T.O. turns out for Sid

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

Compared to a young Caesar returning to Rome, Sidney Crosby's first procession on Canadian soil was shy of trumpets, soldiers and young women throwing rose petals in his path.

He met the national media prior to playing the Maple Leafs last night, from a foldout table in a cramped hallway, his words barely audible above a rattling snack bar soda machine. Yet there was a Gretzky-esque quality to the event, with nearly 20 microphones and tape recorders in front of the unflappable 18-year-old, who duly looked every inquisitor in the eye and gave a usable sound byte for all answers, regardless of how many times he had repeated himself this season.

This trip north will be a big test of the Crosby hype machine, which stops in Montreal tonight.

"It's the way it is and I've accepted that as part of me playing hockey," Crosby said of the crush.

"I don't think of it too much. It's just like coming to the rink every morning and tying your skates -- I come here and do this."

Of course, he'll have to win a few games for the Pittsburgh Penguins before he fulfills the prophecy of rescuing the sport from itself and sharing Gretzky's iconic stature in Canada. So far, Crosby looks the part.

TRIED TO ADJUST

"I've tried to adjust and adapt as soon as I could," he said. "There are a lot of young players who bring a lot of excitement to the game. I'd like to be put in that category, but I don't think I'm the only guy.

"You can't teach experience. But if you go out there and lead by example, you can do that no matter how old you are. That's what I can do, set that example every night, whether it's winning faceoffs, scoring goals or blocking shots."

Pittsburgh reporters came to cover Crosby's first mass encounter with the Toronto media, though Crosby personally will get more charge out of the game tonight in Montreal, against the team he rooted for as a kid in Nova Scotia and as a junior in Rimouski.

"It's always special to come back to Canada and play in these arenas that I grew up watching a lot of games on TV," Crosby said.

One of his Hockey Night In Canada rituals was watching Don Cherry, who has taken shots at him on Coach's Corner for perceived leadership flaws and his quick rise to alternate captain after coach Ed Olczyk was fired last month.

"I won't get in a battle with Don," Crosby said of one of the biggest off-ice distractions in his rookie year. "I have nothing against him, he has his opinion and that's fine. I wish it wasn't (critical), but at the same time, I can't change who I am."

Though the "A" gives him a forum with the on-ice officials, internally, the Pens would like to see him tone down his complaining. But they're thrilled that Crosby has been both vocal and demonstrative regarding the state of his last-place team, especially with Mario Lemieux hurt and some inconsistent play from the veterans who were supposed to be in a support role.

"The torch has already been passed," one team official said of Crosby, with a prediction he will be captain by later this calendar year.

Crosby gained even more respect last week when he responded to a questionable hit from New Jersey's Cam Janssen by doling out some payback with his stick behind the play.

THERRIEN HAS EFFECT

New coach Michel Therrien's influences are becoming evident: Crosby is back at centre to stay, between Tomas Surovy and Ziggy Palffy at present. Pittsburgh has become better defensively, a true four-line team with the additions of hard-working farmhands such as Colby Armstrong.

"Michel's a demanding coach and he's put a lot of structure in our game," Crosby said. "Everyone is responsible now and knows what they have to do when they go out there. We're starting to play as a team and when we do that, we're getting results. Slowly, we're starting to come together."


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