“It was amazing to see him become the man that he is today,” Lemieux said Monday of Cole Harbour pride Sidney Crosby, who led the Pens to this year’s Stanley Cup.
“You saw throughout the playoffs, he was the best player out there, and the leader of our team. He deserved the The Conn Smythe Trophy.”
Crosby, 28, scored six goals and added 13 assists for 19 points in 24 playoff games en route to his second Stanley Cup, which came seven years after he first hoisted hockey’s most coveted trophy.
“I think he’s more of a complete player,” Lemieux said of how his Penguins protégé has grown, during a Hockey Canada press conference inside the Westin Nova Scotian. “Defensively, I think he’s improved a lot over the last couple of years.
"That’s the biggest thing that in his game has improved, is that he can play both sides of the puck.”
Lemieux, who captained Canada to gold at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, is spending time in Halifax early this week for the Hockey Canada Foundation’s 13th annual Celebrity Classic gala and golf tournament, where he is being honoured as one of four new Order of Hockey in Canada recipients.
This year’s three other inductees are longtime Canadian Hockey League president David Branch, two-time Olympic medallist and seven-time world champion Geraldine Heaney and internationally renowned executive Bob Nicholson, who is current CEO and vice-chair of Oilers Entertainment Group and former CEO and president of Hockey Canada.
All four were at Monday’s media event and expected to attend the evening’s star-studded gala at the Cunard Centre, which will also recognize the Team Canada contingent that brought home gold medals from the 2016 IIHF World Championship held in Russia last month.
Hockey Canada’s two-day special event also features a celebrity golf tournament Tuesday at Glen Arbour in Hammonds Plains.
“This is like Mount Rushmore, as far as I’m concerned,” current Hockey Canada president and CEO Tom Renney said Monday of the four legends sitting alongside him.
Becoming a member of the Order of Hockey in Canada’s Class of 2016 is on par with some of the sport’s biggest honours, Lemieux said.
“I think it’s right up there with the Hockey Hall of Fame,” he said, pointing to past inductees such as Jean Béliveau, Wayne Gretzky and the late Gordie Howe. “This really means a lot to me.”
There have been 18 inductees into the Order of Hockey in Canada since the award was introduced four years ago.
The Celebrity Classic is Hockey Canada’s biggest fundraiser, with this year’s local proceeds going to Hockey Nova Scotia, the Long Pond Hockey Arena Building Society and of course, the Sidney Crosby Foundation.
“He’s an incredible person,” Lemieux said of Crosby. “He does so much on the ice, but also off the ice with his foundation here. He’s a great kid and I love having him around.”
Which is good, since Crosby moved in with Lemieux’s family when he moved to Pittsburgh at 18 years old, after being drafted first overall in the 2005 NHL Draft.
“We thought we would add him to our house for a year or two, and he ended up staying eight years,” Lemieux said with a chuckle.
“But it was incredible to have him around the kids. The kids were young at the time – and they love Sidney and Sidney loves the kids.”