Forward Poulin draws Crosby comparisons
Dangerous, evasive, intelligent, passionate, difficult to knock off the puck, confident, possessor of an elusive sixth hockey sense and a scorer of devastating goals.
Sounds like Sidney Crosby, doesn't it? But Canadian women's team forward Marie-Philip Poulin also has all those qualities. She's also showing them at the same age Crosby did.
The 18-year-old from Beauceville, Que., is the youngest player on the Canadian women's team and one of its most organically talented. She's the future face of the Canadian women's team, which is another Crosby parallel.
"That's what people are talking about, that she's the Sidney Crosby of women's hockey," Canadian goaltender Kim St. Pierre said.
"I kind of believe it. She's only 18 and she's already making the TSN highlights and other highlights. I think she has the talent to become the best for sure."
A deft puckhandler and a nose for the net, Poulin scores goals that bring people to the edge of the seat, suck in their breath and say out loud, "Nice goal." Her goal against Switzerland, Canada's eighth of the game, was one of them.
"What I like to say is she sees the game through the blade of her stick," Canadian assistant coach Peter Smith said. "If I was the other team, I would be on her and on her quick."
Poulin credits her brother, University of Moncton hockey forward Pier-Alexandre, for helping her develop creative hands because they would bat the puck around at home on their sticks.
"He helped me since I was young. I owe him a lot," said Poulin, who wears pearls given to her by mother Danye under her hockey jersey when she plays.
Like Crosby, Poulin isn't overly big at 5-7 and 159 pounds, but she's developed leg strength that makes her strong on the puck.
"She's working out with Caroline Ouellette. They're lifting the same weights and she's only 18," St. Pierre said. "She's physically gifted, but she's working hard. Her hands are so soft. In practices, every time she scores on me."
Poulin has been a future star for the Canadian women since she led the world under-18 championship in scoring as a 16-year-old. She has 14 goals and nine assists in 26 international games for Canada, including three goals and an assist in her first three Olympic games here.
"The thing with her is she plays with a lot of freedom and joy and brings that almost from the outdoor rink to the ice," captain Hayley Wickenheiser said. "She's a lot of fun to watch."
It could take Poulin longer than Crosby to assume a leadership role on the national team. At 22, Crosby is an alternate on the men's Olympic team.
Once painfully shy, particularly in English, Poulin has come out of her shell in the months she's spent centralized in Calgary with the Canadian team in preparation for the Olympics. She's a little more talkative now, but not a lot.
"The other day I was walking down the athletes' village and I heard, 'Hi, Mel' and I looked and it was her," head coach Melody Davidson said.
"I almost fell down. That's probably the most she's said to me without me instigating it."
A young player's confidence can be fragile. Canada's coaches have taken steps to ensure Poulin's wouldn't be shaken heading into the Olympics. While she has played on Canada's top line alongside Wickenheiser, Davidson has put her with Jennifer Botterill and Gina Kingsbury at the Olympics, so there is less pressure on her to produce.
"It's always a line I can go back to if I want," Davidson said. "It's a matter of getting her the most comfortable in her first Olympics."
Poulin roomed with St. Pierre, Ouellette and goaltender Charline Labonte in Calgary, all of whom helped Canada win gold in 2006. So she had guidance throughout her Olympic preparation both on and off the ice.
"I made three big sisters this year and they helped me a lot," Poulin said. "I talked with them a lot because they've been to the Olympics before and they shared the experience with me. It's really awesome."