Penguins’ Sidney Crosby moves encroaches on Canadiens’ Carey Price during second period Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
Graham Hughes /
THE CANADIAN PRESS
In my mind (which admittedly isn’t what it used to be), Sidney Crosby and Carey Price are inexorably linked.They were born the same month: August of 1987. They were taken in the same NHL draft. Price made his NHL debut against Crosby’s Penguins in Pittsburgh, a game I covered. They led Team Canada to Olympic gold in Vancouver in 2010 and again in Sochi in 2014. If Crosby is the greatest player of his time, Price is the greatest goaltender.And while the first time I talked to Price was in a post-practice scrum at the Bell Centre when he complained about how hard NHL goalies had to work, my first interview with Crosby was rather more memorable.For reasons that escape me, I went to talk to the 16-year-old Crosby in Chicoutimi when his Rimouski Océanic were in town. Getting there in winter involved a white-knuckle ride from Quebec City to Chicoutimi on Highway 73 along the fringes of Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier in a snowstorm.Having arrived at the hockey arena, I got the bad news: Crosby would not be in the lineup. I watched the rough-and-tumble game with the raucous Chicoutimi crowd and hoped that the interview scheduled for the next morning would yield something to make the trip worthwhile.It didn’t.Any hope I had of some revealing quotes that would offer a peek inside the mind of the teenage phenom when Crosby came rolling into the hotel coffee shop the next morning with an Océanic PR person in tow. Had Crosby taken it into his head to say something controversial, the PR guy was there to warn him off.There wasn’t the slightest danger. Crosby was pleasant, thoughtful, accommodating — and as bland as a bowl of white bread in skim milk. At 16, he had already perfected the art of submitting to endless interviews while saying nothing.A couple of years later, I was one of dozens of journalists crowded around the television sets in the media tent at the FINA world championships on Île-Ste-Hélène in 2005, when the NHL held the draft lottery that marked the real end of the most damaging lockout in league history.The Canadiens hung in a surprisingly long time, so that some of us had begun to wonder if they would make it all the way to No. 1 and the right to draft Sidney Crosby. But the Habs came away with the fifth slot, Pittsburgh would draft No. 1 — and the rest is history. With the no-brainer pick, the Pens took Crosby before the Habs grabbed Carey Price at No. 5.A noisy faction (it’s Montreal, there is always a noisy faction) wanted Gilbert Brulé, who fell to Columbus with the sixth pick and was last seen playing hockey in Russia. Pittsburgh would pull off a draft coup by picking up Kris Letang with the first pick in the third round, while the Canadiens wasted their second-round pick on Guillaume Latendresse.Much that has happened in hockey since (especially in Pittsburgh and Montreal) was decided in a few days’ time in that summer of 2005. Last week, one of the online sports media sites made public a poll that had the players ranking Crosby as the best two-way player in the league by a wide margin, with Price rated as the goaltender you would most want to have in a Game 7.When the Penguins came to town Saturday evening, there was much anticipation, with Price about to tie Jacques Plante in total wins for the legendary Canadiens team, while Crosby had a chance to move ahead of Jaromir Jagr into second place on Pittsburgh’s all-time goal-scoring list.Everything was pretty much settled 21 seconds in, when Crosby picked Jordie Benn’s pocket and scored on Price. On this night, the milestone (and the surprisingly easy 5-1 win) would go to Crosby and the Penguins.There will be more tussles. Crosby and Price will both turn 32 in August, so it’s not inconceivable that they could face each other for another decade. Since that 2005 draft, Crosby and Price have marched more or less in lock-step through their careers. Crosby is the greatest all-around player of his time, Price the greatest goaltender. They have faced each other countless times and they have been teammates on the biggest stage of them all, the Olympic Games in Vancouver in 2010 and Sochi in 2014, winning gold medals on each occasion.Bragging rights, of course, belong to Crosby: the three Stanley Cup rings. That bauble has eluded Price so far, and it’s not inconceivable that he will retire without a ring. Perhaps that’s why Price can be a surly cuss at times, but he can also be extremely generous. Crosby remains as much a mystery now as he was at 16, with even his considerable charitable efforts carefully hidden from the public eye.Now two of the giants of their era are leading their teams as they battle toward the playoffs. When it’s all over, they’ll stroll into the Hockey Hall of Fame and we will count ourselves lucky that we were there to see it all unfold.