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Tim Wharnsby - Tuesday Feb. 11, 2014 11:24

Sidney Crosby ready to captain Team Canada

Squad focused on learning defensive systems

Sidney Crosby
Sidney Crosby practices with Team Canada on Monday. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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SOCHI -- After the team photo had been snapped, after the Canadian players had taken off their game sweaters and pulled on their practice jerseys, Sidney Crosby and head coach Mike Babcock skated a few laps around the ice together and held what appeared to be a deep discussion.

They looked each other in the eye. They made gestures with their hands. The two leaders were engaged. In fact, near the end of the conversation Babcock skated through a crease, while Crosby toured behind the net as a puck whizzed behind the back of the coach’s head. He didn’t even notice and kept on talking.

“I think everybody has to adjust a little bit and was just making sure I’m on the same page as far as what he expects and what he wants,” Crosby explained after Canada’s second practice at the Bolshoy Ice Dome. “The offensive part and the skill that we have, I think that will come quicker then some of the adjustments we might make in the defensive zone.’’

Defensive zone coverage was the topic of discussion between the two as they skated. Babcock and his coaching staff had shown the players a video in one of the many meetings the group has had since arriving in Sochi on Monday. Crosby wanted some clarification.

“There was a little confusion there,” Babcock said. “We sorted it out. That gives me a chance tomorrow to sort it out with the group.

“What we’ve tried to encourage is … if there is something as a player you don’t feel or don’t know, we encourage you to talk. The idea is to get everyone comfortable so we can play the game fast. When you’re thinking you don’t go fast. That was a good part of the process. Obviously, [Crosby] is a guy who is real comfortable and we want that from the captain. We want him to ask questions if there are any issues.”

Crosby won a world junior title and steered the Rimouski Oceanic to a Memorial Cup final as a teenager. He was a Stanley Cup champion as a captain before his 22nd birthday and won an Olympic gold medal nine months later.

Next chapter

Now the 26-year-old Crosby has been asked to take over as captain for Scott Niedermayer, who had the captaincy in Vancouver four years ago, and write the next chapter in Canadian hockey leadership that stretches from the smooth-skating defenceman to Mario Lemieux and all the way back to Phil Esposito and beyond.

``I think you’re much more used to things, you’re a little wide-eyed that first time,” Crosby said. “The biggest thing I learned from a guy like Scotty is that he didn’t really say that much, he just said the right thing at the right time. The way he carried himself and his whole demeanour that he had, his quiet confidence, it was really something that was felt throughout the whole room.

``The other thing here is that we’ve got a lot of guys who have played together not just the last Olympics but going back a ways, I think there’s some trust there. And for the new guys coming in, you try to make them feel as comfortable as possible. We’re trying to do that. That’s the strength of Canada, guys always come together pretty quick. That’s instilled in us at an early age. I like that side of things for sure.’’

Niedermayer was 37 when he captained Canada to gold in 2010. He retired a few months later. Mario Lemieux was 36 when he captained Canada to gold in 2002. He retired before the next Olympics.

Does age matter when it comes to Olympic hockey leadership? Babcock likes the fact that Crosby will be surrounded by all the returnees from the Vancouver team.

“The reality for me is we have 11 guys back from the last time who had success,” he said. “We have a new opportunity and we have to come up with a new identity. Does experience help in winning? Absolutely. Does the Olympics weigh in more than the guy who has won a Stanley Cup, I don’t know that?

“I know I like guys who have won because they’ve been through it and done it right. You don’t win unless you’ve done it right. In the details is what’s going to separate. There is a whole bunch of teams with really good players. Someone is going to become a really good team and win the tournament. That’s what we’re going to try to do. We’re going to try to get better each and every day so we can win.”

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