The Crosby Show

Media demand has been unprecendented for the 2005 Memorial Cup and ratings should go through the...

Media demand has been unprecendented for the 2005 Memorial Cup and ratings should go through the roof as fans tune in to see Sidney Crosby. (Toronto Sun File/Mark O'Neill)

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

Finding a hotel room in London in the next week might be as tough as finding a Belinda Stronach supporter in the Conservative party.

Call it the culmination of the perfect hockey storm, perhaps, but the excitement and hype in the days leading up to the 2005 Memorial Cup is at a high.

And not only because a bunch of hockey people and those who regularly cover the National Hockey League have nothing better to do right now.

The presence of Sidney Crosby alone would have been enough to make the decision to go to London for the annual major junior hockey championship in Canada an easy one. But because each team brings such star power --the host London Knights and their dream season, the defending Cup champion Kelowna Rockets, Hall of Fame coach Brian Kilrea and the Ottawa 67's and Crosby with his Quebec league champion Rimouski Oceanic -- the interest in the tournament is unprecedented. Of course, it helps the NHL is in lockout mode.

A year ago, when the Rockets won the Cup on home ice, the tournament accommodated approximately 150 media accreditation requests, which was a record.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Canadian Hockey League was sitting on 298 applications from Canada and the U.S., including ESPN. Of those, CHL director of information Aaron Bell figured 70 are for print media.

"If you had asked for this (Cup lineup), you probably would have felt guilty for asking for too much," Ontario Hockey League commissioner and CHL president David Branch said. "We always feel the Memorial Cup is going to be the best ever and here we find ourselves with this one. It's an interesting script."

The lead role will be played by Crosby, the 17-year-old wunderkind, who is all but assured of playing his last junior game in the coming days.

He will be the first pick in the next NHL draft, and if the lockout continues into the fall, the speculation as to where he will play next season is rampant.

The Toronto Marlies or the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League? Canada's national team? Sweden? Russia?

Crosby and his agent, Pat Brisson, have said repeatedly the decision won't be made until next month at the earliest.

But as for the present, one would assume they're jumping for joy at Sportsnet, which will televise the tournament in high definition. The record for viewership for one junior game on Sportsnet is 287,000, and to no one's surprise, it involved the Knights. That mark came last Dec. 10, when the Knights and visiting Guelph Storm tied 0-0, when London stretched its unbeaten streak to 30 games, setting a CHL record.

"We expect to break that (tomorrow at 7 p.m., when the Knights and Oceanic meet in the Cup curtain-raiser)," Sportsnet spokesman Dave Rashford said. "I can't believe there has been a better storyline at the Memorial Cup."

Sportsnet will have its Hockey Central panel of Darren Dreger, John Garrett and Nick Kypreos on site through the duration of the tournament.

"Every 10 or 12 years, there is one of these special guys," Kypreos said. "Wayne (Gretzky), Mario (Lemieux), Eric (Lindros) and now Sidney. For us at Sportsnet, to have him involved in the Memorial Cup, it gives it a super-event feeling. The stars have aligned. Thank God for those of us who have been starving without (NHL) hockey."

Although there have been whispers Crosby will have his own security detail, Branch said no player will be treated any differently than the next. But that's easier said than done.

"One thing we know of all sports is the star factor is first and foremost, from Michael Jordan in basketball, to Tiger Woods in golf, to Wayne Gretzky in hockey," Branch said. "You have that here in Sidney Crosby, and then you add Shea Weber (of the Rockets) and Corey Perry (of the Knights). We're only fooling ourselves if we think everyone will be treated the same in terms of demand and interest."

If there is anyone who can handle the scrutiny, it's Crosby, who has been dealing with the spotlight's glare for a few years now.

Despite his youth, he was a major factor in Canada's gold-medal victory at the world junior championship this past winter and, for the second consecutive year, he should take the CHL's player-of-the-year award when it's announced on Tuesday. The possibility that Crosby won't be a positive factor at the Memorial Cup hasn't crossed many hockey minds.

"I can't recall a time when he hasn't played well," Maple Leafs' scout Craig Button said. "Even if he is not at the top of his game, he will find a way to impact it. Good players don't put all their eggs in one basket. There's no way Sidney Crosby or his star will diminish (in London). These players are not made or broken overnight.

"I don't know if you could have painted a better scenario. When you bring all the elements together, it has the potential to be one of the best Memorial Cups in recent history."


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