Crosby deals with top billing pressure

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:50 AM ET

Sidney Crosby says he's never been to London.

He's looking forward to seeing it. But what he's really looking forward to doing is getting on the ice, hoping to win a Memorial Cup title that would cap not only an outstanding year for him personally, but also for the team and most likely for a junior career as well.

"It's a great opportunity for our whole team," said Crosby. "We've been playing all season for this opportunity."

He'll be here sometime today and because of his appearance in the tournament there will be a lot of other people coming to London for the first time.

Crosby is the big name in this tournament. The kid who has been making headlines is the main reason about 250 people have requested media accreditation. (You didn't think it was to visit Storybook Gardens, did you?)

He is as used to the scrutiny, the pressure of living under a microscope, the constant request for interviews and the substantial expectation he will be the next great hockey player, as finding someone shadowing him in a game.

None of this has impeded his performance. But often forgotten is the fact his team is under the same pressure and that it too has performed to expectation. A 35-game undefeated streak attests to that.

And the Oceanic, like the Knights, have become used to media attention, a bonus in a Memorial Cup.

Crosby understands the extra pressure his celebrity puts on the team. "You get used to it but we don't really talk a whole lot about it. It's something they have accepted and I've accepted. It doesn't change much when it comes to (team) chemistry. I do my best. It's tough sometimes when you are on the road and you sign autographs and the bus is waiting. But they are really respectful of that. I think I'm really fortunate and lucky to have guys like that. We have respect for each other and I'm lucky to have guys who can understand something like that."

Crosby has been hounded by questions about his future. What happens if there is no NHL draft? Where will he play? Crosby doesn't want to address the issue, preferring to simply play this season out and see what happens.

When you toss in the attention he received by leading Canada's junior team to a gold medal, it shouldn't have come as a shock if the pressure and stress had affected his performance . . . at least a little bit.

Not a chance.

In 13 playoff games, Crosby led the Quebec league with 31 points and was the playoffs' most valuable player. Crosby led regular-season scoring with 168 points on 66 goals and 102 assists.

The focus on the kid from Cole Harbour, N.S., has led to the impression the Oceanic are all Crosby, all the time. It could prove a dangerous mistake to make.

Crosby and linemates Dany Roussin and Marc-Antoine Pouliot combined for 398 points in the regular season and filled the top three spots in the QMJHL scoring race.

"You don't get this far without a good team," Crosby said. "Sometimes that does get misunderstood. That's not the Oceanic way. I know that we're a team here. The guys know that we're a team here. That's the most important thing."

The statistics are especially impressive when one realizes Crosby is the guy everyone wants to stop. He's slick, smart and has enormous talent. But he's tenacious, a guy who puts in tremendous effort and is rewarded for it.

When the Oceanic and London Knights square off in what is the early showcase game Saturday, you can expect the Knights to have arranged special treatment for the next Great One.

Will they be any more successful than the dozens of teams and players who have tried to shut him down before? Great players and great teams respond to challenges. That's what makes the first game so intriguing.

"The attention's been there really for the past two years," Crosby said. "They try and shut you down. That's the game of hockey.

"You have to look at it as a challenge and that's how I'm going to look at it."

Crosby won't be entirely unfamiliar with the Knights. At the world junior he played with Danny Syvret and Corey Perry.

"They are great guys, that's the first impression," Crosby said. "We had great chemistry on the team. Corey was my linemate and I had a chance to talk to Danny a lot.

"They are great guys and great players. They can make things happen."

Crosby makes things happen. It's easy to forget he won't be 18 until Aug. 7.

What London has been calling the Big Show will have a Big Show of its own.


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