Monday, June 3, 2013
Pals Crosby, Bergeron going head-to-head
By Scott Burnside
PITTSBURGH -- It’s hard to imagine Sidney Crosby being a wide-eyed, starstruck teenager, but that was exactly the case back in 2005 when the 17-year-old was selected to Canada’s junior national team for what was one of the greatest World Junior Championships.
During the NHL lockout that scuttled the 2004-05 season, the junior tournament was chockablock with top-end talent, talent that would go on to have a significant impact on the NHL in later years.
Crosby, of course, was already garnered significant media attention as one of the greatest young prospects in the hockey world. At the tournament held in Grand Forks, N.D., Canadian officials paired him with Patrice Bergeron in an effort to help him through the high-profile tournament.
Bergeron at the time was a man among boys. He had already played a full NHL season and Crosby was soaking up as much information as possible from the soft-spoken Bergeron.
"What was he, 19 that year? And I was 17. And I just remember probably talking his ear off just trying to ask him every single question,” Crosby told ESPN.com. "Not to necessarily learn but I was just so eager to find out what it was like in the NHL.
"I wasn’t really taking notes, it was just exciting hanging with an NHL player."
Bergeron was patient with Crosby taking him under his wing off the ice while playing on the same line on the ice.
"That team was awesome, but he was really good for us and I remember how good he was to me," Crosby said. "I was probably pretty annoying, junior kid didn’t have any clue what it was like, asking him all kinds of questions. But he was great to me."
It must have been a memorable time for Bergeron, too, as he asked Crosby for a signed stick at the end of the tournament.
"We’re friends, but we don’t talk that much," Bergeron said. "We obviously played together on Team Canada and we established a friendship there. We text each other once in a while; he’s a great guy, great player, but I haven’t spoken with him in a long time."
The two have remained relatively close over the years and were teammates once again in Vancouver when Canada won a gold medal in the 2010 Olympics, with Crosby scoring the overtime winner against the United States in the gold-medal game.
They have a shared history, too, in terms of overcoming career-threatening head injuries.
"He’s a guy that I talked to going through all the concussion stuff," Crosby said. "I remember when Boston won [the Stanley Cup in 2011], not that you’re ever necessarily cheering for another team, but ... that was pretty positive to see him bounce back the way he did."
The two, of course, are now intersecting in a completely different way, playing against each other for the first time in the playoffs.
Given Bergeron’s status as one of the game’s best two-way players (he won the Frank J. Selke Trophy in 2012), the expectation is he will be facing off literally and figuratively against Crosby throughout these Eastern Conference finals.
"He’s a special player and you need to be aware every time he’s on the ice and it’s a good challenge," Bergeron said. "He’s probably the best player in the world, and every time you’re on the ice against him, you have your hands full.
"I wouldn’t say I know how to play against him because he’s always getting better, he’s always trying to improve, and I’m trying to do the same things."
Crosby said it’s not uncommon for players to acknowledge guys they know away from the rink, although he and Bergeron did not have that kind of conversation in Game 1, which was won 3-0 by the Bruins.
"It didn’t happen last game but it’s not uncommon at all, I think any guy will tell you if they’ve played with a guy or know him personally, it’s not uncommon to say hi out there," Crosby said.
Although he struggled in the faceoff circle, winning just six of 17 draws, don’t look for Crosby to start chatting up his old friend in an effort to gain an edge.
"I don’t typically talk to other centermen to get them off their game or anything like that, so probably not going to try with him. I think you put all your focus towards winning the faceoff, not really the social aspect," the Penguins’ captain said.
"I’ve obviously played with him and know how great of a guy he is and know how hard he works. So, yeah, I would say I have a lot of respect for him and know that I’ll be seeing a lot of him here in the next couple of weeks."