Get used to it, Sid

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:39 AM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Sidney Crosby was walking to the Pittsburgh Penguins dressing room after practice when he passed equipment manager Steve Latin, who was sharpening a pair of Bauers.

Crosby nearly had clunked by when Latin called him back.

"You passed the dressing room Sid. It's over here."

With that, Sidney Crosby, rookie, retraced his steps and took his seat beside the stall that a few minutes earlier had accommodated Mario Lemieux.

For a joke, veteran Andre Roy wrapped a bit of underwear net around a hockey stick and lowered it into the six-person scrum around his locker.

This is a part of it now for Crosby, walking by dressing room doors in buildings he never has been in, enduring the heckles from a teammate because it's expected of you, figuring out where to go and how to get there.

Nothing big, but nothing familiar.

Which returns us back to the ice, where Crosby looked at turns immensely comfortable and at odds with the action in the Penguins' 5-1 loss in New Jersey. He had a nice goalmouth pass, generated three shots and was passable playing with John LeClair and Mark Recchi.

The question, as Crosby prepared for his team's date against the Carolina Hurricanes tonight, concerned how long it would take Crosby to acclimatize himself to the NHL. It has been one game already.

Hockey is the best game because when played well, it comes from your bones. Thought is a terrible thing in hockey. "When I was with the Rangers years ago, Mark Messier told me: 'Kid, don't think,' " Tie Domi once said when asked about being too deliberate on the ice.

So the question to Crosby: When can you start playing the game in new rinks in a new league, against unfamiliar opponents, on instinct?

"I think I can right now," he said.

"I feel last night, maybe the first period, I was working hard, creating chances, but I was still kind of second-guessing myself. It was just not having that comfort level and being afraid of making a mistake."

"Once I got out there and started playing, started skating ... I think I can play here."

"The first one's always the toughest," Penguins superstar/owner/centre/landlord/ Mario Lemieux said.

"You put a lot of pressure on yourself and you want to do well. Hopefully, the nerves aren't going to be as strong (tonight) and he's going to get used to getting ready for the game and playing a normal game."

So how long does it take to really acclimatize yourself to the NHL. Well, years.

"You see it where a 20-goal, 50-point guy breaks through into a 30-goal, say 65-point guy," Penguins coach Ed Olczyk said. "It takes time."

"You need a couple of years," veteran Ziggy Palffy said. "It depends where you play and what kind of player you are. You have to learn as soon as possible because if you don't, you're dead. You get time, but not too much time."

That fate, of course, won't apply to Crosby, who is neither star-struck nor intimidated, at least one game into his NHL career. But should he deliver anything less than parting a large body of water this winter, there will be disappointment on both sides of the largest undefended hockey border in the world.

YOUNGER THAN OVECHKIN

At 18, two years younger than the gifted Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, who scored two goals in his debut, Crosby doesn't have to be league's best rookie -- merely its saviour.

And now, one game in, he says he's ready ... if not for miracles, then something better than Wednesday.

"I think the comfort level will be better." Crosby said. "Obviously, there's a lot of nerves that come with your first game. Now I've seen it. I feel comfortable and confident out there."


Videos

Photos