Media from all over Canada and Pennsylvania flocked to Mellon Arena on Tuesday for the start of Pittsburgh Penguins training camp.
Eleven television stations and 11 newspapers as well as some radio stations were on hand – an unprecedented number, especially since the team’s schedule mainly called for medical testing and photographs. Players, however, did get a chance to take part in an optional scrimmage in the afternoon.
Actual training camp practice begins Wednesday morning. Regardless, the Canadian media outnumbered their American cohorts, 12-10, with television outlets TSN, RDS, Radio Canada, Sportsnet and The Score joining newspapers La Presse, Canadian Press, Journal de Quebec, Journal de Montreal, Toronto Star, Toronto Sun and Globe and Mail. All four local Pittsburgh television stations were in attendance as well as Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh as well as Pittsburgh papers the Post-Gazette and Tribune-Review in addition to the Associated Press and the Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice.
“This is just the beginning of the excitement and attention,” Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk said.
Of course, a media crush could be expected when a last-place team re-signs Mario Lemieux, drafts super-prospect Sidney Crosby first overall, stockpiles a roster with big-name talent and is transformed into a Stanley Cup contender – all in the same offseason.
“We expect a lot of the attention, that’s for sure,” Olczyk said. “Obviously, because the NHL is back and the Penguins are back, first and foremost. When you think about Mario and the older guys Craig (Patrick) has brought in and, of course, with us being fortunate enough to win the lottery, too.”
While media coverage was devoted to the Penguins and the return of the NHL, most of it focused on Crosby. Many consider the 18-year-old to be the best NHL prospect since Lemieux was drafted in 1984.
“He is one of those three or four players people have been talking about since he was 14 and rightfully so,” said Olczyk, who was drafted two spots behind Lemieux in ’84. “Now with more media and the Internet and computers and talk radio and sports stations, there is a lot more hype and maybe a lot more people know about him than they did Mario, for example, back in ’84.”
Crosby doesn’t seem to mind the intense and massive media coverage. He has a great rapport with the media and handles the deluge of questions well.
“I think (the coverage) been there, especially the last two years. To say that it surprises me, I don’t think it does,” he said. “It’s something I have had to deal with for a while.”
Crosby has learned to accept and handle all the attention while maintaining his focus on hockey.
“You have to experience it to learn how to handle it. For me, I have told myself to just worry about hockey,” he said. “I learned at a pretty young age that this comes along with being a hockey player. I just learned to handle it when I need to. Away from this, I have to live my life like normal and just have fun being a hockey player.”
Lemieux knows Crosby is better equipped to handle the media frenzy of the Information Age than he was able to upon his arrival in Pittsburgh in ’84.
“First of all, he speaks the language, which is a lot easier. I didn’t speak English until I came to Pittsburgh,” said Lemieux, a native of French-speaking Quebec. “It took me a while until I felt comfortable with the language. That’s a big advantage that he has. He is a lot more mature than I was at his age, too. He speaks very well and always says the right things. Because of that I think the adjustment is going to be quicker for him.”
Nevertheless, the media attention is only going to intensify for Crosby as the Penguins’ camp winds down and the season-opening game at New Jersey on Oct. 5 draws closer.
“He’s not going to be allowed to talk to anybody in New Jersey. Just kidding,” Olczyk said. “Our PR staff, which is the best in any professional sport, will be able to handle that on a day-to-day basis. He has a job to do just like everyone else. He has to prepare and be ready to play. We know what we have to do to sell the game and make him available. He has had that a long time and it’s not a concern. Our PR staff will do an unbelievable job making sure everybody gets what they need and then gives him the opportunity to get ready and focus for what he needs to do.”