Monday, November 21, 2011

The Comeback Kid

It was a Pittsburgh Perfect night tonight for the Penguins.
Not since Mario Lemieux came back from retirement has Steel City been so emotional about the return of a hockey player. But keep in mind, this is no ordinary hockey player. This is Sidney Crosby, the Golden Boy of hockey.

Out for 11 months after suffering a Grade II concussion, the topic of Crosby's absence, though glaring and apparent, was starting to fade away. But when the Penguins announced that Crosby’s doctors cleared him to return to the ice on Monday against the New York Islanders, the NHL radar almost blew up. His return was so hyped that I was brought back to 1995, when at the tender age of 9 I witnessed Michael Jordan’s monumental return to the NBA.

The immense hype over his comeback overshadowed everything else, mainly the concern that there would be too much pressure placed on the Kid. After all, he’d just come back from a serious concussion. No mere human being can be expected to do superhuman things after going through an ordeal like that.

Well, apparently, Sidney Crosby is no mere human being. He was welcomed into the Consol Energy Center with so much jubilation that you’d think it was the Stanley Cup Final and he was lifting the Cup.

Tonight’s game also marked the first time in the last 103 regular season games that Crosby, Malkin and Staal were all in the lineup.
With that being said, it's pretty safe to say that the Penguins just took over as the top team in the NHL.

Sid picked up right where he left off on December 28th, 2010 (the last time he scored a goal) with a sharp backhand that sent the puck flying right over Anders Nilsson’s shoulder.

And the points just kept rolling in for Pittsburgh’s star of the night. 10 minutes after opening up the scoresheet, Sid nabbed the assist on Brooks Orpik’s slapshot.
In the second period, Kris Letang took a beauty of a feed from Crosby, passed it on to Evgeni Malkin, and once again Nilsson was undressed.
Surprisingly, the next Pittsburgh goal, courtesy of Steve Sullivan, did not involve Crosby at all. But no matter, he’d make up for it in the final frame.

Sid started the game, and he ended it with another sweet backhand, just two minutes into the third.
Two points and two assists in his first game back since January 5th. He’s already surpassed 10 other players on the roster on the stats sheet. The kid just insists on creating a spectacle.

Anyone who decided to tune in to Crosby’s first game back was certainly not disappointed with his debut performance. Hype or no hype, Crosby played a solid game at both ends of the ice. He even took a couple of hard hits and bounced back quickly, showing that he’s not exempt from the fast-paced physicality of the game.

In the span of 60 minutes, the National Hockey League was reminded of why Crosby is the ultimate representation of the game. Regardless of how big the stage is, he shows up and manages to fill the entire space with his larger-than-life presence, skill, and all-around greatness as a player.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Next, Next One?

Keep an eye out for Nathan MacKinnon. The 16-year old forward from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia has been dubbed “the next Sidney Crosby.” Sure, people in the hockey world have said this before of other young players, but none have yet achieved even half of what Crosby has so far (John Tavares, anyone?). And while at 16, it’s impossible to tell whether MacKinnon will actually live up to this prestigious comparison, the current similarities are definitely there.

MacKinnon began his career playing minor hockey in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, (Sid Similarity #1) where he quickly made his mark, recording 200 points in 50 games. At the bantam level he played for the Cole Harbour Red Wings for two years, ending each season with 110 and 145 points respectively. From there, MacKinnon was enrolled at the prestigious hockey school, Shattuck-St. Mary’s (Sid Similarity #2). He averaged more than 2 points a game with Shattuck-St. Mary’s under-16 program, and though he was the second youngest player on the team, ranked second in scoring midway through the season.

Now playing for the Halifax Mooseheads in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, MacKinnon is favorited to be the number one selection for his draft year (Sid Similarity #3).

Now if MacKinnon’s past career’s similarities to Crosby’s aren’t enough to sway you in his favor, check out his stats for the QMJHL season to date: In 19 games played, MacKinnon has 10 goals and 20 assists for an overall 30 points. You have to admit, that’s pretty impressive.

And there’s one last thing that MacKinnon shares with his big-league counterpart: humility. Last year, MacKinnon told a Canadian newspaper “I know I’ll never be Sidney Crosby. I just want to play my own game and not his. I don’t like to compare myself to him too much, because you can’t. He’s too good.”

With another year left before he's eligible for the NHL Entry Draft, MacKinnon, who is known by his coaches and peers as the "undersized forward with the heart the size of an elephant," just needs to focus on improving his play and not let the Crosby comparisons get to his head.

Who knows, in time he may very well be The Next Next One.