuf, Mike Green, Shea Weber and Duncan Keith. The attack will probably be driven by newcomers like Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Mike Richards and Jonathan Toews. Ken Holland is the new manager for Canada, which will also have a new head coach for 2010.

So why not have the best Canadian player from this new era captain the team, especially when Crosby has long been accustomed to immense pressure to perform and lead?

“He’s got tremendous character, this kid,” Bowness, 53, said. “He’s got good instincts and I think he has watched how others handle themselves. I know he has lived with Mario and Wayne has talked to him. He’s had a great education.

“He understands what he’s going to be faced with. He understands what it means to the country. I don’t think it will bother him. You play for the love of the game, you play on passion, you rely on your instincts. I’ve watched enough superstars come through our league — and when they’re on, they’re not worried about the crowd or who they’re playing against. They’re just playing.

“The best leaders are the guys who go play their hearts out every shift. Like Ray Bourque when I was with the Bruins. Ray didn’t say boo. Ray just went out and played his heart out. Every night. You saw it in his eyes and actions every day. That’s what Sidney will do.”
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