Canada’s Sidney Crosby waits for a face-off against Sweden during the gold medal hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/ AP/Matt Slocum)
Can you imagine how lethal two of hockey’s brightest stars could potentially be on the ice together?
Sidney Crosby certainly can. And has.
On this Labour Day weekend, Crosby is discussing the upcoming World Cup of Hockey in an exclusive one-on-one chat with Postmedia. At this particular moment, the Team Canada captain is pondering the question we’ve just posed to him: Which player on the roster might you like to be linemates with? It doesn’t take long for him to respond.
“I haven’t played with Stammer before,” he said. “That would be an interesting combination. His shot, he doesn’t need a lot of time to release it. He’s a right-handed shot. He’s one guy.”
But Crosby isn’t finished.
“Obviously I’ve played with (Patrice) Bergeron in a number of tournaments,” he continued. “And it would be cool with Brad Marchard, With him being from the same area (of Nova Scotia), I’ve skated a lot with him in the summer. I’m happy to see him on the team. It’ll be fun.
“But I think anyone on the team will tell you it’s an honour just to put on that jersey, no matter who you play with.”
Maybe. But let’s be honest: There is a school of thought out there that Crosby is difficult to play with because of his shiftiness on the ice.
Is that true, Sid? Are you hard to line up beside?
“I hope not,” he said, adding with a chuckle that “I can be a little demanding at times.
“In these types of short events, you just have to get on the same page with whoever you are playing with. It’s something that either clicks or it doesn’t. You don’t have the luxury of playing a number of games with someone.
“There’s speed, there are shooters and there are playmakers. You hope to get a combination of that. Lines that are dependable at both ends of the ice. All that goes into the decision-making, I think.”
Whichever combinations coach Mike Babcock opts to use, Crosby is pumped to lead Team Canada into this tournament, one that will take place on home soil.
“We know the expectations on us,” he said. “No one puts more of those on us than we do.”
In a lengthy interview covering topics ranging from Connor McDavid to No. 87’s favourite international moments, we present Sidney Crosby Unplugged: World Cup Edition.
Naysayers of the World Cup already have accused the tournament of being nothing more than a cash grab by the NHL and NHLPA. Moreover, they point to the fact that two of the teams — Team North America (U.S. and Canadian players 23-and-under) and Team Europe (players from European countries other than Russia, Czech Republic, Sweden and Finland) as evidence of that.
But Crosby rejects any notion that this is just a glorified exhibition tournament.
“I haven’t heard many of the critics but, for me, you don’t have to look too far to see how (legitimate) this event is,” Crosby rationalized. “Just look at the lineups. Look at the talent, the skill, the depth of every team. The hockey and the product will speak for itself. Combine that with the fact that it’s in Canada, a place where hockey is such a passion.
“I can only speak for myself and being Canadian but any time you put on that jersey, regardless of the event, there is passion and pride to go with that. That’s the best way I can put it.”
His NHL season ended in mid-June when he hoisted the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
His hockey season will resume Monday when Team Canada congregates for its first on-ice World Cup workout.
And you thought your summer was brief.
Crosby doesn’t mind, though. In fact, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s been short, sure,” he said. “But that’s a good thing because it indicates you’ve played some big games, some important games late into the season.
“Having that same mentality is going to be important in a short tournament like this.”
Almost a decade ago, Crosby was the youngest player to be named captain of an NHL team, receiving the coveted ‘C’ in 2007 from the Pittsburgh Penguins when he was just 19 years and 297 days old. Gabriel Landeskog would eclipse Crosby’s mark when he was named captain of the Avalanche in 2012 when he was 19 year and 286 days old.
Now there is talk that Connor McDavid — considered the first so-called generational player to enter the NHL since Crosby — could be named captain of the Edmonton Oilers in the coming weeks. And in Crosby’s opinion, No. 97 has the maturity, skill and leadership to handle such an honour if it plays out that way.
“I really do,” Crosby saod. “I think when you’re talking about the type of responsibility that is put on his shoulders and what he’s dealt with to this point, there’s a lot you’ve already learned. Your learning curve is fast-tracked. There are a lot of things you go through that are not typical things for a 17-, 18-, 19-year-old to go through. That definitely helps your awareness of things and your ability to be a leader.
“Everyone’s different. But if the team and player both feel he’s ready, I don’t see age being a factor. It’s whatever is going to get the best out of him.”
As for those who perceive this tournament as a potential coming-out party for McDavid, Crosby feels the Oilers star already has established himself as one of the best players on the planet.
“It’s been a short period of time because of his injury last season but it’s pretty well known and understood he’s a world class player,” Crosby said. “He’ll have an opportunity again to show it on a big stage but he’s already shown it already.
“I’m pretty sure he’ll be motivated to prove something, but I think people already know what type of player he is.”
Like most of us, Crosby is intrigued by Team North America. With McDavid, Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews in the mix, youthful talent and swagger will be front and centre.
“When you go through the rosters, there are no weak teams,” Crosby said. “But I do think the team that fans will find exciting is the 23-and-under team. They’re going to be fast. They’re a group with lots of speed and a really high skill level.”
In handicapping Team Canada’s chances in the World Cup, Crosby sees the familiarity many Canadian players have with each other as an edge in such a short tournament.
Consider this: Twelve of 23 Team Canada players have NHL teammates on the roster. In breaking it down, that includes forward duos Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry (Ducks); Patrice Bergeron-Brad Marchand (Bruins); Joe Thornton-Logan Couture (Sharks); and defence pairs Drew Doughty-Jake Muzzin (Kings); Alex Pietrangelo-Jay Bouwmeester (Blues); and Brett Burns-Marc Edouard Vlasic (Sharks).
While those players won’t be partnered up on every shift, they certainly will see time together in situations like power plays and penalty-kills.
“I think there’s definitely some thought that goes into that,” Crosby said, noting that such a blueprint was purposely cobbled together by Team Canada management. “In a short-term event, it’s important to get chemistry as soon as possible when you have that. It’s not everything, but it does help guys adjust a bit quicker.
“That’s something that, if it can be done, it can work out well.”
Crosby knows it’s coming. And he’s ready for it.
During the Stanley Cup final, the Sharks’ Logan Couture accused Crosby of “cheating” on faceoffs. Now, less than three months later, the two will step on to the ice as teammates Monday for Team Canada’s opening World Cup practice in Ottawa.
Knowing the press will be asking about it, Crosby might feed the journalistic beast, in a sense.
“Maybe we’ll take a few (draws) against each other just to lighten the mood,” he laughed. “It’ll be fun.
“I guess at this point, since we’re going to be teammates, it will be brought up. I think that was just the heat of the moment. That’s the great thing about hockey.
“I remember I got into a fight with Matt Niskanen and shortly afterwards he was my teammate. We joked that that’s just how it goes.”
SID AND BABCOCK
In two previous stints representing Canada under the guidance of head coach Mike Babcock, Crosby won Olympic gold both times. It’s a relationship that has proved productive for both.
According to Crosby, it’s Babcock’s ability to keep his mandate clear and simple that has led to such recent international success for Canada.
“He and his staff have just been so organized,” Crosby said. “They’ve been very direct in letting us know what they expect out of us as a team and as individuals. You don’t have a lot of time, so it’s important you know how they want you to play as a group and what your role is within that to go out there and do it.
“Just the organization, the plan, just being clear has been the biggest thing. And giving us the opportunity to do that.”
MAPLE LEAF DREAMS
When Crosby was a kid growing up in Cole Harbour, N.S., even he could not have predicted he’d be captaining Team Canada one day. Having said that, he did dream of wearing the fabled Canadian jersey one day, a goal that was spurred by the 1998 Nagano Games and the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
It was the heartbreak in Japan and the jubilation in Utah four years later that drove Crosby to want to represent his country one day. Nagano saw Canada losing its semifinal in a shootout to the Czech Republic before rebounding four years later to win this country’s first Olympic gold medal in 50 years.
“The Olympics always had that special feel, not just for hockey but for everything,” he said. “I was always glued to the TV, whether it be the Summer Games or Winter Games. There’s so much pride that goes with that.”
TOP CROSBY MOMENTS IN
A CANADIAN UNIFORM
(According to Sid)
1. The Golden Goal at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver
This is an easy choice for Crosby — or anyone else who saw him score the gold-medal winning overtime goal in overtime of the title game against the U.S.
“Vancouver was different in that it was at home and there was pressure to have success,” he recalled. “This (World Cup) tournament will be kind of like that in that we’ll be at home again.
“I think every one is unique in it’s own way but the Vancouver one is pretty special.”
T2. Canada’s gold medal at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia
“The Sochi Olympics had its own challenges - the bigger ice surface and the fact we didn’t score a lot.” No matter. A suffocating defensive system and unflappable goalie Carey Price led Canada — a team captained by Crosby — to the title.
T2. Gold medal at the 2005 world juniors, Grand Forks, N.D. (photo below)
“It felt like we were playing at hime because so many Canadians made the trip down. That was pretty cool.” So was winning the gold medal.