Crosby gets no favours

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:27 AM ET

LONDON, Ont. -- He is the future of hockey and he's getting his apprenticeship at the School of Hard Knocks.

Yesterday afternoon, Sidney Crosby was named the best player in Canadian major junior hockey for the second year in a row. Last night, he went out on the ice in a crucial Memorial Cup game against the Ottawa 67's and took a mountain of abuse while leading his Rimouski Oceanic to a 4-3 victory.

Nobody is complaining that Crosby got special attention from the 67's. That's a no-brainer because he can win a hockey game by himself and the 67's are obliged to do whatever they can get away with.

He got no protection from his coach, Doris Labonte. You might wonder about that but you have to accept Labonte's explanation.

"In the playoffs all teams are more aggressive on him but he has to take care of himself," said Labonte. "During the regular season, I can assign a bodyguard but not now. It's not a time of year when we can take penalties."

The coaches' roles are clear in this. They are charged with winning and they have to do whatever it takes.

But what about the on-ice officials? Where was referee Richard Forest, a Quebec league official, when Crosby was getting mugged last night?

"I see the game from my side and I trust the honesty of the referee," Labonte said, diplomatically. "It depends how they see the play and their judgment. I can yell but I'm not the one who's making the decision."

The best player in junior hockey is getting hacked and hooked and roughed up on virtually every shift and yet not one penalty was called against the 67's on a play involving Crosby.

Ottawa coach Brian Kilrea and his players are not responsible for the protection of Sidney Crosby. Their job is to find a way to win and if getting inside the other team's best player's shirt is the answer, then that's what they'll do.

But it falls to the referee to enforce the rules and on that count, Forest failed miserably last night. It is one of those strange things about hockey that the best and the brightest are allowed by the officials to be dragged down to the lowest common denominator, even though the rules are broken in the process.

Truth is, even though the Oceanic won and Crosby's line scored all the goals, this was Ottawa's game to win. The 67's just didn't make it happen because of a combination of defensive mistakes and poor execution in the offensive zone. Sure, Cedrick Desjardins played a decent game in net for Rimouski, turning aside 48 of 51 shots, but just as many good chances were wasted on blocked shots and shots that missed the net.

When it was over, with the 67's storming the Rimouski net to tie it in the last minute, if you listened very closely, you could hear a sigh of relief from the tournament organizers.

The dream final for this tournament involves the London Knights and Rimouski. They have the star power. From a marketing standpoint, Ottawa and the Kelowna Rockets are mere props.

Yet, heading into last night's game, the possibility existed that the Oceanic and its mega-star, Crosby, could be gone from the tournament as early as tonight. An Ottawa win would have meant that Rimouski would need to beat Kelowna tonight, or be eliminated. Not to mention, humiliated.

Crosby will face another evening of physical abuse against the Rockets. That's his lot in life and, as his coach says, "he has to take care of himself." Maybe a different referee will see it another way than Forest did last night, but don't count on it.

This is hockey, where we routinely eat our young.


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