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Toews, Crosby, Kane discuss that nasty U.S. – Canada exhibition

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When given a chance to say nasty things about that nasty 4-2 loss against the U.S., Canadian players mostly refused to take the bait.

Jonathan Toews probably said the most, admitting that matches between the two countries are “not just any exhibition games” to many players.

“Without saying too much, I think there were a couple of borderline hits there where our guys were put in some awkward positions and there’s not much you can do there,” Toews said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “The one on Weber was the right call there. We just have to try and protect ourselves and expect that the officials are going to do what they have to do. We have no problem with the chippiness and the physical play (but) it doesn’t matter where you’re playing, I think you always have to respect the player when he has his back to you.”

Toews’ phrasing was the key there, really, as those were the closest you could find to “explosive” comments considering the attitudes displayed on the ice.

As this TSN mash-up of comments suggests, the likes of Toews, Sidney Crosby and Carey Price were pretty guarded about handing out inflammatory bulletin board material.

Even so, Crosby did acknowledge some “late hits” while Price nodded to moments that “crossed the line.” Player seemed to appreciate that they stood up for each other, including situations where Shea Weber was the recipient and the aggressor of some “chippy” play.

U.S. players aren’t oblivious to the obvious heat between the two teams, as NHL.com reports.

“When the U.S. plays Canada, you’re going to get that type of game whether it’s an exhibition, preliminary game, semifinal or final; you’re going to find yourself in that situation in this rivalry,” Patrick Kane said.

In that case, it should be that much more interesting to watch how the two teams behave in another exhibition tonight. Perhaps the most important note is that there reportedly won’t be any additional discipline heading into the warm-up:

Crosby part of Penguins’ pitch, Kane helped Blackhawks court Vesey

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When Justin Schultz was the hot draft-pick-turned-free-agent on the market years ago, Wayne Gretzky helped the Edmonton Oilers land that big fish.

Other teams must have been taking notes – about the process maybe more than the prospect – as they’re throwing plenty of star power behind their pitches to Harvard graduate Jimmy Vesey.

Just consider the wide swath of high-level players who sacrificed precious rounds of golf or hours of sunbathing to court the 23-year-old, according to ESPN’s Joe McDonald:

The Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane was in Boston for Chicago’s meeting with Vesey. The Devils’ Cory Schneider and Kyle Palmieri spoke with Vesey, too. The Rangers’ Kevin Hayes, a Boston native, has talked with Vesey numerous times this summer while both work out together. The Islanders’ John Tavares was also in Boston on Tuesday to make his pitch on behalf of the organization. When the Bruins hosted Vesey at the team’s new practice facility, numerous Bruins players were in attendance to greet him. Penguins captain Sidney Crosby also reached out to Vesey.

Also mix in Vesey’s buddy Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres, who has the advantage of knowing him a little better (if nothing else).

(If there’s one thing we can agree on with Vesey, it’s that he can’t say he never had the chance to feel special …)

The NHL’s official account even got in on the act of noting the teams who’ve pitched him recently:

All sorts of strong offers

As McDonald reports, Vesey’s agents are doing everything they can to keep the offers rolling in, even denying that any teams are out of the mix.

Even so, some teams are getting kudos for their efforts, whether those remarks are coming on or off the record.

So … yeah, a lot of teams seem to believe that they have a strong chance.

Backlash, plus backlash to the backlash

OK, let’s circle back to a common question. Is Vesey worth the hype?

If you’re obsessing about this, then maybe not. This time of year, his attention is getting inflated, but that doesn’t mean he can’t help a team. The interest is widespread thanks to Vesey being a low-cost, low-risk asset with a decent chance to yield nice results.

ESPN’s Corey Pronman sums up his potential quite well:

Some people bristle at the way this is shaking out:

Others have no issue with Vesey using that leverage.

With all signs pointing to a Vesey decision coming on Friday (or later), others wait with rapt attention or maybe while rolling their eyes.

Come on, some of this is kind of fun. Right?

More on Veseymania

Additional background on the Vesey-seekers

Again, Friday is most likely the decision day, if that early

What might sway his opinion

‘This time I appreciate it a little bit more’: Crosby wants to savor Pens’ latest championship run

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HALIFAX, Nova Scotia — As Sidney Crosby prepares to carry the Stanley Cup through his Nova Scotia hometown, he said the championship tour is in many ways sweeter the second time around.

The Pittsburgh Penguins captain is in Halifax, Nova Scotia, this week overseeing his annual hockey camp and will bring the Cup to the city for a parade on Saturday, ending at the same rink where he honed his skills as a boy.

During a break Wednesday from working with excited kids at the Cole Harbour rink, Crosby reflected on a season that had its ups and downs – and a championship ring that was all the brighter as a result.

“This time I appreciate it a little bit more,” Crosby said. “I’ll make sure I spend every second I possibly can with it (the Stanley Cup).”

After the previous 2009 victory tour through this hockey-crazy suburb, Crosby said he naively imagined winning seasons might be an annual affair.

Not so much.

He struggled through a concussion, time away from the game, and the Penguins endured a seven-year hiatus from hoisting hockey’s greatest prize, until they raised it for the fourth time in franchise history on June 12 after beating the San Jose Sharks 3-1 in Game 6.

As team captain, Crosby is permitted to have the trophy an extra day, meaning it will have a proud place at his home on the outskirts of the city. He said he intends to have friends over for a look, including several whose careers are over and may never have another opportunity to be so near it.

“The best part is being able to share it with people,” he said.

The Penguins evolved into a different team after a midseason coaching change, picking up speed, scoring more and improving puck possession when Mike Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston in mid-December.

Crosby called it the “two-team” season during Wednesday’s news conference.

The captain’s performance also picked up under Sullivan, along with forward Phil Kessel, who became a key postseason force on the third offensive line. The Penguins went 33-16-5 after Sullivan took over.

“Everybody was talking about … do we need to change this, do we need to change that? There’s always those questions, and winning kind of answers all of those,” said Crosby, when asked about the season.

The Conn Smythe winner was out on the ice most afternoons this week, joking with the young players and offering shooting tips.

Crosby’s hockey camp is in its second year and is drawing children from Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and northern Europe, say organizers. There’s a lottery for the 160 girls and boys allowed in, drawn from 5,000 applicants.

Parents attending say many of the children, aged 8 to 12, have a Crosby story to tell from their workouts.

For the NHL star, it’s all part of unwinding.

“You see how excited the kids are. … There are kids from all over here. That’s neat,” he said.

Crosby said he’s starting back on training after a short break, and is already reflecting on his role as a captain of Team Canada in this fall’s World Cup in Toronto.

The tournament will leave little room for error and winning will depend on which squad adapts the most quickly, he said.

The team is similar to the Team Canada that won gold at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

“The biggest thing in Russia is we got better as the tournament went along. A short-term event like that, it’s very important. We’ll have to see. We’ll have to find our identity pretty quickly,” he said.

“It’s one-game scenarios so you need to execute pretty well.”

Meanwhile, the veteran is soaking up his hometown celebration, conscious this time around that in professional sports, you don’t know what the future holds.

“It’s a tough road … You understand it’s tough to get there, and you take in as much as you can when you do win it,” he said.

Video: Crosby parades Cup through Pittsburgh streets

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Electric atmosphere in the Steel City on Wednesday, as Penguins captain Sidney Crosby rode through the streets with Lord Stanley’s Mug on display.

This marks the second time in Crosby’s career he’s paraded the Stanley Cup through Pittsburgh, and the fourth time it’s happened in franchise history.

It’s worth noting that this most recent championship puts the Penguins on par with the New York Rangers — one of the NHL’s original six teams — in terms of Stanley Cups won.

More from the Pens’ Stanley Cup parade:

Schultz: ‘It still hasn’t sunk in — it’s awesome’ to win Stanley Cup

‘Dream come true’ for Bonino

On the evolution of Crosby, Pittsburgh’s ‘consummate leader’

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SAN JOSE — Sidney Crosby didn’t lead the Penguins in goals this postseason.

He didn’t lead in assists, either.

In fact, Bryan Rust found the back of the net as many times as Crosby did. And Nick Bonino had more helpers.

Yet to hear the Penguins explain it, there was nobody more valuable to the fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history than No. 87 — statistics to be damned.

“What I really admire about Sid is that it didn’t matter,” Pens head coach Mike Sullivan said about Crosby’s individual numbers. “All that mattered is that we were winning, and that’s all he cared about.

“He pushed this group. He led first and foremost through his play. He was a handful every shift. They scored a big goal tonight, and his line comes right back and gets that second goal. He elevates his game at the right time to help our team get over the hump.”

The goal Sullivan’s referring to:

This series against the Sharks hammered home the shift in Crosby’s game. He only finished with four points in six games — all assists, no goals — but his impact was beyond pronounced.

There was a deft, sweeping backhand pass to set up Conor Sheary for a goal in Game 1. There was Crosby “calling his shot” with a designed faceoff play for the OT winner in Game 2.

Tonight, it was a monster shift right after Logan Couture had tied the game.

Yes, Kris Letang was equally brilliant and yes, the Sharks were defensively discombobulated. But it was Crosby that made the all-important pass to Letang, putting Letang in the record books alongside Ulf Samuelsson, Ron Francis and Max Talbot as the only Penguins to score Stanley Cup-winning goals.

“[Crosby’s] the consummate leader,” Sullivan said. “He took this team, and this team evolved because of his leadership.”

One of the major narratives making the rounds right now is about Crosby’s redefinition of his defensive and two-way game.

It was really on display in this series, but dates all the way back to second round against Washington — his line was matched up against the Alex Ovechkin line, and the two essentially sawed each other off. Crosby didn’t receive huge accolades at the time, and his production was down, but his ability to neutralize Washington’s high-octane unit also allowed Pittsburgh’s other lines to receive easier matchups, a big part of the HBK’s success this postseason.

“He can adapt and change his game to different things,” Chris Kunitz said. “Early in his career he went out and got points and did everything but that didn’t make him satisfied.

“He had to go out and lead through example and became a better player. Offense, defense, he goes out with nine seconds left, takes a faceoff for our team. He’s the all-encompassing guy.”

No longer the 100-plus point scorer he was in his early 20s, Crosby has seemingly found that groove all the greats find — one that lets the game come to them. One that doesn’t force the issue, but takes advantage of the opportunities presented.

One that knows the defensive side of the game can as important — if not more — than the offensive side.

“Sometimes in the playoffs you have to play defense, and I think he’s been able to do that,” Pens owner Mario Lemieux said. “The game was on the line a few times, and he made some great plays defensively.

“That’s the sign of a great leader, and a great captain.”