(Sarah Stier/Getty Images - image credit)
When coach Brad Crossley first saw 14-year-old Sidney Crosby play hockey, he knew his competitive fire and skill level would take him to the NHL.
As Crosby prepares to play his 1,000 game in the league, his old coach isn't surprised. "It wouldn't surprise me if he played 1,000 more," Crossley told CBC News ahead of the milestone game Saturday night.
Crossley coached Crosby in his 2001-02 year with the major midget Dartmouth Subways.
"He led the league in points of course, led our team to a silver medal at the national championship and along the way was the top scorer in the league," he said. "As I look back now, I wish I had stood back and appreciated him a lot more than I did, even though we were in awe every shift he was out there."
Crossley teaches physical education in Crosby's hometown of Cole Harbour, N.S., and coaches elite hockey players, from the minors to the pros. He works with Crosby in the summers, a partnership that has flourished for 20 years.
Crosby scores from his knees last weekend to pass Al MacInnis for most career points in the NHL by a Nova Scotian.
"He called me prior to the season starting up again asking for some drills, because the players were running camps and he wanted to be well prepared to help his team be the best they could be," Crossley said. "His maturity level in the game has skyrocketed. He's no longer the Kid, Sid the Kid. He's a well-respected man in the league."
Crosby passed Al MacInnis of Port Hood, N.S., on Sunday to become Nova Scotia's career point leader in the NHL. An empty-net goal from his knees gave Crosby 1,275 regular-season NHL points.
Sidney Crosby celebrates the Golden Goal that gave Canada a 3-2 win over the U.S. in the gold-medal game at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver on Feb. 28, 2010.
No. 87 has a ways to go to catch MacInnis for NHL games played. MacInnis played a combined 1,416 games for Calgary and St. Louis.
Nova Scotia-born Bobby Smith played 1,077 games and Bridgewater-raised Glen Murray played 1,009.
Crossley knows the secret to the three-time Stanley Cup winner's success. "He works harder than everybody else."
He points to a conversation he had with the all-star during a training camp for 25 of the best players in the league up in the thin air of Colorado.
"Sidney came up to me after the first practice and said, 'Crossley, these guys are really good. I need to go harder.' Meanwhile, the players around him are sucking wind at 7,000 feet altitude and hanging over the board," he said with a laugh. "He wants to compete hard every day against the best and have the best around him."
Patrice Bergeron, left, Sidney Crosby, centre, and Corey Perry of Team Canada celebrate their gold-medal win after beating Team Russia at the World Juniors on Jan. 4, 2005, in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Canada defeated Russia 6-1.
Crossley said the competitive fire and talent are still there, but he's seen developments in other parts of Crosby's game.
"I think he's become an even better leader and might be the best two-way player in the game," Crossley said.
He plans to send his congratulations to Crosby ahead of the game.
"If he trusts you, you are a part of his life forever," he said. "He's probably a better person than a hockey player."
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