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Duhatschek: Grizzled veteran Crosby comfortable with leader’s role

He turned 26 earlier this month and even Sidney Crosby – still The Kid in some many people's minds – is starting to feel the passage of time.

As the Canadian men's Olympic orientation camp wrapped up Wednesday morning, with 45 players then scattering across North America, Crosby acknowledged how different it all was from four years ago, when he was part of the new kids in town, looking up to the likes of Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger for leadership cues.

Nowadays, he is part of the core group that will try to get Canada back in the winner's circle in 2014, and the favourite to be installed as the team's captain.

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"If I look back to last time, I was probably more in awe and trying to learn from those guys," Crosby said after the 72-hour orientation camp came to a close with a farewell dinner that also included the women's Olympic hockey team.

"I don't think [taking on a leadership role] is a conscious decision you make, it's just a natural progression. You played on the team before; you understand things a little better. It's a comfort level. It's a totally different mindset … going into your first Olympic camp and your second."

Crosby won a Stanley Cup in the spring of 2009, and an Olympic gold medal in the winter of 2010, and nothing since.

Time passes quickly in the NHL as Crosby prepares for his ninth season. Wasn't it just yesterday he was the "new" face of the NHL? Now, the new faces belong to Steven Stamkos and John Tavares, Taylor Hall and Matt Duchene, Alex Pietrangelo and Jordan Eberle, all born in the 1990s, all stars in their own right.

"I can feel it, it's true," Crosby said. "The game just feels like it's getting younger and younger. My first year, there weren't that many 18-year-olds. It was kind of rare to see. Now, every team almost has at least one that makes their team at a young age.

"With the speed of the game, and it becoming more of a youthful game, that's normal. It's kind of funny and a little different position for me to be in."

Altogether, 45 players turned up for the camp and two others were excused, Claude Giroux because of a finger injury and Joe Thornton because of a family illness. Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman estimated that only eight to 10 players were guaranteed places on the team, barring injury, leaving another 15 spots up for grabs.

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Injuries are a significant fact of life in the NHL and three of Canada's best centres – Crosby, Jonathan Toews and the Boston Bruins' Patrice Bergeron – all have concussion histories. The projections could change wildly depending upon the state of their respective health. Accordingly, management is treading warily around roster issues, knowing full well that by December, not every one of the 47 candidates will likely be in the pink of health.

Thus far, the NHL has only committed to competing in Sochi in 2014, and even that took years of negotiations to conclude. There is some thought the NHL could skip the next Olympics – 2018 in South Korea – and so for a lot of players here, even those part of the 2010 gold-medal winning team, this might be their best, last chance.

And while there was a lot of talk about how problematic it will be for the Canadian players to adapt to big-ice hockey this past week, Crosby played down the challenges.

"The game isn't going to change that much," he said. "In the NHL, if you get to the middle of the ice, you're going to get a scoring chance. Here, you've got to get to the same areas. The front of the net is never an easy place to go, no matter how wide the rink is. So that's really your mindset and I think that's going to be mine."

On their way out the door, Canada head coach Mike Babcock made a point of telling all the players their play in the first three months of the NHL season would largely determine who makes the team. It was a point Crosby reiterated, too.

"I think we're going to see here in the first half, who really shows they want to be a part of it and that's what it'll be based on," he said. "I don't think the team is even close to being made."

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@eduhatschek

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About the Author

Eric was the winner of the Hockey Hall Of Fame's Elmer Ferguson award for "distinguished contributions to hockey writing" in 2001. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario's grad school of journalism, he began covering hockey in 1978 and after spending 20 years covering the NHL and the Calgary Flames, joined The Globe in 2000. More

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