By GREG BEACHAM
2014-02-12 11:22 PM
SOCHI, Russia (AP) -- Sidney Crosby and Canada coach Mike Babcock slowly circled the Olympic rink before practice, two serious men enmeshed in a no-nonsense discussion about defensive zone coverage.
Four years after his gold medal-winning overtime goal in Vancouver, Crosby is paying close attention to every detail during his second trip to the Olympics. After all, he is Canada's captain now, the public face of likely the most talented team in Sochi.
"I think you're much more used to things" in a second trip to the Olympics, Crosby said. "You're a little wide-eyed that first time."
Crosby's eyes are still open, but that's because he's looking out for his Canadian teammates now. Wearing the captain's "C'' is an enormous honor to Crosby, and he has ideas about the style of leadership that will work in the Olympics' compressed schedule and high-stress environment.
Crosby learned from the stoic confidence of Scott Niedermayer, the veteran defenseman who led the way in Vancouver. He'll rely on a Canadian roster filled with captains from other teams, including two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Toews.
And when it's time to step up in the dressing room in the big games, Crosby intends to be ready.
"Sid doesn't say a lot, but what he says makes sense," Canada assistant coach Ken Hitchcock said.
A day before Canada opened the tournament against Norway, Crosby was still settling into the Olympic village on the edge of the Black Sea and going to practice on one of Sochi's five sparkling hockey rinks. On Wednesday, he walked outside in full uniform and sandals, enjoying the 60-degree weather while moving between arenas.
In Vancouver, Crosby was still a 22-year-old prodigy whose golden goal essentially capped a meteoric rise to the top of his sport. Eight months before that, he had become the youngest captain to win the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The ensuing four years wouldn't fit in any storybook, though. He missed most of a two-year stretch with problems from apparent concussions, playing in just 28 games in two years starting in January 2011.
Crosby is back on top of the NHL scoring list this season with 78 points, leading Canada teammate Ryan Getzlaf by 11. The Penguins are the best team in the East with a conference-high 40 victories, gearing up for another Stanley Cup run with Crosby at the center of everything.
But first, Crosby has 12 days to lead Canada another gold medal.
Crosby understands the world's temptation to regard this tournament as his personal clash with Alex Ovechkin, the superstar facing enormous scrutiny in his home Olympics, just as Crosby did four years ago. Crosby insists it's not about two players, even if they're sharing the spotlight.
"We've got a lot of guys who have played together, not just the last Olympics but going back a ways," Crosby said. "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."
Though Canada might seem to be carrying only a fraction of the pressure that fell on the team's shoulders in its home Olympics four years ago, Crosby and his teammates don't think about it that way.
While the Bolshoy Ice Dome won't be jammed with red-and-white-clad fans waving maple leaf flags, most of Canada's team knows what it would mean to win a third gold medal in the last four Olympics in the nation's most popular sport.
"It doesn't feel that much different, honestly," Crosby said. "I think there's pressure every time you put this jersey on. Playing at home (in Vancouver), we used that energy in the games, but I'm sure we'll have a good Canadian crowd here, too, and we know we've got a whole country behind us."