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Stu Cowan: No kid anymore, Pens' Crosby is only getting better with age

 Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins prepares for a faceoff while playing the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on April 2, 2019, in Detroit.
Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins prepares for a faceoff while playing the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on April 2, 2019, in Detroit.

PITTSBURGH — The worst locker-room spot in the NHL has to be the one beside Sidney Crosby.

That’s what I was thinking after the Pittsburgh Penguins practised Thursday morning at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex while reporters and camera operators jockeyed for position around Crosby trying to get close enough to hear what he was saying.

Thankfully the locker stall beside Crosby was empty and, at 6-foot-3, I could stand to his right and reach over a few people with my recorder. I looked up to see the nameplate on the stall I was standing in and saw “No. 53 Teddy Blueger”.

The locker stall remained empty after Crosby had finished his seven-minute media scrum and I figured Blueger must be used to staying on the ice after practice waiting for the crowd to leave before he can finally take his equipment off.

“Honestly, that has nothing to do with it,” Blueger said after he came into the locker room and sat down in his stall. “I like to stay on just because I think I need the work and I want to keep getting better.”

Blueger picked up an assist in the Penguins’ 4-1 win over the Canadiens Friday night, giving the 25-year-old Latvian centre 8-12-20 totals in 56 games this season. Crosby assisted on the Penguins’ first three goals, giving him 10-24-34 totals in 28 games.

What’s it like sitting beside Crosby every day — apart from the media mobs?

“It’s been pretty awesome just seeing the way he carries himself, the way he prepares himself,” Blueger said Thursday. “Obviously, talking about hockey, seeing his perspective on the game. I think he sees certain things that the rest of us don’t really notice or look for. So it’s pretty cool to see that kind of perspective. It’s interesting to see the details and the stuff he notices that most guys don’t.”

What impresses Blueger most about Crosby on the ice?

“Just how easy he makes it for guys around him,” Blueger said. “His awareness is pretty incredible, where everyone is and what’s going on on the rink. He’s able to handle just about any pass in his skates, in his feet. His puck protection, the way he controls the puck, controls the tempo of the game. Just the way he thinks the game. He’s kind of two steps ahead of everyone and his anticipation is second to none.”

Sid the Kid isn’t a kid anymore . Crosby is 32 and in his 15th NHL season. Only three players on the Penguins are older: Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist and Jack Johnson, who are 33. On Thursday morning, I wondered how many media scrums Crosby has done over the years and I was also amazed at how well he handles himself, answering every question patiently and thoughtfully, not fazed at all by the microphones and cameras in front of his face.

After the scrum, Crosby stuck around for another 10 minutes or so just talking hockey with a few reporters and doing a couple of online video messages for a Penguins’ PR person. Crosby laughed when I asked him how long he had his beat-up shoulder pads, elbow pads and jock strap and he said they go back to his junior days with the Rimouski Océanic. He joked that he’d probably feel too light if he got new equipment.

If only all pro athletes were so good to deal with.

Crosby missed 28 games this season because of core muscle surgery to repair a sports hernia on Nov. 14. He hasn’t missed a beat since returning to the lineup, posting 5-12-17 totals in 11 games while the Penguins have gone 7-3-1. No disrespect to the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid, but I think Crosby is still the best all-around player in the NHL when he’s healthy.

Crosby remains an all-star on and off the ice.

“There’s numerous things he brings to our locker room other than just being a phenomenal player,” teammate Johnson said. “A calmness, confidence.”

Added Blueger about Crosby: “He has no sort of arrogance … he’s the best player in the world but, in here, he’s just one of the guys and that makes him very approachable. He takes the time to get to know you, he comes to talk with you to see how you’re doing and ask if you need any help with anything settling in at first, things like that. That makes a big difference when you’re coming in, getting comfortable and feeling like you’re part of the team and more confident. That’s a cool thing about him.”

There are a lot of cool things about the older version of Sid the Kid.

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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