Sidney Crosby's second Olympic experience likely will be a lot different than his first -- but he's hoping it ends the exact same way.
With Friday's announcement that NHL players will be taking part in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in February, Crosby had a chance to reflect a bit on his gold-medal experience for Canada in the 2010 Games and look forward to what will be coming in 2014.
Though the differences between the two tournaments will be great, Crosby is fully aware that one thing will remain constant -- Canada will accept nothing less than a gold medal.
"When you play for Canada, that's the expectation," Crosby said Friday during a conference call with reporters. "I've never been to Russia, and everyone knows the history of Canada-Russia with '72, '87 and the list goes on and on. So I think that right there, having the opportunity to play hockey in Russia is pretty special.
"But the Olympics in general -- just being Canadian you realize pretty quickly that people come together at that time of year, and when it's hockey even more so. So you want to go there and find a way to win gold."
Crosby gave Canada the gold at the 2010 Games in Vancouver when he scored against Ryan Miller in overtime to beat the United States in the final, delivering on expectations that were amplified because the Olympics were played on Canadian ice.
Since scoring that Golden Goal, Crosby has spent more time trying to overcome serious injuries than he has on the ice, a fact that's made that prior Olympic experience seem not so far behind him.
"It's gone by really fast," said Crosby, who has dealt with concussions and a broken jaw since Vancouver but said he's feeling healthy. "With injuries and stuff like that, it's not like there were three full hockey seasons to kind of look back on. So it's definitely gone by quick, but it's exciting."
The pressure the Canadians felt playing in Vancouver will now be shifted to the Russian team as it plays in front of the home fans whose expectations are just as high. But one advantage the Russians and other European teams will hold over their North American counterparts will be playing on the wider international ice surface. The larger dimensions should dictate the way teams play and force the Canadian and American teams to adjust their style.
"It's definitely a different game," Crosby said. "It's a bit more of a puck-possession game; there's more time with the puck. So I think making decisions, the way you play your systems, there's definitely going to be an adjustment there. I think speed will be even more important with that big ice. Obviously physical play is always important, but I think with the bigger ice it's probably going to be a little bit tougher to establish that. So I think speed and skill is really going to be a big part of that game."
The official announcement Friday means the debates over who should make each squad can begin in earnest. That is always the most heated around Canada's team because of the depth of talent available.
Asked to weigh in on that issue, Crosby smartly didn't go anywhere near it.
"I have no idea, to be honest with you," he said. "There have been some younger guys who have had some great years, you look at a guy like [John] Tavares who's had a great year, and there were a lot of other young guys as well.
"But I think a lot has to do with the first half of this year, I think that's going to dictate a lot. Everyone always talks about different combinations and the possibilities, and with Canada there are so many guys who can play for that team. But I think the first half of the season will dictate that and we'll see who starts well and gets those opportunities."
In the meantime, Crosby will have a few Olympic rivals in close proximity to him all season.
Crosby chuckled a bit when asked whether he thinks the Olympic tournament will be a topic of conversation around the Penguins dressing room.
"I'm sure it's going to be brought up, either by us or someone else," he said. "If there's any uncomfortable situation, it seems to be brought up pretty quickly and we can joke about.
"It's a little different when you're walking through the athlete's village and you're looking at your teammate walking by and he's on a different team, it's a little weird. But we all know that's part of it and we'll try to have some fun with it through the year, but when we get there we all know we've got to represent our team."
That is what Crosby is looking forward to the most when the Sochi Olympics arrive in February. He said meeting other athletes and being part of the community in the athletes' village is fun, but the competition is what makes the Olympic experience so special.
"The biggest thing is just representing your country," he said. "I think anybody who gets a chance to do that, there's a lot of pride that comes with that.
"Being Canadian and playing hockey, that's a dream come true."
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