2005 prospect Sidney Crosby dazzles

By Simon Richard

Sidney Crosby, born in August 1987, is certainly the most known 16-year-old hockey player around the globe right now

On the Québec Pepsi Colisée Ice

On October 25th, 11,705 spectators showed up in the former Quebec Nordiques Colisée to watch a junior level game involving the Quebec Remparts and the Rimouski Oceanic. This was over 6000 more visitors than the night before, when Moncton Wildcats were in Quebec. The thousands came especially to see Sidney Crosby, the 16-year-old young phenom.

The top scorer of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League plays on the second unit of his team. The first center’s spot belongs to Marc-Antoine Pouliot, a 2003 Edmonton Oilers first round pick. On his first shift, the Crosby line is already threatening the local goalie. In the stands, as on the press box, all the eyes are focusing on the number 87 dark jersey. We all feel clearly a special atmosphere. Later, as the puck is going in the right corner of the Remparts, Crosby charges through the corner and fights very hard with two opponents. He finally wins the battle and comes off the corner with the puck, making a pass to a teammate. This scenario would be repeated all night long.

The Quebec team takes the lead of the game with a 2-0 advantage. At the end of one shift, when returning to his bench while the play was far away, Crosby is cross checked by an opponent. Crosby retaliates later, in the last minute of the first period. Placed behind the net, he receives a pass he immediately redirects to a teammate in front of the net. The latter puts it in with only three seconds to play. This goal will make the wind turn in favor of Rimouski. It kills the local team who will be dominated for most of the rest of the game. Making important plays is a trademark of Crosby.

The night before, he scored the tying goal against Prince-Edward Island, with 18 seconds to play in the game. Rimouski then won it in overtime. A month earlier, in his first ever junior game, he scored the tying and the winning goals in the last period. A few nights after that game, in his first presence on home ice, he assisted on the tying goal with only 29 seconds to play in the game and scored the winning goal after 9 seconds in OT. In April 2002, at the semi-final game of the Air Canada Cup, he scored the winning goal at 19:28 of the third period. In April 2003, he scored a crucial goal on a breakaway in the USA Championship final game.

Scoring numerous and key goals is not Crosby’s only quality, as he showed that night in Quebec. He didn’t care it was his sixth game in 10 nights. All night long, the youngest player on the ice fought in the corners and win most of the battles against much bigger players than him. Witnesses to his matches will see him making fast and brilliant passes right on the tape of his teammates, recovering passes sent in his skates with ability, skating with enormous energy to get loosing pucks, pivoting the power plays from the upper right corner. Crosby is also on duty on most of the opponent power plays. Once, with the help of a teammate, he forechecked so much that Quebec spent about 40 seconds in his own zone. At the end of the game, he was skating through a puck in the offensive zone. A bigger opponent tried to slow down his pace. They danced a bit together, with the arms in the air, trying to make the other lost his balance. Finally, Crosby stayed on his feet as the opponent lost balance, fell on the ice where he lie in pain, needing help to get back on his skates few minutes later.

In this 5-2 win, Crosby only got one point. But his general work and consistent efforts were well observed. He was named the second star of the game, despite the fact that a few teammates got more points than him.

Some words from and about Crosby

Born in August 1987, Sidney Crosby is certainly the most famous 16-year-old hockey player around the globe right now. The USA Today, The Hockey News, CBC, TSN and many other national media already made reports about him since he was 15. Wayne Gretzky have also very much contributed to the renown of Crosby, saying that he could be the one to broke some of his NHL records. But no one has done more to build the well-known reputation of the kid than he has done himself by his performances on the ice.

Before he played his first ever game at junior level, the 5’10″, 175-pound center from Cole Harbour, N.S., already presented impressive credentials (see below for his main exploits prior to his official Junior career debut ). Last June, Crosby was the first overall pick of the QMJHL Entry Draft. Rimouski Oceanic, the same organization who produced just few years ago Brad Richards and Vincent Lecavalier, was the lucky team. In four preseason games, Crosby recorded 14 points. Then, he didn’t miss his official junior debut in Rouyn-Noranda. With his team down 3-1 in the third period, he scored 3 goals in a shy 7 minutes, leading Rimouski to a 4-3 victory. That night, he had 7 of the 27 shots on goal by his team, more than 25% of the total. That was just the beginning. He was then named the QMJHL Offensive Player of the Week his first two weeks of play in the league and the Canadian Hockey League of the Week for the last week of September. After 18 games, the 16-year-old boy is the leading scorer of the QMJHL with 37 points.

A lot of reports paint him as a guy who is very well grounded. A couple of hours before his 18th game of the season, we met him at the Quebec Pepsi Colisée, the home ice of the Quebec Remparts. Very kind with the writers questioning him, Crosby says he didn’t expect to be the league’s top scorer at this point of the season.

About any future expectations, he comments: “I’m just a 16-year old who played only 17 games at junior level. I have a long way to go. I love to play hockey, I want to enjoy it and I don’t want to put pressure on me about points. ” He says his greatest challenge is to stay consistent, every game, every shift. His main goal for the season? “Every night, I want to be a better player,” he answers. “If I improve, I can keep going.”

Crosby defines himself as a reliable hockey player, who works on both offensive and defensive zones of the ice. “I take pride playing good defense, making sure I take care in my own end.” Asked about what he has to improve, spontaneously he answers: “Everything!” Then he adds that he wants to improve his consistency. What does he enjoy the most? “Competition”, he says first, before adding, “I love to win, to be part of a team, a bunch of 20-25 guys achieving something as a team.” His role model is Steve Yzerman, because “he won Stanley Cups and is a character guy.”

Over the last seasons, Crosby showed undoubtedly he can scores goals. But he is far more than a sniper. Since 1969-1970, Denys Faucher closely follows the junior hockey in Quebec. He has scouted for years and is now the chief scout of the Quebec Remparts. Over the years, he has seen a bunch of superstars in junior hockey. He has seen Crosby play about 20 games since the kid was 14. When questioned, about the young phenom, Faucher becomes simply ecstatic. “He does everything on ice. On skates, he is like a Formula One, he is such explosive. He passes like a professional, is generous with the puck and works very hard.” Faucher adds that Crosby succeeded at every level he played till now.

“He is very mature on and off the ice, nobody can critic his attitude,” comments Faucher. Faucher has no doubt that Crosby will perform in NHL. He believes that his main point to improve to do so will be his capacity to face men.

To supervise his development, Crosby can count on Donald Dufresne, the Oceanic coach. Dufresne’s career was not quite long in the NHL, but long enough to be involve, as a Montreal hockey player, in the 1989 final against Calgary, before winning the Stanley Cup in 1993. When questioned about Crosby, here is what he says, “It is a young 16-year-old guy who just wants to play hockey everyday and truly enjoys it. It is a young man who likes to be with his teammates, who stays in a pension and, who pursue his studies with a tutor. This is a guy who just learns life and who still has a lot to discover.”

About his main qualities, Dufresne says: “He has a very high competitive character. He is very mature. He understands his role and the one of his team. He is very easy to coach and likes to ask questions, which is a very good thing.”

In his junior years, Dufresne played against Mario Lemieux, Pierre Turgeon, Luc Robitaille and Stephane Richer, just to name few. He has seen a lot of superstars in junior level and then in NHL. Does he see any player to compare of with Crosby? “He will be his own model. He will make his own name,” says Dufresne simply.

There were 11,705 people in the Pepsi Colisée to watch the Rimouski-Québec game. They were previously also more than 10,000 in Halifax and 6700 in Moncton for the visit of the young prodigy. Those are very big numbers for junior hockey. In every arena, the attendance increases between 50% and 100% when Rimouski is the visitor team this year. Yannick Dumais, director of the communications of the Oceanic Team, says that there is an average attendance of 4500 in the Rimouski Colisée this season, 200 more than the 4300 seats available. This is very good for the league said to us Gilles Courteau, president of the QMJHL, during the second intermission of the Quebec-Rimouski game. “Crosby has made the best choice possible when he decided to play in the Quebec League, says Courteau. Rimouski organization will take care for him and help his development to progress. And this is also very good for the QMJHL ” The president is impressed by Crosby. He has a great vision on the ice, he is strong and possesses a rare sense of anticipation. He is the best junior in the league since Lemieux and Lafontaine,” adds Courteau.

After the game, Patrick Roy, who just retired from Colorado Avalanche, the co-owner of the Quebec Remparts and new GM of the team, had these words about Crosby, which he had seen in four games: “He is explosive, very fast on skates, controls very well the puck, exiting to watch.” Questioned about an NHL player type he had in mind, after a long reflection, Roy said that Crosby can control the puck as Jagr is used to do, adding that Crosby has not the Jagr’s stature. “He also reminds me Pat Lafontaine, when he arrived in Verdun. He was 17.” In conclusion, as Dufresne, Roy was cautious about the long term prediction about the kid. “He is a very good junior player. I’m sure he is going to make NHL one day but at what level, time will tell. “

And we think they are all right. Most reports comments picked here and there seem to see Sidney Crosby as the probable first pick of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. There are a lot of games to be played until that moment. Many things can happen before that date. In the meantime, let’s just appreciate the beauty of this young player’s moves on ice and his dedication to the game and the competition.

Pre-QMJHL credentials

Two years ago, at only 14, Crosby played midget triple A with the Darmouth Subways, NS. Facing players mostly aged two and three years older than him, he recorded almost 200 points, close to the league record. He lead his team to the ultimate final game of the Air Canada Cup, the Canadian National Championship, in Bathurst, NB. He was the top scorer of the tournament, recording 24 points in 7 games. He captured the MVP award, the youngest player ever to do so.

Last year, he moved in Faribault, Minn., where he played for Shattuck-St. Mary’s school, an institution recognized for his excellent hockey program. Jean-Paul Parisé, the former NHLer and member of the prestigious Team Canada who played in the unforgettable Summit Series in 1972, is running the hockey program in Shattuck-St. Mary’s. Aged 15, and playing against much older players, Crosby set a new record with 162 points in only 57 games. After leading the Dartmouth team to the Canadian championship, he lead his new team in April 2003 to the USA Hockey 17-under Tier I Championship in Laurel, MD. This time, his team not only made the ultimate finale game (against Team Illinois) but it won it 5-4, gaining the prestigious national title. Crosby scored 10 goals in 6 games, more than anyone else, and co-lead the point scorers of the event with 18 points.

Earlier in 2003, playing for the Nova Scotia team at the Canada Games, still against older players, he had 13 points in 5 games and was again recognized as the best player of the event. Last August, he was not only the sole 1987-born player to be invited to the U18 Canadian Summer Camp but he was selected in the roster the day he turned 16 and lead his team in the Junior World Cup in Czech Republic and Slovakia.