Olympic pressure already building on Sidney Crosby

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No one needs to tell Sidney Crosby about the enormous expectations building in his homeland for Canada's Olympic hockey team. The Vancouver Games don't begin for another two months, yet it's almost as if they start tomorrow. Canada's TV listings offer a clue: Nine networks and cable channels, including CTV, Rogers Sportsnet and TSN, the country's version of ESPN, recently aired Part 1 of a special titled "Sid the Kid V. Alexander The Great," exploring the rivalry between Crosby and Russia's Alexander Ovechkin. Part 2 airs closer to the games. Canada realistically expects Crosby and Ovechkin, arguably the sport's two biggest stars, to meet on the ice in Vancouver. Canada expects it might be for the gold medal. Canada also expects to win. There can be no silver medal, not in these games, not on home ice. Not with Sidney Crosby wearing the maple leaf in the Olympics for the first time. "Oh, yes," Pittsburgh Penguins teammate Marc-Andre Fleury, himself a possible Canadian goalie, said Monday when asked if the burden on Team Canada is huge. "My parents told me people have been talking about it for a year. Hockey in Canada is like football in the U.S. Everybody expects Canada to do well and to win - and nothing else." Especially now that Crosby, who led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup at age 21 in June, is likely to be centering Canada's top line for the first time. Crosby, then 18 and an NHL rookie, was passed over in 2006 as executive director Wayne Gretzky stayed loyal to many of the players who helped win Canada's first gold in 50 years at Salt Lake City in 2002. Publicly, Crosby downplayed the snub, but he was disappointed and motivated by it. Four years later, he is as close to a lock as it gets, although Canada's team - to make certain the key players are healthy, productive and ready to go - won't be chosen until Dec. 31. Once the team is selected, the message will be clear: There can be no repeat of Turin in 2006. Then, an entire country gathered around TV sets to watch these games in near disbelief: Switzerland 2, Canada 0. Finland 2, Canada 0. Russia 2, Canada 0. Crosby's young, fresh legs and impossible-to-quantify desire might have helped prevent such an embarrassment, despite his youth and relative inexperience on the international stage. He couldn't do anything about the lack of a medal then, but Canada is asking him to rectify it now. Guess what? If Crosby weren't a player but merely a spectator watching in his hometown of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, he'd have huge expectations for a team that is expected to include Martin Brodeur, Rick Nash, Dany Heatley, Jonathan Toews, Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. "You know what?" he said Monday. "That's something as Canadians that we've grown up around. We've all watched it, and we've probably been the fan expecting good results. I think that's typical and that's to be expected. There's nothing wrong with that. It's always been that way." Canada's would-be Olympians won't say so, but most are watching NHL boxscores, speculating about who they might play alongside - if only because there won't be much time to prepare once the Olympics arrive. Crosby is among those who will play NHL games on Sunday, Feb. 14, leave for Vancouver immediately afterward, practice on Feb. 15 and play Norway on Feb. 16. It's taken Canada four years to get over Turin, yet its next hockey team won't have 48 hours together to bond, become comfortable, become a team. "I think Hockey Canada's done a great job. They had the orientation camp (in August), they've let everyone know what's to be expected of the guys who make the team," Crosby said. "I think they've covered everything and it's up to the decision-making process to decide what's going to happen." As the Olympics draw closer, Crosby is certain it won't become a distraction as the Penguins try to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. To him, playing well for your NHL team is the best possible way to prepare for Vancouver. "Use it as your motivation and make sure your game is as good as it can be," he said. "The closer it comes, the more motivation you should have to be at your best." After all, maybe the next Sidney Crosby will be eagerly watching, waiting and anticipating an Olympic gold medal, just as Crosby did as a 10-year-old during the 1998 Olympics in Nagano. "There's a lot of people following it, and with good reason," he said. "(In Canada), we think about hockey."

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