‘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.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.