The Next One gives Oceanic shot at Big One

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 2:00 PM ET

Call it Crosby, Still a Gnash, an act not to be confused with old rockers Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Sidney Crosby insists he is not a one-man show but you'd be hard-pressed to convince a packed John Labatt Centre last night as the Rimouski Oceanic's rising superstar set the Ottawa 67's gnashing their teeth with a curtain-call performance in Rimouski's 7-4 semi-final victory.

Crosby propelled his club into today's Memorial Cup final against the London Knights with three two goals, two assists and other hints of why they call the game's first star the Next One.

"There's a reason why they call him the next Gretzky," downcast Ottawa centre Brad Bonello said afterward.

A lot of people, from the Sportsnet television folks seeking a record audience to the Canadian Hockey League seeking the highest profile possible, were not unhappy with the emergence of the nation's top two junior teams having it out for all the marbles.

Besides pitting the best teams, it matches the tournament's top two scorers, Crosby and the Knights' Corey Perry. Crosby, with the extra semi-final game, has six goals and five assists in four games to Perry's four goals and two assists in three outings.

That said, the Knights are not the 67's, whom they dispatched four games to one in winning the OHL final. Rimouski is a closer match-up, but as coach Doris Labonte aptly said, "We are the challengers."

The Crosby-Dany Roussin-Marc-Antoine Pouliot threesome is an attacking dynamo, but after that, the threat falls off steeply. And the Oceanic defence often is just a rumour.

But it has Crosby, a 17-year-old who arrived in London on a flood of rave reviews and proved them to be merited. It remains too early to predict NHL greatness for him, but one thing is certain: This kid took a kicking and kept on ticking through a more modest serial mugging last night.

This guy even gets goals when he arcs an innocuous shot on net, as he did with a third-period rainbow that eluded Ottawa goaltender Danny Battochio from just inside the 67's blueline. He was leaving the ice on a line change after lobbing the puck on goal, heard the crowd roar and turned to watch the scoreboard replay to see how it went in.

It brought to mind an old Wayne Gretzky television commercial in which he scores from everywhere in the arena, including the rafters.

"We have a lot of guys who can do the job and sometimes the spotlight's on me and I'm lucky to play with guys who don't mind that," Crosby said through a slightly swollen lower lip. "It makes me a better player and makes them better players."

Crosby said the short rest between last night's game and this afternoon was a bit of a test, "but this is the Memorial Cup; we just have to get our rest."

Amid all the other pre-game analyses, the most intriguing was the tale of two goaltenders who'd seen more rubber than Richmond Street at rush-hour. Oceanic coach Labonte accurately predicted a high-scoring game.

Wednesday, Battochio was hit in the collarbone by a slapshot. Friday, after coach Brian Kilrea ordered his men to keep their shots down during practice, he was hit in the throat by a shot.

Desjardins turned aside 44 of 48 shots in an opening night 4-3 overtime loss to London and followed that up with a 48-save outing in a 4-3 win over Ottawa on Tuesday, then made 44 saves in another 4-3 victory Wednesday that eliminated defending champion Kelowna Rockets.

Last night, he saw his fewest of the tournament -- 29 shots, while Battochio faced 41.

Rimouski is hoping Desjardins can take a bite out of the Knights. Everyone already knows Crosby is chomping at the bit for the big one and can eat you alive if you let him.


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