The great whine!

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- Wayne Gretzky used to be called "Whiner" - particularly in Calgary - for his constant complaining to the officials in the first few years of his career.

No. 99 even created a jackpot by calling the New Jersey Devils "Mickey Mouse."

Today, as he heads into his first game against Gretzky's old team, Sidney Crosby is under the magnifying glass with negative overtones for his own actions.

Through the first half of his first season as a pro with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sid the Kid has done all the right things and said all the right things, even when he didn't get chosen by Gretzky to play in the Olympics.

But on the weekend, in back-to-back games against Ilya Kovalchuk and the Atlanta Thrashers, Crosby lost it. Kovalchuk scored five goals in the double dip featuring the two young stars. In the first one, Friday in Atlanta, Kovalchuk scored on the power play and then pointed to Crosby in the penalty box where Crosby sat for a retaliation penalty.

SIX PENALTIES

Crosby took six penalties in the two games, four of them back here Saturday, including a diving minor and a misconduct for yapping at an official from the penalty box after the call. The suggestion here is that complaining to the officials has finally caught up with him.

At practice yesterday, prior to tonight's game against the Oilers, Crosby was on the hot seat.

"He talked a bit," said Lemieux, who said he spoke to the kid about it at home, where Crosby resides with the Lemieux family. "It's something he has to figure out himself. I've been through it. I've done the same thing. You learn.

"With the referees, it's always better to make them your friends.

"He's getting frustrated. Every time he has the puck he's getting hooked and grabbed. He has a passion for the game, a passion to be successful, to be the best, and he gets angry. He's smart enough to know it's a battle he can't win," he said of complaining to the officials.

Lemieux was kind enough not to point out this is nothing compared to the NHL of old - where clutching and grabbing ran rampant.

And Lemieux took a shot at Kovalchuk about pointing to the Penguins' 18-year-old superstar in the penalty box.

"I was watching it on TV. I didn't like it at all. It was a stupid thing to do. Judging from what he said afterwards, I don't think he'll do it again. I do think he regrets it." Lemieux said he did some stupid things at the start of his career, too. "Too many."

Crosby came to the rink yesterday and admitted he deserves the spanking. "In the last two games, I took too many penalties on emotion. It wasn't anything long term. It was the back-to-back games and it probably had something to do with what happened the night before," he said. "Eight minutes in the penalty box in one game is tough. That's letting your teammates down."

He said he's learned a lesson about dealing with the officials. "Don't talk," he said. "The referee's job is to make the calls. Our job is to play and not make opinions about it. Over the last two games I know I can't do that."

Crosby, who reminds me so much of Gordie Howe in the way he talks, acts and even looks - without all the blinking - said he didn't know about Gretzky's whining or the Mickey Mouse incident early in his career.

"I guess you have to go through things, especially as a rookie. I'm sure he knew the impact he had. I'm sure everything Gretzky said was analyzed. I'm sure when they called him 'Whiner' in Calgary, like you say, it probably was something they were using in Calgary to knock him off his game."

IN A FISH BOWL

Crosby said he'll take everything as it comes. He knows he's in a fish bowl. But he's not trying to hide. "I'm not going to change who I am. I know I have a little more responsibility as a role model and I take that seriously. But I'm not going to cut back on my emotion and intensity."

The kid is so far ahead of where Lemieux was in his first few years off the ice it's not even close. But Crosby said Lemieux came here uncomfortable with the language. "That's a big adjustment in life."

Crosby said he never picked up on that as a kid. "I watched him on the ice. I didn't watch his interviews."


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