All eyes on Crosby
By RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency
Canadian forward Sidney Crosby was just 14 years old when Jarome Iginla helped Canada win gold at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. (ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY)
VANCOUVER — Sidney Crosby was 14-years-old when Team Canada beat the United States for hockey gold in Salt Lake City.
One player jumped off the TV screen at him.
“Iggy,” he said of Jarome Iginla, his current Team Canada linemate and the Calgary Flames forward. “What’d he get, two goals that game? I still remember how well he played. That stuck with me.”
And, of course, there was one unforgettable play.
“The Mario one,” he recalled.
That’s when Crosby’s team owner and long-time landlord Mario Lemieux lifted his stick, faked a shot and let the puck go through his legs right to Paul Kariya for Canada’s first goal.
Eight years later, here is Crosby on the same stage with the same golden opportunity.
All eyes, he understands, will be on him. Every shift he plays will be picked apart and broken down more than anyone else on the ice.
Will he rise to the occasion the way Iginla did?
And can he offer up a signature stroke of genius only the game’s greatest lights like Lemieux could accomplish?
“It’s natural in a game like this to feel like you have to (go above and beyond),” Crosby said. “I don’t feel any added pressure.
“We have good players on this team and every night, someone different steps up.
“I’m excited. It’s a great opportunity and we’re pretty happy with the way we’ve been playing.”
There’s a common and comforting similarity to most of Canada’s historic international hockey triumphs.
The biggest stars step to the forefront when needed most.
Phil Esposito was Canada’s best forward in the 1972 Summit Series. In Canada Cup lore, Darryl Sittler won it in 1976, Paul Coffey and Mike Bossy teamed up in 1984, and Wayne Gretzky set up Mario Lemieux to beat the Soviets in ’87.
In ’02, Hall-of-Famers Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic starred along with Iginla.
It will certainly be easier for Canada, and a lot harder for the U.S., if Crosby’s considerable talent is showcased.
“I’ve talked to Sid a lot,” Canada head coach Mike Babcock said. “We’d like (their line) to score. They want to score, but it doesn’t matter the name on the back. In the Stanley Cup final last year, he didn’t score a whole lot early on, either, but he did the things away from the puck that leads to winning. As long as they play well defensively. They were a dash-3 (minus-three) last game against the Americans, so that has to be better.”
To this point in his young career, Crosby’s performances in his most memorable do-or-die games are hard to judge.
Many have been bittersweet.
Crosby won a world junior gold in 2005, but played on the most dominant Canadian team in tournament history.
In his Memorial Cup final appearance with Rimouski, he was shut out and knocked down by Corey Perry’s powerhouse London Knights.
In his first Stanley Cup final, Babcock’s Detroit Red Wings buried him.
In his biggest triumph — last year’s Stanley Cup rematch win — he spent the last part of Game 7 agonizing on the bench with an injury.
But Sunday represents a fresh opportunity for No. 87.
It is a chance, as Babcock has said, for some players to make a name for themselves, the way Crosby watched Iginla do in ’02.
But this is Canada. The expectation has always been, when the national obsession over game ownership and pride in puck identity is on the line, the one player annointed to carry the torch will pave the way.
If Crosby’s talent and will prevails, it reaffirms the warm, fuzzy feeling in this land he is the true successor in the lineage of hockey’s kings.
And that after him, there will be another, probably watching at home on TV, to continue Canada’s winning tradition.