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Crosby's Hometown Team Having the Time of Their Lives

Thursday, 12.30.2010 / 9:40 PM / 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic
By Michelle Crechiolo
Sidney Crosby normally doesn’t see a lot of time on the bench.

But that may change this week as his youth team from his hometown of Cole Harbour, N.S. is in town for the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Winter Classic Tournament.

“We know in Pittsburgh, they love him,” said Paul Mason, his longtime coach. “We love him in Cole Harbour, he’s our pride and joy. I’ve already told him, come on down. Anytime you’re available, come down on the bench.”

Mason and his team, the Bantam AA Wings of the Cole Harbour Bel Ayr Minor Hockey Association, traveled 1,313 miles to participate in the tournament that kicked off Wednesday.

They’re one of four teams that will be playing over this next week. A youth team from Evgeni Malkin’s hometown of Magnitogorsk, Russia, H.C. Metallurg, is also participating, as is the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, coached by Mario Lemieux.

The tournament’s highlight will come when Cole Harbour faces H.C. Metallurg at the Winter Classic Community Rink at Stage AE on Friday at 2 p.m.

“Sid goes, ‘Geno and I might have to have a side bet,’” Mason said. “And I said, well, you better get some odds.”

The players, who are all 1996 birth years, are having the time of their lives here in Pittsburgh after Crosby’s parents, Troy and Tina, suggested back in the summer that the team should make the trip.

“Most of us hadn’t even left the country for hockey,” forward Ryan Fraser said. “Well, I don’t think any of us have.”

Most of these kids would have never met Sid before even though they’re from Cole Harbour. A few have. So they were pretty stoked by that, and going in the dressing room – it’s a phenomenal facility, so they were pretty stoked. They’re on pins and needles, so we’ve been getting a lot of attention at home and here. It’s great for them. - Paul Mason
“It’s going to be a great experience for all of the players,” forward Zach Tagliapietra said. “It’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime chance, the tournament and the Winter Classic.”

Their trip here, however, didn’t go as smoothly as planned. They arrived in Pittsburgh Tuesday after encountering a myriad of plane troubles.

After waking up at 4 a.m. to get to the airport, the team didn’t arrive in Pittsburgh until right before the start of Tuesday’s 7 p.m. puck drop against Atlanta, thanks to plane delays, power outages and lost luggage.

But they made it in time to see their hometown hero Crosby explode for a four-point effort (2G-2A) in a 6-3 victory over the Thrashers.

“He shows up and gets four points and the win ... It was the greatest way to start it off,” Mason said. “Because literally, we just went in the hotel, threw our bags in the door and ran over, and we were late. Some people didn’t even make it here, they got stopped at customs. Our gear got here (Wednesday) morning. It was rough, but everything works out.”

“Crosby put on a show,” Tagliapietra said, saying that the team made signs and waved Nova Scotia flags throughout the game. “We all like him a lot. He’s from our hometown, he does a lot for us.”

Crosby has ensured that the players get the most out of their experience here in Pittsburgh. Even though Crosby had to get on the team plane that night to head to New York for the Penguins’ game against the Islanders, he took the time after the game to meet the boys and show them the locker room.

“Most of these kids would have never met Sid before even though they’re from Cole Harbour,” Mason said. “A few have. So they were pretty stoked by that, and going in the dressing room – it’s a phenomenal facility, so they were pretty stoked. They’re on pins and needles, so we’ve been getting a lot of attention at home and here. It’s great for them.”

Tagliapietra admitted he did his homework before entering the Penguins’ locker room, watching as many clips of HBO Sports' "24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic" on the plane before arriving.

He even knew the Penguins’ long-honored tradition of not stepping on the logo.

“The show showed people jumping over the logo and not trying to touch it and stuff like that,” he said. “When we came here, I was on the plane watching all the videos on that and seeing the dressing room and stuff. I wanted to see if I could see it in real life, and we came (Tuesday) night.”

“Having something like this as part of the Winter Classic is a phenomenal idea,” Mason said. “We’re just overjoyed by it and everyone’s looking forward to it.”
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