Fifteen years ago, Sidney Crosby played against Minnesota Crookston
CROOKSTON, Minn. — Former University of Minnesota Crookston men's hockey player Jay Tupa still sometimes tells his friends about the weekend in college that he played against Sidney Crosby.
"My claim to fame is that I scored more goals than Crosby did that weekend," Tupa said. "I was 23 and he was 14 or 15, but who's counting?"
It was 15 years ago this winter break that the NCAA Division II Golden Eagles hockey team hosted a high school team in a two-game series on campus.
It's not normal for a college team to schedule a high school team. But that high school team, Shattuck St. Mary's of Faribault, Minn., just happened to have five future NHL players on the roster, including Crosby, who is now widely considered one of the best players in the world.
It also had Drew Stafford and Jack Johnson, who have both played more than 700 NHL games. It had future NHL defensemen Matt Smaby and Brian Salcido. And it had a future college hockey Hobey Baker Award winner in Ryan Duncan.
The two-game series was set up by UMC coach Gary Warren, who was fully aware of the talent Shattuck possessed.
Warren had been scheduling Shattuck since his days in Bottineau as the head coach of the junior college team there. He also brought Shattuck to Crookston's campus a year prior, when the Sabres had a kid named Zach Parise on the roster.
Although Crosby was only 15 years old at the time, he had already been pegged as a future star in the sport.
"As the game grew closer, there was quite a buzz about Crosby coming to play," Warren said. "The kids were certainly aware of it. The local radio station in town really covers everything and they have a weekly column they write and they had played it up as well. Everyone knew we had something special coming in at that time."
The arena, which held just over 1,200 people, was packed for Friday's series opener.
It didn't take long for Crosby to start lighting it up against the older, college team.
Crosby had two points by the end of the first period and four points by the end of the second period. He finished the first night with two goals and five points as Shattuck won 8-3.
UMC came back and won the series finale 11-6. Crosby had two assists in that game.
"I remember his skillset and hands were ridiculous for his age," said Tupa, who had a hat trick in Game 2. "I remember how physical and fiesty they were for being young. They had a great work ethic. The only difference was that we were more men and they were more boys. But their skillsets. . . they made us look foolish sometimes. We were just bigger and stronger."
Crosby had seven points that weekend. Stafford had six. Duncan had three.
At the end of the second game, they ran out of game pucks, because the penalty box workers had been bringing them to Crosby to sign in between periods.
Years later, one of the workers gave Warren a puck that Crosby had signed. It has a UMC logo on one side and the Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association logo on the other side.
"When I look at the star-studded lineup and then about all the coaches that were lined up outside of their locker room to talk to all the players, and seeing Dave Hakstol in our building and Crosby standing out, you kind of take a liking to all these guys and pull for them," Warren said. "Just to be a little piece of their development, and to have them come to Crookston to develop their game was special. We were respected enough to help compete and challenge Shattuck's program and be kind of a part of what they were trying to do down there."
The weekend series seemed to be a boost for the Golden Eagles, too.
UMC only lost one game the rest of the season. It went on to win the MCHA championship over Marian, 2-1.
In addition to winning the league title, the weekend against Shattuck stands out for those in Crookston.
"One time, we had a defenseman, who was lining up Crosby and Crosby just blew by him," Warren said. "He later told his teammates, 'I just got beat by Sidney Crosby.' It was funny. They were remarkably talented but Crosby overshadowed them all.
"When I reminisce about it, I can say that I coached against Sidney Crosby and that he was .500 against my coaching. Then, I can add on later that he was only 15 years old."