Rockets grounded

Rimouski Oceanic forward Zbynek Hrdel scores the first goal on Kelowna Rockets goaltender Kristofer...

Rimouski Oceanic forward Zbynek Hrdel scores the first goal on Kelowna Rockets goaltender Kristofer Westblom in the first period of their Memorial Cup game at the John Labatt Centre last night. (London Free Press/Morris Lamont)

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

It came down to the 99 factor last night.

Sidney Crosby is touted as the Next One, the next player to follow in the footsteps of the Great One, Wayne Gretzky.

No. 99 made an appearance at the John Labatt Centre last night and while it inspired Crosby and the Rimouski Oceanic, it was a bad omen for the Kelowna Rockets.

The defending Memorial Cup champion Rockets were playing their 99th -- and what turned out to be their final -- game of the season.

The Oceanic won 4-3, sending the Rockets home without a win in their third straight Cup appearance after they had won as host team last year.

Crosby had a goal and an assist for the third straight game to take over the tournament scoring lead.

Tuesday night, he played in front of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who took a day off from labour talks to come and see his league's next superstar.

"It's good to see some people like that here, but we're not going to worry about it too much," Crosby said last night.

"I don't know if they had come to see me. You'll have to ask them about that. This is a pretty big tournament and I don't think they were just coming to see me."

Wherever Crosby goes, comparisons to Gretzky are made. Throw Mario Lemieux into that mix and the 17-year-old Crosby almost blushes.

But it's Gretzky himself who predicted Crosby will break his scoring records.

"I'll be the first one to tell you I don't think anyone is ever going to break his records," Crosby said. "But if he's going to say that about me, I'm going to continue what I'm doing and for sure it's flattering.

"Those are guys (Gretzky and Lemieux) that made a huge difference in the game, that I don't want to compare myself to. I've got a long ways to go before I can think about being in those guy's shoes.

"For me, I just try to stay level-headed and think about improving. And if I get comparisons like that, obviously I'm doing something right."

Crosby is happy with his play here.

"A goal and one assist in each game -- I think I've done well," he said. "There's not as much space out there as people think there is. I'm just trying to battle through it."

The Rockets fell behind 4-1 after two periods but made a game of it on Blake Comeau's back-to-back goals in the first six minutes of the third.

Comeau missed his hat trick when he shot wide on a breakaway two minutes after his second goal. But the Rockets wasted energy chasing Crosby in the first period. Tyler Spurgeon got into it with him prior to a faceoff three minutes in, then Canadian junior teammate Shea Weber moved in to give Crosby a shove.

"They were trying to shut me down and that's what teams are going to do," Crosby said. "I didn't even know it was (Weber), to be honest. We're good buddies. . . . There wasn't anything cheap. We were just two guys trying to fight hard for our team.

"I just spoke to him (after the game) and he's taking it pretty hard. I feel for him, too. I don't think anyone expected for them to come through this tournament like that."

Weber spent four seasons with the Rockets and will be on the Nashville Predators' blue-line next season.

"I don't know what went wrong," Weber said of his team's quick exit. "This is not what we expected. It's not the way we wanted to go out."

Comeau, who also played four years with Kelowna, was kicking himself for missing on the breakaway.

"Right as I was about to shoot it, the puck rolled on me and I didn't get any wood on it, so I think that was the turning point. Last year we came out on the right side of all the one-goal games and this year we didn't."

Now, as someone on the outside looking in, Comeau was asked to handicap the rest of the tournament.

"I think London is a really good team, Rimouski is a good team and so is Ottawa. In this tournament, anything can happen. Everyone can win on a given night. It's that close."


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