Monday, October 21, 2013

Nathan MacKinnon Set to Face Sidney Crosby in Battle of Former No. 1's

Colarado Avalanche rookie Nathan MacKinnon hasn't been intimidated by the speed and physicality of the NHL in his first eight games, but when he faces his fellow Nova Scotia native Sidney Crosby tonight at the Consol Energy Center, that could change.

The two grew up in the same hometown and were both selected with the overall No. 1 pick in the NHL draft, but tonight they will be on opposite sides, as the 7-1 Penguins take on the 7-1 Avalanche in a heavily anticipated cross conference battle.

The No. 1 and No. 2 prides of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia have a lot of respect for one another. That's to be expected for MacKinnon, who has watched Crosby lead the Penguins to a Stanley Cup and take Team Canada to an Olympic gold medal, but Crosby is keenly aware of MacKinnon's talent as well.

"Obviously he skates really well, and I don't think you see too many young guys that can shoot the puck like he can in their first year," Crosby said. "I think he's got a great shot. I think he's got all the tools -- really good hands, he works hard, and he's not afraid to go into traffic areas and create chances that way. So I think he gives himself a lot of opportunities to create things."

MacKinnon is fourth among rookie scorers with seven points and he's been a solid plus-3 for the resurgent Avs in eight games. After two dominant seasons in the QMJHL, which included an MVP award in last year's Memorial Cup, MacKinnon has become a key contributor for Patrick Roy's team.

All Sidney Crosby has done is lead NHL scorers with 17 points as the Penguins have raced out to a sizable lead in the Metropolitan Division. But that's no surprise. When Crosby is healthy, he's the best in the game.

Will MacKinnon, who recently turned 18, help steepen the tradition of Cole Harbour by becoming a star in the NHL? Probably too early to tell, but all indications are that he might.

One thing's for certain, regardless of the outcome of tonight's tilt. Call it a victory for tiny Cole Harbour, Novia Scotia.

"Two first overall picks is mind-boggling," Cam Russell told Russell, who grew up in Cole Harbour and is now the general manager of the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the team MacKinnon played for the past two seasons, is at a loss when trying to explain it. "Nobody knows how to explain it," he said. "You've got a very humble community that doesn't want to take any of the accolades for it, but you've got players like Sidney and Nathan that are special, special kids, and it is in them to be the best at what they do, that determination and competitive fire. They have the world-class skill, but it is tough to get there without the right people around you and helping you out. There's a lot of people in Cole Harbour who have never gotten the pats on the back for helping all of us out."