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Missing in action

All-Star Game just not the same without Pens' Crosby

Posted: Saturday January 26, 2008 5:57PM; Updated: Saturday January 26, 2008 6:39PM
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Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby is expected to miss six to eight weeks with a high ankle sprain.
Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby is expected to miss six to eight weeks with a high ankle sprain.
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ATLANTA -- Imagine a gathering of the world's great donuts without a glazed from Krispy Kreme. Or having a party for America's finest illusionists without David Blaine. Imagine a Happy Days reunion without the Fonz.

The All-Star game is a little like that this year. There's no Sidney.

"It's kind of like if Wayne Gretzky hadn't come here 10 years ago," said one league official with a sigh.

There's plenty of star power mingling in Philips Arena -- see Scott Niedermayer and Scott Gomez chatting in the corridors! hear Vincent Lecavalier talk about Bobby Orr during the morning skate! -- but even so there's a void where Sidney Crosby would have been. This was to have been his second career All-Star Game and his presence would surely have transformed it. Instead, the league's leading vote-getter is in Pittsburgh nursing his ankle sprain and pondering what he's going to do without playing hockey for the next couple of months. "He wished me luck before I left," said Evgeni Malkin, Crosby's teammate and the man who replaced him on the Eastern Conference's All-Star roster.

Lately, it has seemed that events like this are made for Crosby. If his sheer ability weren't enough, he has now added a knack for the dramatic. At the much-watched Jan. 1 outdoor game in Buffalo, it was Crosby who, peeved by the lousy, rut-laden ice surface, juggled the puck up ice on the blade of his stick -- a party trick unfolding in the middle of a hockey game. Then he scored the game-winner in a shootout. In December, in his highly anticipated first visit to Edmonton, Crosby skated into the house that Gretzky built and set up three goals in the third period.

"He's a special player who always plays at a very high level," said Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar, himself an All-Star, "But he also responds to big moments."

Crosby is not the flashiest of NHL stars, not like highlight machines Alexander Ovechkin and Rick Nash. And he hardly would have been the only idol attraction at an All-Star weekend chocked with folks like the half-band, half-boy-band Jonas Brothers. But he is inimitable. NHL officials say he would have been given his own press conference on Saturday, something afforded to no other player.

Fans in Atlanta -- doubly gypped because Crosby will also miss the Penguins-Thrashers game here on Jan. 30 -- will have to settle for the likeness of Crosby that looms on a downtown billboard.

And a chance for that you'll-be-able-to-tell-your-grandkids-moment, "I saw Sidney Crosby play," waits for another day.

***

Taylor Kitsch, the 26-year-old Canadian-born actor who plays television's most compelling character, Tim Riggins on Friday Night Lights, emceed the skates on Saturday. The former Junior A player has had some spare time because of the writer's strike, and he says he has joined a hockey league in Austin.

"I walked in the first day and eight of the 10 guys were Canadian," said Kitsch, whose career was ended by a knee injury. "It's a pretty intense league, a lot of skill, and fights even break out."

Kitsch, though, knows what not to risk: he plays with a protective mask.

"Guys are OK about it," he says, "they know I can't have anything happen to my face."

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