Exclusive: Catching up with Crosby and MacKinnon
It is the stuff Maritime hockey fans dream of. Two of the best players to come out of the region on ice together - one in his Pittsburgh Penguins jersey, the other sporting a Colorado Avalanche jersey.
Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon were getting in some summer ice time in Halifax Tuesday, along with a collection of other players from the National Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, such as Andrew Bondarchuk, Chris Clark and Logan Shaw.
“It`s nice to get some training and get ready for next season,” says Crosby. “You try to make the most of the time you have to get ready for next year. It`s a short summer and it`s been a good one so far.”
“Sid’s a great guy to work out with,” says MacKinnon. “He’s one of the hardest workers and obviously the best player in the game…It’s a lot of fun.”
Crosby’s jaw was broken in March when a deflected shot from teammate Brooks Orpik hit him in the face during a game with the New York Islanders.
“Jaw’s good,” says Crosby. “I think I have to do some things once I get back to Pittsburgh, but pretty minor procedures and stuff that, hopefully, I really won`t have to worry about once I get it done.”
When he returned in May for the playoff series against the Islanders, Crosby wore a special helmet with a face protector and scored two goals in that game.
However, he was scoreless in four games against the Bruins, but he says pain was not a factor.
“No, it was pretty good,” says Crosby. “I got a couple of shots that didn’t feel great, but nothing that I felt hindered my play, anything less than anyone else was playing through at the time. So, I was really happy with the way it responded.”
After he removed the protective face gear during the Bruins series, he took a shot to the jaw from Boston defenceman Zedeno Chara that went uncalled.
“It`s part of the game,” says Crosby. “Refs can’t always see that kind of stuff. There’s nothing you can do. It’s part of the game. Guys are going to do that, I can’t do anything. If Zdeno Chara’s going to decide he`s going to punch me, what am I going to do? So, you kinda hope it gets called and if it doesn`t, you play through it.”
The conference final was a tough series and Boston swept the Penguins in four games.
“It is playoff hockey,” says Crosby. “At the end of the day, we didn’t score. I don`t think it had anything to do with the physical play. If anything, I think we did a pretty good job of imitating that. Maybe we were more physical than they were at certain points. We didn’t score. It`s something that we`ve turned the page, we`ll learn from it, nothing we can do now.”
Crosby’s focus is now turned to the upcoming season.
“It`s kind of the goal of every team to try and keep the core group together, especially with the salary cap,” says Crosby. “We were able to keep some pretty important guys. Unfortunately we lost some guys that were also pretty important to our team, but with that, we are going to get some guys with opportunities...I think, all in all, we`re pretty happy with the way the summer has gone.”
Nathan MacKinnon is also looking forward to the upcoming season of the NHL.
The 17-year-old was picked first overall in the NHL draft by the Colorado Avalanche.
“I was a little more nervous than I thought I was going to be, to be honest with you. It was such a relieving thing to hear that coming from Joe Sakic’s mouth for sure. It was pretty special and a great moment for my friends and my family that came there. I got to celebrate when I came back here as well,” says MacKinnon.
MacKinnon says he is excited to work with Sakic - a former NHLer and executive vice-president of hockey operations for the Colorado Avalanche.
“He was definitely my favourite player. Obviously, it is kinda an ironic story where I ended up, but they had so many great players and really talented teams and that`s the kind of teams I like to watch. Obviously, when Sid went to Pittsburgh I hopped on that bandwagon, but I was a Colorado fan first.”
MacKinnon says Sakic stood out for a number of reasons.
“He was such a great leader. You know, getting to know him a bit more, I can tell why he was a captain all those years.” says MacKinnon. “He retired when I was young, but I still got to watch him win a cup.”
MacKinnon knows a little about winning cups, starting with the President’s Cup, which he won this May as part of the Halifax Mooseheads.
“It was special, especially winning at home with the President`s Cup, I think it was worth losing game three in Baie Comeau to win at home,” says MacKinnon.
A couple of weeks later, the team took home the Memorial Cup - the first for Halifax and the icing on the cake for a special team.
“There were no cliques on the team. I think that`s the biggest thing about why we were so successful,” says MacKinnon. “We had such good chemistry on the ice but that definitely started off the ice.”
That chemistry led to eight players getting drafted or signing contracts with NHL teams.
“We were very deep, like I said all year, it wasn`t a one-line thing,” says MacKinnon. “From top to bottom, we were a very strong team. I don`t know if we will see a team like that in junior for a long time. We were tied for the best winning percentage ever in junior hockey, so it was a pretty special year.”
Now, it is on to the NHL, and although MacKinnon doesn`t want to jinx anything by talking about it, he’s working hard to be ready.
“It is going to be a very big challenge for myself and anybody younger who comes in, but I think I`m ready for it. I’ve got eight weeks left to get ready. I have some good training, I want to come in to camp very fresh and energized to go,” says MacKinnon.
After spending time training with MacKinnon and watching him play, Crosby says he`s impressed.
“He’s got a great attitude. You know, from working out with him and having a chance to skate with him here, you can see why he`s as good as he is,” says Crosby. “He`s got a great attitude, he works hard. I see him fitting in right away and doing a great job. He`s just going to get better. He`s still pretty young.”
MacKinnon turns 18 on September 1.
“He`s got a great situation in Colorado,” says Crosby. “Going to a team that`s got a lot of young forwards and a lot of skill, he’s going to be able to use that. He’s just going to continue to improve with the way he works and his mindset.”
MacKinnon credits a lot of his success to his family`s commitment to help him reach his goals.
“You don`t get here with magic, you put the work in. It`s also fun,” says MacKinnon.
“You`re proud to see a young guy like that, coming from your hometown, do well,” says Crosby.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Rick Grant