Pittsburgh prodigy

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:16 AM ET

Sitting quietly in his parent's wood-paneled rec room in Cole Harbour, N.S., yesterday, Sidney Crosby watched TV like most other 17-year-olds with the summer off do.

However, unlike millions of others tuning into TSN yesterday, Crosby turned off the NHL's draft lottery with news of a pretty sweet gig waiting for him: An all-expense paid trip to Pittsburgh where he'll have a steady job and an anxious roommate -- Mario Lemieux.

"I've got plenty of room," joked Lemieux on TSN, minutes after Crosby's agent, Pat Brisson, informed him the Penguins secured first pick overall.

"He can stay on the third floor with the kids."

Stopping short of offering Crosby the babysitting job given to hotshot goaltender/roomie Marc-Andre Fleury when he was a rookie, Lemieux was more than willing to concede his franchise had effectively been saved after years of struggling with attendance, money and arena woes.

"This changes the whole thing for us in Pittsburgh," said Lemieux, who rescued the last-place club from bankruptcy in 1999 and will turn 40 opening night.

"To be able to get him here for hopefully his whole career will certainly help us get a new building. This is something special. Our chances are better now."

Much like Lemieux did 21 years ago when selected first overall, the talented and charismatic Crosby will be summoned to Steeltown to help resurrect both a franchise and a league. With Mario as his mentor and potential linemate, the kid who won Calgary's Mac's Invitational with Shattuck/ St. Mary's three years ago couldn't have been happier.

"He's a great role model and to be able to play with him would be something special," said Crosby, who met and trained with Lemieux in L.A. last summer.

"Just to be around him and see the way he handles himself and carries himself was incredible. We played together a few times together on the same line last summer. It was just an idea but now it could become a reality."

On a day of celebration for a league that ratified the CBA and took its first step forward after a year of backpedalling, the Crosby sweepstakes stole the show.

While Pittsburgh may not be the team league officials hoped he'd land in, he'll be handled well by Lemieux and will get plenty of exposure out east where his marketability will expand beyond current backers Reebok and Gatorade.

At the tail end of a slick TSN production that had all the trappings of a Canadian Idol broadcast, Chicago Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz punctuated the announcement by shouting, "Justice!" when Pens president Ken Sawyer got the nod over Anaheim's Brian Burke.

"This -- combined with the CBA -- really puts our franchise back on track," said Sawyer, who immediately declared the pick would not be dealt.

After crossing teams off his list of 30 as they were called, the Rimouski Oceanic and Canadian junior star admitted it was a day of intense nerves -- the first of many in an NHL career that has him being touted as a saviour for a $1.8 billion industry that needed a kickstart.

"Definitely there's a lot of pressure but my first goal is to make the team," said Crosby, who could play with last year's second pick overall, Evgeny Malkin.

"I'm not there yet but it definitely feels good to move in that direction."

Has he ever been to Pittsburgh before?

"Never," said Crosby. "I hear it's a great hockey town."

Better now.


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