Team Canada is in Pittsburgh preparing for an exhibition match against Team Russia for the World Cup of Hockey at CONSOL Energy Center on Wednesday night.
And before the game, captain Sidney Crosby wasted no time showing off his city to his fellow countrymen – even giving them a taste of Pittsburgh sports culture.
“We went to Mount Washington and hung out up there (Monday),” Crosby said. “Saw the Steelers game. It’s good to be back here for that. Big win.”
According to some of his Team Canada teammates, they were impressed with Crosby’s tour – and maybe even his pitch skills.
“I don’t know if he’s trying to recruit guys or what but he’s really showing off the place,” Canadian teammate John Tavares joked. “It’s home for him, so he’s excited about being here for a couple of days.”
Crosby also had a chance to show off the state-of-the-art facility at CONSOL Energy Center. Team Canada is dressing in the Penguins’ locker room, so he’s been able to show his national teammates the locker room, lounge, equipment room, change room, shooting room and workout room – all of which are top-notch.
Or as Canadian goaltender Braden Holtby said:
“It’s phenomenal. It’s probably the benchmark for the league in terms of what they’ve done here. Guys are pretty lucky that play here. It’s been fun to check out.”
Even for someone like Crosby, who of course sat in his normal stall in the locker room, it was a reminder of how lucky he is to play in Pittsburgh.
“It makes you appreciate it even more,” he said. “You get used to coming here every day. Seeing guys who’ve seen a lot of different rinks and dressing rooms and setups be that impressed, it says a lot about what we have and how fortunate we are to have a setup like this.”
Crosby’s Canadian teammates may also experience something else they never have before – being cheered inside the rink. Although the crowd that will fill CONSOL Energy Center for Wednesday’s game may have split loyalties when Crosby faces off against his Pittsburgh teammate Evgeni Malkin and Team Russia.
“I’m sure they’ll be split with ‘Geno’ and I on different teams,” Crosby joked.
Regardless, Crosby is happy that the fans in Pittsburgh will have an opportunity to watch the likes of such star players – Jonathan Toews, Steven Stamkos, Carey Price, Drew Doughty, Corey Perry, Duncan Keith, Brent Burns, Alex Ovechkin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid to name a few – faceoff in the final tune-up before the start of the World Cup of Hockey.
“To have opportunities like this as fans and players, that’s what it’s about,” Crosby said. “It’s great to be able to come here and play in your home rink and have your fans here experience a great event like this. They’re definitely deserving of it. Hopefully, they enjoy it.”
FOUR PITTSBURGH KIDS, ONE PITTSBURGH PENGUIN
A lot of those fans will likely be friends and family of the four Pittsburgh-area natives on Team North America’s roster.
John Gibson, J.T. Miller, Brandon Saad and Vince Trocheck – all taken within the first 43 picks of the 2011 NHL Draft to make up the biggest class in Pittsburgh history – are all excited about having the opportunity to represent their hometown on the under-23 team together, and spend a few days in the city ahead of their game against Team Czech Republic.
“It’s crazy,” said Miller. “We’re all from the same draft, too, so it’s pretty cool. It’s good to actually get a game here in front of everybody and get to talk to the kids and stuff like that. I think it just adds to the Pittsburgh hockey situation over the last few years.”
Last night Miller hosted a number of his teammates at his house for a get-together, while the others took advantage of the opportunity to see their parents.
“For all of us to make the team, No. 1, and then coming back home – a lot of guys got to see their families and get some homecooked meals – that’s always nice,” Saad said.
They and goaltender Matt Murray – who said he recommended two of his favorite restaurants downtown, Butcher and the Rye and Eddie Merlot’s, to his teammates – then took the time after their Tuesday practice to get on the ice with local youths for a clinic.
“Getting out there with the local kids out there skating, for them to set that up, I think it’s fantastic,” Saad said. “I think (Matt) is a little more popular than us (laughs). But being Pittsburgh guys and getting in that group, whatever we can do for the kids, I know they enjoy it and I know I did when I was a kid. So I think it’s very special.”
It stood out to Team North America head coach Todd McLellan at the beginning of camp just how many kids with Pittsburgh connections are on his squad.
“One of the first exercises we did was have the players stand up and introduce themselves to their teammates,” McLellan said. “We obviously knew where they all played, but when they started to name their hometowns, I thought we were Team Pittsburgh there for a while, whether it was young athletes from this area or players that played for the Penguins. The community should be really proud. Obviously minor hockey, we watched one of the practices, is doing a tremendous job of developing young players and it’s nice to see us bring those four or five guys back to this community.”
PLAYER TO WATCH
McDavid is the one player Crosby specifically singled out as someone for local fans to get excited about, especially since the Oilers forward missed both games against the Pens in his rookie season due to injury.
Having played junior hockey in Pennsylvania for the OHL’s Erie Otters, the Team North America captain is looking forward to experiencing pro hockey in Pittsburgh.
“We definitely have a lot of Pittsburgh guys,” he said. “We were over at some of their houses. So it’s nice. It’s definitely not hometown for me but you kind of get that hometown feel for a lot of these guys. It’s good and I’ve never played here before, though played just up the road in Erie, so definitely very familiar with the area. It’s good to see what it’s like to play here.”
McDavid, who was drafted first overall by Edmonton in 2015, is considered to be the next generational talent after Crosby – someone he’s looked up to both on and off the ice, especially with how similar their situations are.
That admiration grew even more watching Crosby during the Pens’ Stanley Cup championship run, where the captain won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
“I think you just saw the way he took care of the puck and how hard he was in his own zone,” McDavid said. “Obviously with what he did offensively with the puck I think speaks for itself. The thing that I really noticed was the things he was doing away with it and how well he was playing on the defensive side, really bought into the whole system that they were playing and they were winning games 2-1, 3-1, the kind of games they need to win in the playoffs. Definitely something to admire about his game.