Sports

WORLD CUP

Sidney Crosby's dominance helps Canada blank Czech Republic

By Mike Zeisberger, Toronto Sun

TORONTO - 

In the early days of training camp in Ottawa two weeks ago, after the majority of reporters had fled the Team Canada dressing room, Sidney Crosby took a moment to reflect on what it meant to wear that red-and-white maple leaf on his chest while playing on home soil.

While cynics might look at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey as some kind of conjured-up money grab that is nothing more than a hyped-up exhibition tournament, don’t tell that to No. 87. He’s having none of it.

“Any time you represent your country, it’s incredible,” he said at the time. “You cherish the opportunity because you never know when the next one might come. And to do it in Canada, it’s special.

“It was like that at the (2010) Vancouver Olympics. And it’s like that now.”

That was Crosby talking the talk.

And on Saturday night, with an entire nation watching Team Canada’s opening game of the tournament , Crosby walked the walk.

From the moment his name was called in the pre-game introductions, you could see it in his eyes. It was the type of steely-eyed glare of a man that was looking to dominate, no matter who or what stood in his way.

Indeed, Crosby had the look of a man possessed.

And believe us, once the puck was dropped, he was just that.

On this night, No. 87 turned this best-on-best tournament into an example of a man playing against boys, toying with the Czech Republic players like they were Saturday night beer league opponents.

That statement is not as much an indictment of the Czech Republic as it is an endorsement of the display the Team Canada captain put on for all the world to see in a dominating 6-0 victory Saturday night.

By the time the final horn sounded, he’d registered a goal, two assists and finished plus-4.

And just for good measure, he made a brilliant play on the backcheck that prevented Martin Hanzal from a potential goal.

All in just 13:04 of ice time.

It may have been as good a 13 minutes as we’ve seen a player turn in in recent times.

“It felt like more than (13) minutes,” Crosby said. “I think that the more you get into games and get comfortable, hopefully you can kind of maintain that pace. But we’ve got a lot of depth, a lot of guys who can make some things happen.

“Everyone’s just trying to contribute, and I think everyone kind of did that tonight.”

Especially Crosby.

If Crosby wanted to make a statement with this performance, consider it a message received.

With Carey Price chipping in with the type of game that should finally muzzle any concerns over his recovery from knee surgery, the goalie and the captain look to be on a mission to run the table en route to a title in the same manner they did in winning the gold medal at the Sochi Olympics.

Interestingly, at 1-0, Team Canada’s next game will pit them against the rival Americans, who started the tournament earlier in the day with a disappointing splat thanks to a 3-0 loss to an underdog Team Europe squad.

Word out of U.S. camp for months has been that the American roster was built to beat Canada by beating them up with a physical style of play. But as one media colleague from south of the border pointed out to us: “How is the U.S. going to punch Canada in the mouth if they couldn’t even punch Tomas Tatar in the mouth.”

Thanks to the victory by Tatar’s Team Europe, Canada could pretty much bury the Americans with a win Tuesday. And keep this in mind, too: Crosby and Co. aren’t about to forget the 4-2 exhibition loss to Team USA on Sept. 9, a game in which Ryan Kesler ran Shea Weber from behind and T.J. Oshie did the same to Logan Couture.

You want to add motivational fuel to an already blazing fire? You got it.

As for Crosby, what a difference 10 months makes.

Back on Dec. 19, Sid The Kid was mired in controversy. He had scored just six goals in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ first 32 games. His Penguins were underachieving to a fault. And all the while, the most pressing question throughout the NHL was: What’s wrong with Sidney Crosby?

Over the next few months, Crosby himself provided the answer.

Nothing.

By the time spring rolled around, Crosby had led the Penguins to their fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in the process.

On Saturday, Crosby played his first meaningful hockey game since he hoisted the Cup at the SAP Center on a sweltering June day in San Jose.

He didn’t miss a beat. In fact, he may even have been better.

“I feel good,” he said. “The fact that I played late into June and you’re stepping into this level, I think that helps kind of with adjusting.

“With our team we’ve got so much speed, so much depth, if we get things rolling everyone kind of helps each other.”

And that’s bad news for the other seven teams in this tournament.

mzeisberger@postmedia.com

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