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Crosby only too eager to finally get on the ice

PITTSBURGH

ey Crosby scored a beautiful backhand goal -- his trademark as a junior -- to mark his first National Hockey League training camp practice yesterday and made a quick impression on the fans in the process.

A collective gasp came from the 300 or so spectators at the opening day of the Pittsburgh Penguins' training camp at the downtown Mellon Arena. Many skipped work and arrived in their Crosby and Mario Lemieux jerseys, digital cameras dangling from their wrists and necks.

They gawked at and shot photos of the 2005 No. 1 draft pick from Cole Harbour N.S., who will wear No. 12 in camp.

For the 5-foot-11, 193-pound centre, who finally gets to show some of his remarkable talents to Pittsburgh fans eagerly awaiting his arrival since the Penguins won the draft lottery in July, it was a relief to finally skate and scrimmage in an official practice.

"I was a little nervous, but once I got out there and got playing, I settled down," he said.

Crosby said playing with so many NHL veterans was both exciting and motivating, not that the 18-year-old needs more of either feeling. The Penguins surrounded their young star with their top talent -- such as forwards Mark Recchi and John LeClair -- to take some of the pressure off and to get a sense of who he might best fit with on a line.

In yesterday's session, Crosby also skated with player/team owner Lemieux.

"Individually, it's going to help me to push myself more to play with guys like that," Crosby said. "Playing games with guys like that is great but practising is where you're really going to benefit. Seeing their habits is definitely going to help me."

When the players hit the ice, thunderous applause echoed throughout the mostly empty rink, and there were hoots and cheers, especially for Lemieux. But Crosby got his share of applause every time he showed his agility and deft puck-handling. He may have been nervous at first, but seemed to fit right in as the session wore on.

"He's going to be all right," Recchi said. "He's pretty smooth out there. It's fun to watch him. His first couple of steps are incredible."

Recchi, who did not play during the player lockout that cancelled the 2004-05 season, is one to talk. He looked strong and fast in his first camp practice, scoring on several blistering slap shots that had the crowd oohing and ahhing.

"[Crosby's] making me feel young and that's great," Recchi said. "I've got to try and keep up with him. It will be good for [LeClair] and I to have a young guy that enthusiastic around."

Lemieux said he will likely play Crosby on a line with Recchi or Zigmund Palffy.

"You can't afford to go out there and watch too much," Crosby said of his admiration for the team's veterans. "If you get caught watching, you're not going to get to the puck and not going to make good plays."

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