Crosby's comeback happens at perfect time

Think hockey missed Sidney Crosby?

The return of the Pittsburgh Penguins superstar after missing nearly 11 months due to concussion-like symptoms was big news in North America. Crosby scored twice and added two assists in the Penguins' 5-0 shutout of the hapless New York Islanders on Monday, in a game shown on national television in the United States and Canada. The ratings, which probably will be announced today, are expected to be well above normal, particularly in Canada, where Crosby is a national hero.

The Penguins issued more than 250 media credentials for Monday's game, four times what they normally would. Ticket prices on the secondary markets jumped nearly 200 percent.

The timing of Crosby's return couldn't have been better for the NHL. With no NBA to compete against for the foreseeable future, Crosby's return will drive ratings on TV and fill visiting arenas. He is the face of the sport, a face that was sorely missed for almost a year.

■ STEFFI HELPS HUNGER -- If you ever wanted a chance to step onto a tennis court and hit with Hall of Famer Steffi Graf, here's your chance. There's a current auction for a one-hour tennis lesson with Graf in Las Vegas, with proceeds going to WhyHunger, a grassroots organization dedicated to eliminating hunger in the country. According to WhyHunger, 50 million Americans live below the poverty line, with another 50 million living just above it.

As of Tuesday, the current bid was $6,000, and bids will be accepted through next Tuesday. Go to for more details or to bid.

■ NEUTRALITY ACT -- If the highly anticipated matchup between UNLV and top-ranked North Carolina takes place in the Las Vegas Invitational on Saturday at Orleans Arena, it will be the continuation of a weird streak.

The Rebels and Tar Heels have met just three times, with UNLV going 0-3, and each game has been played at a neutral site. Since the Rebels play their home games at the Thomas & Mack Center, all games at the Orleans are technically considered neutral-site games, even though it's in Las Vegas.

The streak started in 1977 at the Final Four in Atlanta, when Carolina beat the Rebels 84-83 in the semifinals. In 1985, the two schools met in Anchorage at the Great Alaska Shootout, with the Tar Heels winning, 65-60. The last meeting was in 1999, when UNLV lost to Carolina 102-78 at the Food Lion Classic in Charlotte, N.C.

■ STATE CHAMPS -- The marketing folks at Kansas State have come up with a clever T-shirt in the wake of the Wildcats' 17-13 win over Texas on Saturday.

A purple "2011 Texas State Champs" shirt is being sold on the Manhattan, Kan., campus, celebrating wins over Baylor (36-35), Texas Tech (41-34), Texas A&M (53-50) and the Longhorns.

K-State can also claim an in-state title after whipping rival Kansas 59-21 on Oct. 21. But with the Jayhawks (2-9) being so bad, there's no need to boast about it on a T-shirt.