Youth hockey takes center stage
Sidney Crosby vs. Evgeni Malkin. Winner gets Mario Lemieux.
Not quite, but a youth hockey tournament with select games to played on a second outdoor rink across from Heinz Field won't lack for drama.
Lemieux coaches one of two participating Pittsburgh teams. His Penguins franchise centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are backing teams from their respective hometowns -- Cole Harbor, Nova Scotia, and Magnitogorsk, Russia, respectively.
Other teams are from Windsor, Ontario, and the Washington, D.C., area.
"I'm real excited," Crosby said of the opportunity to see youth players from Cole Harbor, who will be coached by his former baseball and hockey coach and family friend, Paul Mason. "They're getting to see the Winter Classic, tour Consol Energy Center and play against some great teams. They're pretty lucky, and I'm pretty happy they're coming."
Mason said about 100 Cole Harbor residents, not counting players' parents, are taking flights to Pittsburgh to take in the tournament.
"That's a pretty significant number for around here," he said.
Penguins president David Morehouse came up with the idea for a youth tournament. After hearing about it, Crosby's father, Troy, suggested the Penguins invite clubs from the birthplaces of Crosby and Malkin -- the Penguins' iconic stars.
Malkin was touched.
His former youth coach, Sergei Witman, is general manager of the youth hockey association to which the Magnitogorsk club belongs.
"My first coach," Malkin said. "He worked with me all the time.
"Everything will be great. I talked to him. I said I am going to show him everything about Pittsburgh."
Each youth team -- all of the bantam classification -- will play at least once on the outdoor rink. Other tournament games will be played at indoor rinks around Pittsburgh. That will allow other youth games and high school hockey matches to be played on the second rink.
One game guaranteed to be outdoors: Cole Harbor vs. Magnitogorsk.
"About 70,000 people will get into the Winter Classic," Morehouse said. "We wanted people that don't have tickets to experience all that is around the Winter Classic. There aren't many better ways to experience hockey than watching young kids play it outside."