Crosby the 'real deal' to Great One

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 10:21 AM ET

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The words were no sooner out of the Great One's mouth and the Next One was on the ice living up to the praises. In the words of Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby "is the real deal." Crosby has been the real deal at the 2005 world junior hockey championship and yesterday was another example as Canada defeated the Czech Republic in the semifinals.

But it wasn't even so much the 17-year-old's play offensively that has wowed everyone here; it's the defensive skills he has shown.

There he was, late in last night's game, his stick broken, and he dives to block a shot.

"You lay everything on the line there," the kid said. "It's part of the sacrifice you make."

Granted, because he is under 18, Crosby is required by the IIHF to wear a full face shield. He says it wouldn't have been any different if he was wearing the half-shield that he wears with the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec major junior league.

"It's makes it a lot easier going at it with that. But if I didn't, I'd still be going at it," said Crosby, indicative of the way every player on the Canadian team has bought into the commitment to defence.

"We realize when we do that we give ourselves a much better chance to win, and we get offensive opportunities because of that.

"It's part of being a hockey team. And if that's what it takes to win, that's what we've got to do. The glory of who scores the goals, it doesn't matter to guys. It all comes down to winning and guys are going to do whatever it takes do that."

Gretzky first laid eyes on Crosby when he was 14.

"I saw him play in California and I got pretty impressed," he said. "I hadn't skated in a couple of years, and I jumped on the ice with him -- and he's the real deal. He's got tremendous hockey sense, he moves the puck well, he sees the ice well (and) obviously he's got great hands.

"But the thing you learn at a young age that separates really good players from average players is . . . what you do and where you go when you don't have the puck. And he seems to find openings.

"He seems to get in position to get in the play at all times."

Crosby has been doing that throughout the tournament

"What's more important," Gretzky continued, "is he has fun when he's playing, and it's great to see good players play hard and yet really enjoy it. And you can truly feel he enjoys the game.

"The kids have played hard and Sidney has been spectacular. There's a tremendous amount of pressure on a 17-year-old.

"I think sometimes we take it for granted with these kids. The expectations become so high but we fail to realize sometimes the pressure and the microscope these kids are under, and he's handled himself tremendous . . . .

"The whole team has."

Crosby said Canadian team members knew before the game that Gretzky was here.

"For sure, it's unbelievable to be able to play in front of him. And for all the guys it's something we'll remember. But at the same time, you just try not to put any extra pressure on yourself.

"The game was big enough."

Crosby has risen to the challenge with six goals and two assists. He had two goals and three assists last year as a 16-year-old in Helsinki when Canada lost the gold-medal game to the United States.

"We want this really bad after last year, but it's a lot easier said than done," Crosby said.

"We're going to make sure we're prepared."


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