Whiz kid Crosby sight to behold

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The setting, a cozy little rink at the corner of South Washington St. and Demers Ave, not far from downtown Grand Forks. The scene, a loose Team Canada practice, featuring three-on-three scrimmages using just one-third of the ice.

The realization: this is where you see Sidney Crosby at his creative best.

Unfettered by systems, undeterred by headhunting opponents and unconcerned about the score, this is where hockey's latest phenom shows you how good he is -- and provides a hint of how good he will become.

One moment, he's the Tasmanian Devil, spinning away from a defender with such quickness and precision you find yourself checking for a hole in the ice where he'd been a moment ago.

The next, he's Edward Scissorhands, a blur of flopping wrists as he slides the puck, backhanded, through goalie Reg Beauchemin to win a shootout competition.

"He's unbelievable," Beauchemin would say later. "I thought I was doing pretty good in practice, but then he comes out and makes me look like a fool."

If Beauchemin was the fool yesterday, he has plenty of company. Crosby does this to opponents wherever he goes.

That he's continued to do it here, a 17-year-old against the best 18s and 19s the top hockey-playing countries in the world have to offer, isn't so much a surprise as it is a confirmation.

"He comes as advertised," Team Canada assistant coach Peter DeBoer said.

The ad read something like this: give Crosby a leading role and he may well turn the world junior championship into his own playground.

With a tournament-leading six goals in his first three games, it seems the fun has just begun.

"I feel good," Crosby said, low-key as always. "Our line's clicking out there."

At the same time, hockey's next sure thing acknowledges this is what he hoped would happen in his second world junior.

"(It's) right there," he said. "When I came here I was expecting a little bit bigger role. But that's something you have to earn. I was just happy to get the opportunity. And it's been going well so far."

How far Crosby has come since last year's tournament has teammates shaking their heads.

"The improvement in his game is just remarkable," said Winnipeg's Nigel Dawes, another vet. "He's so strong on his skates. It's just fun to play with him, and fun to watch."

The goal everybody's talking about is the one Crosby scored against the Swedes, in which he managed to slide a backhand into the net, while falling down.

"From pretty much an impossible angle," Dawes said. "It's remarkable how he finds a way to put it into the net."

But Crosby is more than just a finisher. He's a starter, a worker, even a leader.

"He's the leader on our team," Beauchemin said. "We don't look at him as a 17-year-old. He's really mature for his age. I look at myself when I was 17, and it's day and night."

Handling adversity, rising to the occasion, dealing with pressure -- Crosby dodges potential pitfalls like would-be checkers.

Head coach Brent Sutter has done his best to shield his star from the expectations, but he needn't have bothered.

Crosby seems unfazed by all the attention, patiently answering every question thrown his way, then hungrily attacking every defender in it.

Against the best, we are seeing him at his best.

"I'm pretty close," Crosby admitted. "It's tough to compare. You don't have as much space, and guys are stronger -- it's hard to compare to junior. But I think I'm skating well and making things happen offensively, so that's what I'm going to try to continue to do."

We look forward to it.

But a final word of warning from the assistant coach.

"You better enjoy it now," DeBoer said. "Because you'll be paying 150 bucks to see him play from now on."


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