Stopping Crosby will be key

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

He can't vote, enter pubs or sign contracts but the truth is that Sidney Crosby came of age years ago.

The 17-year-old widely predicted to be the next legend of the game is already known to the hockey world and beyond in Canada as the greatest Crosby since Bing.

He did his first newspaper interview at the age of seven. He appeared on Hockey Night in Canada when he was 14. He represented his country at 16.

And he has played to boffo reviews all the way to the present.

Beginning Saturday, John Labatt Centre fans and a national television audience will get another peek at the exciting goal-scoring machine when his Rimouski Oceanic open the Memorial Cup against the host London Knights. It will be a show within the show.

Some of the people who have seen him up close and personal are determined Crosby won't come up with an award-winning performance.

Knights captain Danny Syvret saw a lot of the electrifying centreman as a teammate at the world junior championship. He'll get a closer look head-on Saturday.

Corey Perry, who also spent time with Crosby at the worlds, will be facing him in a sort of gunfighter showdown of scoring kings. Also familiar with Crosby from the worlds are the Knights' Rob Schremp and Danny Fritsche, who played for the United States.

Knights general manager Mark Hunter got the most recent look when he scouted Rimouski's playoff games. He saw whatever everyone else has seen so far.

Crosby is an effortless skater with an explosive takeoff, moving his five-foot-11, 193-pound body into breakaway speed with bewildering moves and puck control.

There's more. He's strong in front of the net and in the corners, and he's tough to get off the puck anywhere. Add to that the instincts, the anticipation, the passing and shooting accuracy and you get a picture of the physical package.

Moreover, everyone says he's as tough mentally. When he arrived in Rimouski, a three-hour drive east of Quebec City, he was a promising kid from the Dartmouth, N.S., suburb of Cole Harbour.

He didn't sneak up on the Quebec league exactly, but the 54 goals and 135 points in his rookie season certainly set up enemy roadblocks for the next one. He elevated his output to 66 goals and 168 points in the season just completed.

His coach said it best: "Sidney is like a boxer who has to fight a different opponent every night," said Doris Labonte, whose own name conjures up the Johnny Cash song A Boy Named Sue.

Predicting personal Memorial Cup triumphs for legends-to-be, if that is what young Crosby will become, is a chancy thing. Mario Lemieux was a bit of a flop at the 1984 Cup. It was the same for Bobby Orr in 1966, although he was injured at the time. In the early 1950s, the most ballyhooed junior of the era, Jean Beliveau, was shadowed into near-anonymity by his Barrie Flyers checker.

The Knights' game plan for the Oceanic is one that involves stopping a high-scoring team while exploiting its suspect defensive side. A big part of everything is removing Crosby from the equation as much as is possible.

It won't be easy. Along with the other teams, the Knights will be dealing with a guy of unshakable desire and all the talent to bring it to fruition. Statistics rarely tell you the complete story, but Crosby's shout out one message: He has always delivered.

When he left home for a prep school in Minneapolis at 14, his wider fame began developing, fuelled by his 72 goals and 162 points in 57 games. His back-to-back major junior seasons speak for themselves and it continued twice at the international level with eight goals and 14 points in 12 world junior games.

How this kid performs -- and how the other teams handle him -- ought to be a show in itself.


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