The family crossover, the common interest, the closeness in age -- it was probably inevitable that the three teenagers would bond.
"I think it was the first game I went to in Pittsburgh. I met them, and we just started talking," Taylor Crosby said of Stephanie and Austin Lemieux. "Right away we were friends. I always stay with them when I go to Pittsburgh. We text or e-mail. You could say we're kind of like cousins."
The three are the next wave of players from Pittsburgh's first families of hockey.
Stephanie Lemieux, 14, and Austin Lemieux, 13, are the middle children of Penguins co-owner and Hall of Fame center Mario Lemieux and his wife, Nathalie. Taylor Crosby, 13, is the sister of Penguins center and captain Sidney Crosby.
Mario Lemieux, who helps coach Austin with the Junior Penguins peewee AAA team and occasionally Stephanie with the Team Pittsburgh under-14 girls' AAA team, got a kick out of his children's shy reluctance to do interviews and beamed when he talked about the budding hockey players.
"I grew up playing the game and loved the game since I was a little boy," Lemieux said. "I think they're the same way. They're on the ice as much as they can be. If not, they're in the driveway."
Stephanie and Austin Lemieux also play for the Quaker Valley High School co-ed freshman team, sometimes on the same line.
"We pass to each other," Austin said.
Taylor Crosby plays goaltender for the Cole Harbour (Nova Scotia) Wings, a boys' peewee AA team.
Sidney Crosby, who has lived with the Lemieux family during the hockey season since he arrived in 2005 and goes home to Nova Scotia in the summer, tracks the three younger players.
"It's really nice the way it's worked out," Crosby said. "They've all become close."
The two families are connected in many ways, going back to 1984 when Mario Lemieux was selected first overall by the Penguins in the NHL draft. Twelve rounds later, Montreal took Troy Crosby, a goaltender who never played in the NHL but now keeps close tabs on his daughter and famous son. Sidney Crosby was selected first overall by the Penguins in the 2005 draft.
Stephanie and Austin Lemieux and Taylor Crosby all have birthdays in March.
Austin scored against Taylor during an exhibition game set up by organizers of a prestigious international peewee tournament last month in Quebec. Taylor has skated with Stephanie Lemieux at practice occasionally when she is in town visiting.
The three have learned to ignore what Mario Lemieux called "a little crap sometimes because of their name."
Stephanie Lemieux plans to move to Minnesota in the fall to attend Shattuck-St. Mary's, a boarding school with a strong hockey program where Sidney Crosby spent one school year.
"I talked to him about it. He said I'll like it," said Stephanie, who hopes Taylor Crosby will join her there a year later -- something Troy Crosby said is a possibility.
"I'm very excited for her going to Minnesota because she's quite the hockey player," Taylor Crosby said of Stephanie. "Hopefully, one day I'll be able to go there, too."
Austin Lemieux, a right winger, had three goals and 17 points in 15 games with Quaker Valley.
"Austin's pretty good, but he's kind of small still," Lemieux said of his son.
Stephanie Lemieux, a left winger and occasionally a center, and Taylor Crosby are tall for their ages and have a common aspiration -- to play for the Canadian women's team in the Olympics.
"For her age, [Stephanie] can do things that a lot of girls can't," said Stephen Walkom, director of officiating for the NHL and Stephanie's Team Pittsburgh coach. "When she comes to compete, she's almost unstoppable."
Stephanie had nine goals and 21 points in 20 games and has three goals in five games in the playoffs with Team Pittsburgh, which will be playing in the national under-14 tournament beginning Wednesday in Rochester, N.Y. She had five goals and 26 points in 20 games with Quaker Valley.
Taylor Crosby is in just her third season playing hockey and first on a boys' team after having devoted her previous spare time to horseback riding.
While individual statistics are not available for Taylor with the Wings -- they close their season next week with a tournament in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia -- she and the team's other goaltender combined for a 3.00 goals-against average over 12 first-half games and a 1.33 goals-against average over 12 second-half games, the latter number the best in their league.
"I'm pretty proud of myself. I think I've improved a lot," said Taylor, who credits her summers playing baseball for developing her good glove hand.
Playing hockey has tightened the bond between her and the Lemieux siblings.
"It's a remarkable story, and they're a remarkable family," said Trina Crosby, Taylor and Sidney's mother. "Sidney left home so young. He and Taylor have always been close and always will be. But it might have been hard for her to have him live with another family with kids about her age. They just included him in their life, and now they're doing the same thing with our daughter. She gets to feel a part of it. I think that's important."
NOTES -- Penguins center and NHL leading scorer Evgeni Malkin was given the day off to rest yesterday while the remainder of the team went through a long, skills-oriented practice at Southpointe.
Shelly Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1721. First Published March 27, 2009 4:00 AM