MacKinnon excited to face Crosby
Monday's game in Pittsburgh has Nova Scotia natives slated to share NHL ice for the first time.
CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- They share the same hometown, went to the same prep school, starred in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, play the same position and were the first players selected in their respective NHL Drafts.
So it should hardly come as a surprise that Colorado Avalanche rookie Nathan MacKinnon has been drawing comparisons to Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby for much of his life.
Shots: 18 | +/-: 3
"It's going to be fun," MacKinnon told NHL.com. "It's pretty cool. He's the best player in the world and they have a great team. It should be fun and a big challenge for us."
MacKinnon, 18, was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but he grew up in Cole Harbour, where Crosby was born and began to hone his skills before heading off to Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Faribault, Minn., a boarding school with a prestigious hockey program.
Crosby, now 26, returned to Canada after one year, played two seasons with the Rimouski Oceanic in the QMJHL and was the first player taken in the 2005 NHL Draft by the rebuilding Penguins. They missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth year in a row in Crosby's rookie season, but he led them to a Stanley Cup championship three years later and the Penguins remain one of the elite teams in the League.
MacKinnon has followed the same path up until now, playing two seasons with the Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL after two years at Shattuck-St. Mary's. He helped the Mooseheads win the Memorial Cup last spring and was the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.
Crosby was MacKinnon's idol while he was growing up in Cole Harbour. He had posters of Crosby on his bedroom walls and met him for the first time when he was 7 years old and Crosby was 15. MacKinnon's dad, Graham, spotted Crosby in the Halifax airport and took a photograph of the two youngsters.
"I guess it's kind of funny that we are friends now," said MacKinnon, who skated and worked out with Crosby and several other NHL players, including Avalanche center Matt Duchene, in Halifax last summer. MacKinnon and Crosby also have the same agent, Pat Brisson, and the same trainer, Andy O'Brien.
But as much as MacKinnon admires Crosby, he is more interested in forming his own identity, continuing his development as a professional and doing what he can to help the Avalanche earn a postseason berth for the first time in four years.
"He's the best player in the world and I'm just beginning my NHL career," MacKinnon said. "It was pretty cool training with him this summer. I saw how hard he works and it seemed like he never gets tired or anything. I was just really lucky to be able to train with him and I know how hard you have to work to become a better player. That's what I'm trying to do."
Said Duchene: "Nate and I would love to beat Sid. The three of us are pretty good buddies. We trained together. Sid's unbelievable right now and it'd be nice to go into Pittsburgh and take a win."
MacKinnon has been centering the Avalanche's third line with left wing Jamie McGinn and right wing PA Parenteau. He had four assists in the first three games, scored his first goal Oct. 12 against the Washington Capitals on a power play in a 5-1 Avalanche win, and is among the team's leading scorers with a goal and six assists.
"He looks more and more confident, which is great," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said of MacKinnon. "He's been playing well. I think he's starting to understand how important it is to play well without the puck. He's starting to do better and better. What I like is he's receptive to what we have to say, to the teaching that we're trying to do with him."
MacKinnon said before the season began that he had "low expectations" for himself and that it would be silly for anyone to expect him to accomplish as much as an NHL rookie as he did with the Mooseheads.
His outlook hasn't changed despite some early-season success for himself and for the Avalanche, who, like the Penguins, are off to a 7-1-0 start.
"It's been fun," MacKinnon said. "We're playing well as a team and our line is getting better each game. It's exciting to be here. I feel more and more comfortable every day. I knew it was going to be a big challenge and I'm just trying to improve every day and become a better player and do whatever I can to help us have some success. I still have a lot to learn."