An early Ottawa chapter was nearly added to Sidney Crosby’s career

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Within the legacy, the generational hockey brilliance of Sidney Crosby, is a story that has remained secret for so many years.

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Sidney Crosby became The Next One, then Sid the Kid. But before all of that, he could have become The Ottawa One.

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The story of one of the NHL’s all-time greats, a sure-fire Hockey Hall of Famer, could have taken an early twist a bit more than 20 years ago. There could have been an Ottawa angle attached.

Here’s what happened.

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League wouldn’t grant Sidney, then 15 and living in Nova Scotia, exceptional status so he could join the league a year early.

Troy Crosby, Sidney’s dad, was looking to get his kid, who had just scored 95 goals (and had 98 assists) in 74 games at the Midget AAA level with the Dartmouth Subways, more competition. At the Air Canada Cup, facing many of the best players (many of them older) in this country, he put up 24 points in seven games.

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It was obvious he needed something more challenging to facilitate growth in his game.

That’s where Jeff Hunt enters the story.

Hunt, then the owner of the Ottawa 67’s, said: “The family was a bit pissed off (he couldn’t play in the QMJHL). They were thinking, ‘Where could (Sidney) play?”

One option was the Maritime Junior Hockey League, but the concern was one of the league’s older players may take a run at Crosby, the young hotshot with the bright future.

Troy Crosby reached out to Hunt and asked about the possibility of Sidney playing in the Central Junior Hockey League, with teams in Ottawa and the surrounding area.

The conversations went on for a few weeks, maybe a month. To Hunt, it seemed like a great idea, but at the same time, he also knew it could hurt the 67’s.

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If Crosby played in the CJHL and became eligible for the Ontario Hockey League Draft, it wasn’t like the 67’s would ever get him. Even if he tried to dissuade OHL teams from drafting him by threatening to play U.S. college hockey, there was no way more than half the teams would pass on the best prospect until he fell into the 67’s lap. The odds of the 67’s ever getting him were nearly zero. 

Hunt’s fear was another team would draft him, then Crosby would help beat the Ottawa team for the next couple of seasons.

Thinking about it all these years later, Hunt said: “We would have had him in our building four times a year for a few years.”

That would have meant big attendance, sellouts perhaps.

The conversations between Hunt and Troy Crosby stopped.

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The Crosbys turned their attention to Shattuck St. Mary’s, a prep school in Minnesota, where, in the 2002-03 season, Sidney had 72 goals and 90 assists in 57 games, playing against mostly 18-year-olds, leading his team to a national championship.

He was then drafted first overall by the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic. In two seasons there, Crosby had 135 (54 goals and 81 assists) and 168 (66 goals and 102 assists) points. 

Crosby Quebec
Sidney Crosby of Rimouski back in the day. Wayne Cuddington/Postmedia files

In 2005, in London, the Oceanic would play the 67’s in a Memorial Cup semi-final. Crosby, who scored three goals, lifted the Oceanic to a 7-4 win. The home team, the London Knights, would beat Rimouski 4-0 in the championship.

Back to Hunt, who finishes his Crosby story: “I had a custom where I stand at the exit to the rink and pat the guys on the back as they’re coming off. Crosby was just sort of circling around. After all our guys are off, (Crosby) comes over and shakes my hand. He didn’t say anything. I never knew if he knew who I was, if he knew the conversations that had happened (with his dad) … or if he was just being a good sport (to shake my hand).”

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Fast forward to March 12, 2024. Crosby, the 36-year-old Pittsburgh Penguins, with three Stanley Cup victories in his resume, lined up against the Ottawa Senators. While it may not be the same version of Sid the Kid we saw five years ago, when he had 100 points (35 goals, 65 assists), he’s still playing the game at an elite level. The 36-year-old had 32 goals and 32 assists in 60 games heading into Tuesday.

“He is special,” said Senators interim coach Jacques Martin, who was with the Penguins from 2013-20. “Quite often the difference between those top players (and others) is their anticipation, their ability to see the play before it arrives. You’re looking at people like (Crosby), (Wayne) Gretzky and Mario (Lemieux). They have an extra sense that separates them from other players.

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“It’s no fluke he’s still performing at a high level. When you look at the commitment he has, his lifestyle, his work ethic. He’s really consumed with the game and being the best player he can be. He’s a tremendous person, he’s always concerned for his teammates. I’m not sure you can ask for a better leader, he leads by example.”

“He’s been a point a game for how many years,” said Senators forward Ridly Greig. “He’s not aging. He’s such a great player, he’s still got it all, like he did 10 years ago.”

Through the brilliance, Ottawa hockey fans can now wonder, “What if?”

What if they had gotten an early window to view the hockey magic.

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