Pen-ultimate prize

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

Sid the Kid and Mario the Magnificent may sound like a mouthful but to the fans of the Pittsburgh Penguins it's nothing but sweet music.

On the day National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman finally was able to definitely announce the league will resume play this fall, one of the game's greatest stars received the chance to pick the player whom the majority of observers expect to be the sport's next big thing.

Not long after the NHL board of governors voted 30-0 to ratify the new collective bargaining agreement, and thereby put the final nail in the lockout, Bettman unveiled the Penguins as the winners of the draft lottery. Sidney Crosby's NHL start in a Penguins sweater will become official next Saturday when Mario Lemieux and the Pens will choose him first overall at the entry draft in Ottawa.

"It would be unbelievable and I would love the opportunity (to skate alongside Lemieux)," Crosby, the only person to be named Canadian Hockey League player of the year twice, said. "He's not only a nice guy but a role model."

With much of the rest of the day devoid of suspense -- the rule changes and other finer points in the new CBA have been public knowledge for a while now -- Bettman stood at a podium in front of each of the team's general managers and announced each club's selection slot.

Some wind went out of the sails locally when Bettman ripped open the Maple Leafs logo with the 21st envelope, but plenty of intrigue remained. The final two clubs were Pittsburgh and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, but had the latter won, it would not have made for the juicy story that should become the Mario and Sidney Show. Crosby's sentimental favourite, the Montreal Canadiens, will pick fifth.

Although Leafs fans won't see Crosby in the blue and white, they will see the Penguins in Toronto twice during the regular season.

21 YEARS AGO

Lemieux, who turns 40 on Oct. 5, the night all 30 teams will kick off the 2005-06 schedule, barely could conceal his excitement at the prospect of being a teammate of Crosby's. Some 21 years ago, Lemieux was seen as the hockey saviour in Pittsburgh, and wound up leading the Pens to a pair of Stanley Cups. There has been talk that Lemieux would figuratively pass the torch to Crosby. Now it can happen in a literal sense.

"This is huge for the franchise," Lemieux said. "To be able to select a player of this calibre and the talent that he has, this is very exciting for the franchise and for the city and the fans here in Pittsburgh. It's going to change the look of the franchise for many years to come."

The Penguins finished last in the NHL in 2003-04 but managed to sign Mark Recchi last summer. And though Crosby, who never has visited the fine city of Pittsburgh, could have earned millions more in endorsements had a ball representing a team such as the New York Rangers or Maple Leafs been the first to fall yesterday, he said that's not a concern.

In Pittsburgh -- where knocking the Steelers off the front pages could be a bit easier with Crosby, a young team with a core that includes goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, Ryan Malone and possibly Evgeni Malkin -- Crosby sees a team that only can go up.

"I'm concentrating on hockey right now and I have to make sure other things don't get in the way," said Crosby, who turns 18 on Aug. 7. "My main focus is to play in Pittsburgh, hopefully next year. My dream has been to play in the NHL."


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