RIMOUSKI, Quebec — By the time a 16-year-old Sidney Crosby arrived in the city of Rimouski, he had already become accustomed to dealing with high expectations.
Selected with the first pick in the 2003 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Draft by the Rimouski Oceanic, the center from Nova Scotia was already being compared to some of the greatest players of all time.
Almost exactly 14 years to the day after he first stepped onto the ice at Colisée Financière Sun Life in Rimouski, Crosby personally requested to revisit the city where he had spent two years of development on Monday with the Stanley Cup, which he won for the third time in his career with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season.
“It worked out. It’s something I couldn’t work in years past,” said Crosby, who was also celebrating his 30th birthday. “There hasn’t been a lot of time. Today there was a window of time and I happen to be surrounded by some people that I met here in Rimouski. Thought it would be great to spend a couple hours here and come back to a place that is pretty special to me. It’s nice to share with everyone here.”
The Penguins captain was honored during a parade down René-Lepage Boulevard, along the St-Lawrence River, in the bed of a truck sporting his name and No. 87.
The parade ended in the parking lot of the Colisée Financière Sun Life, where Crosby drew thousands of fans on a nightly basis during his short stint with the Oceanic.
Among the hundreds gathered there were numerous children who probably never had the chance to see Crosby play, but their parents were there to salute the player who helped Rimouski win the QMJHL championship before reaching the Memorial Cup Final in 2005, his second and last season with the Oceanic.
That season, he had 168 points (66 goals, 102 assists) in 62 games.
“That second year was pretty fun, just the run we had,” Crosby said. “We had such a great team, we came up short at the Memorial Cup but just because of the support we got, that second year probably sticks out the most. Just the atmosphere here playing in such a great hockey town.”
Those memories were shared by Doris Labonté, who was Oceanic general manager when Crosby entered the QMJHL, and also became coach of the team for that second season in 2004-05.
“When we drafted him, people were telling me that he was going to be our superstar, and that we had to use him in every situation,” Labonté said. “I had a discussion with him and his agent, Pat Brisson, and I told him that he would have to go through each step to earn his spot.
“In our first preseason game, he got eight points. In our first regular season game, we were trailing after two periods, but he scored three goals in the third and we won the game. Sidney did nothing to put out the flames, he fed them. And the fire kept getting bigger and bigger.”
It’s true that Crosby had all the talent necessary to achieve everything when he first arrived in Rimouski. But when he speaks about his QMJHL debut, it becomes evident that the Oceanic played a large role in his development, not just as a player, but also as a person.
“You think about those years in junior, that is what prepares you for the NHL,” Crosby said. “So I think on and off the ice, [you need to take all the] lessons that you can get, and being around the people here, I mean, it was such a great environment, a great place to play. The people that I met here are still my friends today, so you can see the impact that way.”
After scoring 303 points (120 goals, 183 assists) in 121 QMJHL games, Crosby was selected by the Penguins with the No. 1 pick in the 2005 NHL Draft. He immediately made the jump to the NHL the next season, and scored 102 points (39 goals, 63 assists) in 81 games.
And the rest, as they say, is history.