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Crosby turns coach for hometown midget team

by Dave Lozo /
PITTSBURGH -- As one of the high-profile superstars of the NHL, Sidney Crosby has plenty of responsibilities during the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. Coaching would seemingly not rank high on that list.

However, No. 87 was behind the bench to help coach the midget team from Cole Harbour, N.S., during the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Winter Classic Tournament on the auxiliary rink adjacent to Heinz Field.

To make it even better, Cole Harbour was playing HC Metallurg, a youth team from Magnitogorsk, the hometown of Penguins star Evgeni Malkin.

Malkin's team came away with a 10-1 victory on Friday afternoon, but the score isn't a great indicator of talent as Cole Harbour is a AA team while Metallurg is at least one level, if not two, above that, according to Cole Harbour coach Paul Mason.

It'll be tough for the kids from Cole Harbour to come away with anything but a positive feeling from the game, however, because their hometown hero's appearance as a coach was a complete surprise.

"A couple of them turned around and looked and they were taken aback," said Mason, who coached Crosby as a kid and is still close with his family. "I knew he was coming over to the bench but I didn't tell the kids."

Things looked bleak for Cole Harbour as it entered the second intermission down 6-1, but Crosby reached down deep for a pep talk.

Was it on the same level as the famous Herb Brooks speech?

"It was more, 'Guys, keep your heads up high, you're representing us proud, keep playing hard,'" Mason said. "It was more about being respectful and being a good person than it was about being a hockey player, which is the way he carried himself."

Mason knew when Crosby extended the invitation to be part of the youth tournament that his AA team would be at a major competitive disadvantage against superior talent, but it didn't take much convincing to get him to come to Pittsburgh.

"When he mentioned it to me, at first I was a little bit hesitant because I knew we might not be of the caliber," Mason said, "but I knew the experience would be phenomenal. I think only I hesitated for one second.  We were ecstatic with it."

The 14- and 15-year-olds from Cole Harbour also got to enjoy Crosby's four-point game on Tuesday against the Atlanta Thrashers, as well as a tour of the Consol Energy Center.

"I think it’s really cool," forward Zach Tagliapietra said. "The dressing room was awesome, we got to go in and get a tour of it; so it was pretty cool. It’s going to be a great experience for all of the players. It’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime chance, the tournament and the Winter Classic."
"Everything to accommodate us, bringing us into the dressing room at Consol Energy, on the bench coaching today, he gave our kids gear, helmets and gloves, he's a class act. Always has been. We love him in Cole Harbour."

Malkin didn't attend the game Friday, but he's going to meet the Metallurg kids on New Year's Day. Metallurg coach Sergei Vitman coached Malkin as a youth in Russia was thrilled to get a chance to participate in the Winter Classic.

"Unfortunately in Russia, they don't have such great events like here today," Vitman said through a translator. "They had such a great experience to see everything that's going on."

The youth tournament also serves as a learning tool for kids who have aspirations of playing in the NHL and want to better their game against international competition.

"For them, it's an experience to play hockey in a Canadian style and American style of hockey," Vitman said. "Of course, we can bring Russian style."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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