COLE HARBOUR, Nova Scotia -- Everyone who came to Big Leagues to watch the Pittsburgh Penguins play the Colorado Avalanche on Monday witnessed a dominating performance from a former resident of Cole Harbour.
It just wasn't one of the former residents they were there to see.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 34 saves to help the Avalanche survive for a 1-0 victory at Consol Energy Center in a game the Penguins controlled throughout. Giguere spent three seasons with the Halifax Mooseheads in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and for part of that time lived with a billet family about six miles to the east in Cole Harbour.
The veteran goaltender stole the game for the Avalanche in the first NHL meeting between Cole Harbour products Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon, both of whom spent their youth playing on the two rinks at Cole Harbour Place before becoming top picks in the NHL draft.
Among those gathered at Big Leagues were Paul Mason, who coached Crosby at the pee wee level, and Jon Greenwood, who coached MacKinnon at the pee wee and bantam levels.
"I watch as a fan and a coach, for sure," said Mason, who also is a principal and an auctioneer when he isn't coaching or at the pro shop in Cole Harbour Place, which he co-owns with Crosby's father. "You know what he's capable of and you're expecting him to do what you know he can do and then sometimes he'll do things you don't think anyone can do."
Pittsburgh's dominance led to seven power-play chances, which meant loads of ice time for Crosby (26:40, the fifth-highest total in a regulation game in his career), and plenty of watching from the bench for the rookie MacKinnon.
Because he didn't spend any time killing penalties and because coach Patrick Roy couldn't choose, as the visiting team, who the 18-year-old would be matched against, MacKinnon finished the game with 10:54 of ice time, the third-lowest total of his brief NHL career.
"I think that's going to happen," said Greenwood, who also taught and coached MacKinnon for two years at the Maritime Hockey Academy. "As a coach it is probably tougher to get your younger guys playing time on the road because of the matchups. That's a tough matchup when you're probably going against Crosby or [Evgeni] Malkin on the ice. I'm sure he'll have nights like that this year. He just has to be patient."
The two favorite sons of Cole Harbour were on the ice together for a few shifts, and predictably the superstar had his way with the rookie. In a game where the possession stats were dominated by Pittsburgh, Crosby's stood out.
His team attempted 25 of the 32 shots while he was on the ice at even strength (a Corsi percentage of 78.1). He won 11 of 17 faceoffs. He had seven shots on net, combining with Malkin (eight) to outshoot the entire Colorado team.
"It's just his strength on the puck," Mason said of Crosby. "He goes in there to battles and just ... like near the end of the game there someone said, 'Did you see that one-handed play?' He just does little things like that he's always done.
"The things I notice are like when the puck is rimmed around the boards at 100 miles per hour, but he stops it and protects it and is able to maintain that. He's got such a strong core, he just protects the puck like no one else can. You see that in all parts of his game."
One play in particular drew some oohs and aahs from Big Leagues' patrons. As Crosby controlled the puck in the offensive zone with MacKinnon in pursuit, he gave a quick fake, a stutter-step back in the direction he came from, then accelerated. The deke left MacKinnon stumbling, trying to stay on his feet.
Later in the game, MacKinnon carried the puck toward the Pittsburgh zone as Colorado clung to its 1-0 lead. As MacKinnon was about to chip the puck into the corner, Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen stripped him and sent the play in the opposite direction.
Greenwood immediately said, 'Uh oh, he didn't get it deep,' and the ensuing icing with 6:10 remaining in the third period led to a quick discussion about whether MacKinnon would see another shift as the Avalanche tried to protect the lead.
He didn't, but one of the other two guys on the Avalanche who have spent time living in his hometown (like Giguere, Alex Tanguay also played for Halifax and lived with a billet family in Cole Harbour) made sure Colorado kept its slim lead and earned two points.
"I'm always watching everything they do," Greenwood said. "I'm probably always more cognizant of the little stuff he's doing. I see stuff like that and go, 'Oh, I hope that doesn't affect his ice time.' He's one of the youngest players in the NHL, so he'll make some mistakes like anyone else.
"We were joking a couple of times, saying [MacKinnon against Crosby] probably isn't the matchup their team was looking for. You've got to raise your level against him. He wouldn't be the only player in the world who would struggle against Sidney Crosby. Obviously, they did OK. They gave up a lot of chances, but ended up with the win, so they have to be happy with it."
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