Olympic bid Staaled

Young Penguin now hoping he gets another chance in Sochi

By TERRY KOSHAN, QMI AGENCY

Jordan Staal suddenly wants NHL players to get the green light to participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The Pittsburgh Penguins centre, already one of the craftier defensive forwards in the NHL despite his youth, acknowledged he was hurt when Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman left him off the roster for the Olympic Games in Vancouver next month.

"I was a little more disappointed than I thought I was going to be," Staal, 21, said. "I had heard from some people that I was in the mix. We don't know if (NHLers will be in Sochi), but hopefully we will. That gets me excited."

Penguins teammates Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury, of course, aren't as concerned about what happens four years down the road. They will be in Vancouver, though Fleury probably won't have much to do as long as Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo remain healthy. Not so for Crosby, who will be Canada's focal point on offence.

The 22-year-old should not have trouble deking through the pressure, as he has had it heaped on him for close to 10 years. As some of the Penguins peeled off their equipment following the morning skate yesterday at the Air Canada Centre, Crosby just had time to take off his helmet and replace it with a Penguins ball cap when he was besieged by reporters.

He recognizes that the Vancouver Olympics represent a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as playing in the Games on home soil is unlikely to happen again for the Nova Scotia native.

"The fact you get a chance to play in Canada, why not enjoy it and be excited about it?" Crosby said to a reporter who tried hard to get him to agree that there will be more heat on the Canadians because they will be playing in their own country.

"Expectations are always high in Canada. I think everyone understands it comes with the territory. That's the way we want it, because everyone cares. I am not worried about it."

Before Crosby and Fleury get to the Olympics, there are few pressing matters. The defending Stanley Cup champions had won just one game in their previous seven before taking on the Maple Leafs last night and, in Toronto, started a five-game trip that will take them to Minnesota, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver before they next play at home on Jan. 19.

Last season, the Penguins swept a five-game trip that began in late February, a run that started their path to their first Cup since 1992.

"That was a turning point, but we did not know it at the time," Crosby said. "We just wanted to make sure we had a good trip. We have to look at this one the same way."

TERRY.KOSHAN@SUNMEDIA.CA

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