Crosby show hits Edmonton

Sidney Crosby.

Sidney Crosby.

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:23 AM ET

I'm not sure hockey has seen anything quite like this since January of 1982.

Except this is in reverse.

This isn't Wayne Gretzky headed East.

This is Sidney Crosby headed West.

Back in '82, Gretzky was in his third year in the NHL and headed for games in Washington, Philadelphia and Toronto after he'd just scored 50 goals in 39 games.

Sid The Kid, in his third year in the NHL is about three dozen short of 50 so far this season. But he's played everywhere else in the league except Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.

Finally fans in Western Canada get to watch him play.

SPECIAL SINCE DAY 1

"It's been special since Sid's first day of training camp when we had 11 Canadian media outlets. But this is a different kind of special," said Pittsburgh Penguins VP of communications Tom McMillan.

"Who would have thought it would be his third year in the league before he went to Western Canada? It would have been special the first year. But this makes it extra special, especially for Sid because he is so respectful of the game and the traditions."

From the minute Crosby lands here, he'll be an event.

First he'll proceed to a special press conference at the team hotel this afternoon. He'll also have special pre-game and post-game press conferences tomorrow as well.

It'll be the same drill in Calgary and Vancouver minus the hotel press conference to launch the closest thing there is to a royal visit in hockey in the new millennium.

Back in January of 1982, when the Oilers hit the Eastern seaboard, there were 132 requests to interview No. 99 in Toronto.

Upon arrival in Washington, Gretzky had to handle interviews from a horde of media men and women, including an advance party of sportswriters from Toronto who were basically chronicling 'The Road To Toronto.'

Gretzky was then hustled off to tour the local TV stations with NHL president John Ziegler to promote the All-Star Game there a few weeks later. Somebody was also filming 'A Day In The Life Of Wayne Gretzky.'

A Calgary columnist showed up in Pittsburgh yesterday to follow Crosby.

For Gretzky, there were more media members waiting the next day in Philadelphia and so many requests for Toronto that Oilers' media relations man Bill Tuele had to call a special press conference.

"We've been a bit pro-active," said Penguins media relations man Frank Buonomo yesterday.

"We're trying to funnel everybody to the availabilities. We know there's a need for it and we decided to create a schedule to make everybody's life easier, including Sid's."

Gretzky said there were no plans for press conferences when he headed East.

"I would have been interviewed in Toronto from just about the moment we landed until we took the ice," he said.

It was a big deal. Gretzky and Pavarotti were both in town at the same time. Pavarotti tickets were going for $150. Gretzky tickets were going for $250.

No word yet on how much people are willing to pay to see Crosby's first visit here.

When Gretzky hit Toronto in January of '82, veteran observers said that never in the history of Canadian sport had there been such a reception for a Canadian athlete.

JUST HO-HUM

It's funny how this has worked. It's happening after Crosby has become ho-hum in T.O.

"Last Saturday was the first time we didn't do anything special with Sidney. It was the first time we've gone to Toronto when it was like a normal game instead of one thing after the other," said Buonomo.

Back in Toronto in January of 1982, in order to get Gretzky safely from the dressing room to the team bus when the game was over, Dave Semenko and a couple of others had to act as bodyguards. The doors to Maple Leaf Gardens and the team bus were surrounded by a mob of teenage girls screaming with delight just to get a glimpse of Gretzky and ecstatic if they actually managed to touch him.

"I feel like the Beatles," said Gretzky.

I'm not sure if it will be like that for Crosby here. But the Penguins are expecting it to be the wild west.

"We know it's going to be crazy," said Buonomo. "But I'm starting to think it's going to be worse than I expected."


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