Former roomie didn't understand Crosby hype

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:52 PM ET

Ryan Duncan had heard the hype, but he wasn't convinced this kid was much different than any other aspiring hockey star.

That is, until a CBC reporter showed up in snowy Minnesota to interview his bright-eyed roommate -- a 15-year-old phenom named Sidney Crosby -- at the famous Shattuck-St. Mary's prep school.

"To look back on it now, he was just a normal kid in my eyes," said Duncan, a former Hobey Baker Award winner from Calgary now employed on Austria's professional hockey circuit.

"I didn't quite understand how big of a deal Sidney was going to be. For me, personally, when I heard he was going to Shattuck, my first impression was, 'OK, I'm going to outscore this kid. I want to prove I'm better than this guy.' Then, you go out there and you see what he's all about and it's like, 'Alright, maybe I have some work to do.'

"Then, when things like CBC comes to interview him or do a feature on him, you realize maybe this kid is the real deal, maybe he is living up to the hype. When he's getting that kind of attention and still being so successful, that's pretty amazing to see."

The attention has only increased since then, of course.

Crosby, though, is still living up to the hype.

Hard to believe, but it's been five years since Sid the Kid finally arrived in the professional ranks, joining the Pittsburgh Penguins as the face of not only a franchise, but an entire league.

It seemed like the hockey world had been waiting forever.

After all, the whispers about the boy-wonder from Cole Harbour, N.S., started even before he scored 159 times in 55 Atom league games in 1997, or won the scoring title at the 2002 Air Canada Cup Midget AAA Championship despite being two years younger than almost every other tournament participant.

Even before he became the youngest sniper to score for Team Canada at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, he received a now-infamous compliment from Wayne Gretzky. Asked if anybody could break his NHL scoring records, the Great One told the Arizona Republic, "Yes, Sidney Crosby. He's the best player I've seen since Mario (Lemieux)."

The wait, it turns out, was worth it.

"As highly-touted as he was coming out of junior -- and for years we'd all heard about him -- I still say he's exceeded my expectations," said former NHL netminder and current Hockey Night in Canada analyst Kelly Hrudey. "Having lived that life, I know how difficult it is to excel at that level, and he just continues to amaze all of us with his poise, his focus, his maturity, his preparation. Those are the things that have really separated him from so many other players in the past that have had potential but haven't lived up to it like he has.

"It's pretty remarkable for a person to come in with that kind of hype and just blow everybody away by exceeding the expectations. That's very, very rare."

For the NHL, the timing couldn't have been any better. Both Crosby and Washington Capitals dynamo Alex Ovechkin made their highly-anticipated debuts after the 2004-05 lockout, bringing instant attention to a league in dire need of some positive press.

Although the expectations seemed almost unfair, the latest 'Next One' seems to have lived up to his lofty billing.

Since Crosby arrived in the Steel City, the Penguins have won 208 regular-season games, eight playoff series and one Stanley Cup.

Once rumoured to be relocating to Kansas City or somewhere in Canada, the Pens move this season into a brand-new arena.

And individually?

Well, Crosby became the youngest player to score 100 points in an NHL campaign and the youngest to win the league scoring title. Two months shy of his 22nd birthday, he became the youngest captain to sip from Lord Stanley's mug.

His hardware collection already includes a Hart Trophy, a Lester B. Pearson Trophy, an Art Ross Trophy, a Rocket Richard Trophy and a Mark Messier Leadership Award.

Crosby has scored 183 goals and counted 506 points in the regular season and has averaged 1.32 points per outing in the playoffs, trailing only his boss and longtime landlord Lemieux (1.6) and Gretzky (1.83) as the NHL's all-time leaders in that category.

Of course, he also scored the golden goal for Team Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

And, having just celebrated his 23rd birthday, logic would suggest his best hockey is still ahead of him.

"You look at his record through five years in the league, it's an amazing record. It's a spectacular record," said Pierre McGuire, an analyst for TSN and NBC.

"I think you're always going to have people that say,' Well, he's not as good as everybody said he was going to be,' which I don't think his accurate. He's been every bit as advertised. He's been an amazing ambassador for the game ...

"What he's been able to accomplish in his first five years as a professional is absolutely amazing. So, people that don't think he's measured up to the hype, tell me a player that has."

You won't hear any arguments from Duncan.

It's been eight winters since CBC showed up to fire questions at his ex-roommate, and Crosby has certainly shown all that attention was warranted.

"I'm a huge Sidney Crosby fan now," Duncan said. "I don't think people really understand the level of what he has to go through on a daily basis, just how he balances everything out, how he puts everything in perspective, stays level-headed and still finds a way to be a great hockey player on the ice is just outstanding.

"He's done everybody proud. He always says the right things in interviews and stuff. He's almost super-human because you think he doesn't make many mistakes and he lives such a unique life.

"It's pretty cool to watch."

And it's far from over.


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