Ooh-birds out for Sidney

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby got his first Pittsburgh Penguins scrimmage under his belt yesterday and it looks like someone slipped Prozac into the drinking water again.

Crosby delivered three assists in the contest and two of them were absolute showstoppers.

On one, he sprang on a loose puck along the boards and backhanded a perfect pass on to the hands of a grateful kid from Kelowna named Jonathan Filewich.

On another, he slipped a clever goalmouth pass to veteran Recchi for a tap-in.

Along the way, Crosby nudged aside bigger defencemen and seemed rooted in the ice when challenged for possession of the puck.

"I've seen three guys like that," said veteran Penguins executive Eddie Johnson. "I was with Bobby Orr when he came into camp with the Bruins and everybody said: 'Ooh, ooh, look what we've got here.' When I drafted Mario, he did the same thing. This (today) was the other time I saw somebody else come in and open your eyes after about three shifts on the ice.

"It's unbelievable.We were all sitting around up there with the scouts, (general manager) Craig Patrick and myself, saying: "Ooh, what have we got here?"

What they have is a kid who should have no trouble adjusting to the NHL game and someone who instantly will help renew the careers of Recchi and John LeClair.

"His vision of the ice is terrific." Recchi said. "He's got a great feel, obviously for the game When you add the enthusiasm he brings, it's fun being out there."

For those of you scoring at home, Team Herbie beat Team Badger 4-1. The teams were named after deceased coaches Herb Brooks and Bob Johnson. There are many references to the past in Pittsburgh since the club has turned the unfathomable trick of winning two Stanley Cups in most people's lifetimes.

You entertain thoughts of a third when you see Crosby and consider Evgeni Malkin, touted as one of the best Russian players of the past decade and the team's second overall draft in 2004, who will play here after fulfilling his commitment with Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Just so you know, Metallurg Magnitogorsk is in the Russian league.

There was never any question of course, that Crosby's skating was at an NHL level. He was often yards ahead of his competitors in junior. Same deal with his vision. The question about how he would fare here really centered on whether he could continue to retrieve and keep the puck against bigger men. Yesterday went a ways in proving he can.

"I think I did all right but I want to improve," Crosby said. "I don't think I'm happy with being average in that department and I want to make sure I compete with those guys. It was 50-50, I lost some battles."

Playing with LeClair and Recchi, Crosby said "was amazing. You don't have a choice but to play your best. They force you do do that because they're smart and that's the fun part for me, I'm being challenged to think faster and be creative."

"He (Sidney) somehow knew I was there and made a spectacular pass, explained the 20-year-old Filewich, who could make a handsome living doing just what he did yesterday, but for the club's almost certain insistence on sentencing him to Wilkes-Barre. "At the NHL level, it's a pretty tough pass but he's able to do it at every level and he's showing it."

And that, in a nutshell, is what makes the whole thing so intoxicating here. Yesterday, Crosby lost a few battles, as every rookie will. But he spent the rest of his time doing what no other rookie could.

The Penguins open their practices to the public. A couple of hundred people showed, including a lawyer named Tom Gebler who had ducked out on the firm to grab a seat and watch.

"So, what do you think?"

"This," said he, smiling a very unlawyerly smile, "is going to be a lot of fun for Pittsburgh."

Ooh, ooh.


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