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Crosby takes center stage on eve of Game 1

by Dan Rosen /

Sidney Crosby has been popular off the ice as the face of the NHL and the Stanley Cup Final, though his experience playing juniors, tournaments, and international competitions has helped him to accept his role in the spotlight.
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DETROIT – Sitting at the podium Friday afternoon inside Cobo Hall looking relaxed as always, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was handling all the inquiries from the inquisitive media like a seasoned veteran.

Then again, that’s exactly what he already is.

Despite the fact that Crosby is only 20-years-old and not even legally allowed to buy a drink unless he goes across the Detroit River to Windsor, he is the face of this Stanley Cup Final -- the guy everyone wants to hear from.

This isn’t a new position for No. 87. He’s been in the spotlight for quite a while now and he’s always handled it with grace and professionalism. That he’s now in the spotlight on the grandest stage of hockey doesn’t seem to phase Crosby one bit.

“You know when you have this great of an opportunity and you realize how far you’ve come, you don’t want to waste it because your focus is elsewhere,” Crosby said Friday. “I think, for me personally, I try to draw on previous experiences and see what worked and what didn’t. But the main thing is you just gotta focus on what you have to do and not change anything.”

Crosby may not have the experience of a previous appearance in the Stanley Cup Final to draw upon, but he’s been the face of just about every tournament he’s played in since he was 16 years old -- be it the Memorial Cup, the World Junior Championships or last year’s World Championships.

“He handles it all really well,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. “I think he gets motivated, and this is where you want to see good athletes try to perform under a tough situation.

“Right now, I don’t see him tense. I’m seeing him really focused. For him, when the challenge is there, he’s always capable to bring his game to another level. This is why these types of athletes are so unique.”

Crosby is easily the most unique of all.

Crosby, though, shies away from the notion that he is the face of hockey.

“I don’t think I pressure myself to be that,” he said. “I’ve always tried to be a good professional and tried to be a good role model, but I don’t think I let that hang on myself. There are a lot of great players in this League, guys who can bring excitement to the game.”

None hold more cache than Crosby, though, and No. 87 has backed it up by playing some great hockey.

He’s tied with Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg for the scoring lead in the playoffs with 21 points. He leads the League with 17 assists. And, he’s blossomed into one of the finest leaders in the game already, in just his first year as captain.

“For his age, it’s kind of special to think about what he does,” said Marian Hossa, who plays right wing on Crosby’s line. “He does an excellent job with the media and dealing with people outside. When he says something in our dressing room, guys listen and that’s not easy for a 20-year-old. He seems comfortable with it.

“He’s smart. He knows what to say. You don’t see many 20-year-old guys handling themselves like he does.”

Even a 20-year veteran like Penguins winger Gary Roberts has bought into Crosby’s leadership.

“Crosby doesn’t take optional (practices). He thinks his stickhandling is going to go in a day and that’s the truth,” Roberts told, laughing. “When you have a guy like that leading the way, everybody looks to him.

“If he’s not going out, maybe Jordan Staal says, ‘Ah, well Sid’s not going out today so I won’t.’ Sid goes out there everyday.”

And he’s ridiculously competitive, which only enhances the drive and battle level of Crosby’s teammates.

“Since I first met him, he has always been the same when it comes to hockey,” Penguins winger Ryan Malone told “He has a one-track mind. He wants to win. He always wants to win. We can be playing 3-on-3 shinny hockey and he wants to win. It doesn’t matter.

“A lot of people don’t realize his drive to win is so great. When you’re best player is leading by example like that it’s pretty easy for everyone else to follow.”

The Penguins are following him right into the Stanley Cup Final, right onto the game’s biggest and brightest stage.

The spotlight is shining brightest on No. 87 and he’s ready for the challenge.

“I think it’s the perfect stage for him,” Penguins GM Ray Shero said. “Certainly in the third year of his young career it’s pretty quick, but I know he’s ready for it and I think it’s great for the National Hockey League.”

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