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Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby sits on the bench in the final minutes of the Penguins' 5-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens in game 7 of the NHL hockey Eastern Conference semifinals in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, May 12, 2010. The Canadiens won 5-2 to take the series. (Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby sits on the bench in the final minutes of the Penguins' 5-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens in game 7 of the NHL hockey Eastern Conference semifinals in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, May 12, 2010. The Canadiens won 5-2 to take the series. (Gene J. Puskar)

Eric Duhatschek

Sid the Kid is all grown up Add to ...

Sitting there on a director's chair, looking tanned, fit and rested, it is hard to believe sometimes that Sidney Crosby is already five years into his NHL career. The league was coming out of a crippling lockout when Sid the Kid arrived, and his mandate was a modest one: Just be the second coming of Wayne Gretzky, the fresh face of the new and improved NHL.

In that time, Crosby has met virtually all the expectations draped on his shoulders. He won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, an Olympic gold medal with Canada, a scoring title, an MVP award - and all the while battled his contemporary Alexander Ovechkin for best-player-in-the-game honours.

And now, finally, after all these years, he's even getting a place of his own.

Yes, the NHL's most famous tenant is moving out of owner Mario Lemieux's basement at some point in the coming season. It's not happening right away because Crosby's new place isn't quite finished yet, and he wants everything perfect. But soon enough, he will be responsible for his own meals, his own laundry and the video games with Mario's kids will only happen when he pays the occasional visit.

All grown up at age 23.

"There wasn't a moment where I thought, 'I need to move out,' " explained Crosby, in a lengthy interview before the start of NHL training camps this weekend. "You wait for the right situation and the right place. Obviously, for me, privacy is important - and the area where I wanted to be. I didn't want to rush into buying a place just to buy a place. I wanted to make sure it was the right place.

"Luckily for me, I'm in a good situation. Typically, people have to move out really quick and rush, but I'm not in that scenario. I don't want to be half living in it and not have it really be livable yet. I want to make sure I'm comfortable in there."

Often, as players move into their primes, they say that the years move by quickly, and that they become something of a blur. With Crosby's schedule and the Gretzky-like demands placed on his time, he says that is exactly how the first half-decade of his career has gone by - in a flash.

"I look at the last two or three years, it almost feels like a couple of those years were like one year put together - everything was so constant, with the Olympics, and everything else that was going on," he said. "I find myself looking back, thinking 'that was last year' and then realizing, 'No, it was two, three years ago.' That's the way it is. That's why you have to enjoy things as much as you can - because it does go by so fast."

To that end, Crosby took his first long vacation in ages this summer after the Penguins lost in the second round to the Montreal Canadiens.

"I basically didn't do anything for a month - and I can't remember the last time I went that long without doing anything, even skating," he said. "I went two months without skating. I think that was important, mentally and physically, because I'm used to going, going, going.

"Part of me likes all that hockey. You just get into that routine. But there comes a time when your body needs a rest and mentally you need a rest too. Now that we're starting to skate again every day, I'm looking forward to it."

Crosby had an exceptional opening-round playoff performance against the Ottawa Senators last spring, but couldn't get anything going offensively against Montreal and goaltender Jaroslav Halak. This is how it sometimes goes in the playoffs - miracle workers in goal have dotted the NHL landscape for time immemorial; Halak had more than his share of inspiration from earlier Hab greats and near greats, from Ken Dryden to Patrick Roy, with even the odd Steve Penney thrown in for good measure.

Still, after the Penguins made two consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup final before faltering last spring, Crosby says there were lessons to be learned from that setback.

"You can look at Game 7, but there are always traits that successful teams have - where you put teams away and when you're in those hard situations, you win," Crosby said. "We had a chance in Game 6 to put Montreal away and we didn't do it."

There is a determination in Crosby's voice when he makes that last observation and a desire to make sure it doesn't happen again.

In the off-season, the Penguins revamped their supporting cast to add, among others, Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek on defence and Mike Comrie up front, players who should add to their scoring punch and depth. Centre Evgeni Malkin is healthy again, after an injury-filled year in which his offensive production fell way off.

Crosby, meanwhile, just kept chugging along, having a breakthrough year in goal-scoring (51, tied for the league lead with Tampa's Steven Stamkos), after deciding he needed to shoot more. That has been the one constant during Crosby's first five years in the league - the ability to analyze the parts of his game that need improving and then doing the necessary work to make himself better. With the tank full again and his optimism running high, it will be worth watching to see what direction Crosby - a kid no more - can take his game next.

Follow on Twitter: @eduhatschek

 

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