By WILL GRAVES, AP Sports Writer
January 21, 2012
Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby skates during practice in Sunrise, Fla., Friday, Jan. 13, 2012. Crosby skated with his teammates for the first time in more than a month on Friday but still has no idea when he'll be cleared to practice, let alone see action in a game. (AP)
PITTSBURGH (AP)—Sidney Crosby’s overtime shot to win the 2010 Olympic ice hockey final was supposed to be the last step in an ascension that seemingly began the second he laced up skates in Nova Scotia as a toddler.
The Canadians were Olympic champions. Order to the ice hockey world had been restored with one brilliant flick of Crosby’s wrist.
Sitting on the U.S. bench after the 3-2 loss, defenseman Tim Gleason watched Crosby be swarmed by his teammates and did his best to put his disappointment aside and drink it in.
“That kid is Hockey Canada, so it was almost like a too-good-to-be true story that he scored the goal,” Gleason said.
Flash forward two years. The roars have quieted, replaced by questions the ever-patient 24-year-old has grown weary of answering.
The truth is, Crosby doesn’t know when the concussion-like symptoms that have limited him to eight NHL games over the last 12 months will abate.
He doesn’t know when he’ll be able to practice at full strength, let alone play in a game. While he remains certain he’ll return to the NHL, until he’s cleared by doctors his routine will continue to consist of occasional tests, light exercise and watching the Pittsburgh Penguins fight for a playoff spot without him—then going to bed wondering how he’ll feel in the morning.
While the Penguins spent the week trying to right their season following a six-game losing streak—the team’s longest in two years—Crosby was in Atlanta visiting the chiropractic neurologist who successfully treated the 2009 NHL MVP for lingering concussion-like symptoms in mid-2011.
Crosby didn’t intend to become the league’s model on the need for increased player safety and the nexus for a harder stance on shots to the head. Yet here he is more than a year after taking a pair of vicious hits in consecutive games last January, still limited by a frustrating and frightening injury.
It’s not the way Crosby wanted to spend his prime. It’s an exquisite kind of torture.
“It’s got to be really hard on him,” Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “That’s something that people have got to know about him. I mean, at home he watches other hockey games. It’s always hockey. To take hockey away from him has got to be a lot harder on him than most of the other guys in the league.”
It’s part of the reason why Sid the Kid has become Sid the Ghost.
Though blessed with unique talents and a nearly unmatched work ethic, even in good times Crosby could be a reluctant superstar. Polite and accommodating to the last, Crosby is keenly aware of his status as the face of the NHL and all that that means.
Orpik likes to tell a story about the day after the Olympics ended, when the two Pittsburgh teammates were sitting on an airplane, Crosby with a gold medal, Orpik toting silver as a defenseman for the U.S.
Throughout the flight other passengers came up to Crosby, congratulating him and asking to see the latest addition to an already overflowing trophy case—a collection of honors that includes having his name on the 2009 Stanley Cup. Crosby wouldn’t do it. Not because he wasn’t proud, but because he didn’t want to show up his teammate.
“He’s so conscious and so worried about what people think of him he’s really careful,” Orpik said. “He didn’t want to rub it in my face … he would never be the kind of guy that would do that.”
That’s just not Crosby’s way.
He technically doesn’t even have concussion, having passed the IMPACT test administered to detect head injuries.
And there’s the problem. He looks healthy. At least on the outside. He doesn’t limp. He doesn’t need crutches. He doesn’t wear a special helmet.
He looks fine, even if he’s not.
Crosby’s not ready to call it a season much less a career. There are still nearly three months to go before the playoffs. On his good days, it doesn’t seem that far away.
Crosby won’t go out on the ice, however, unless he’s 100 percent healthy. The standard he’s set for himself is impossibly high. He won’t play if he thinks he can’t live up to it.
He needed only three shifts to put any doubts about his ability to rest during his last comeback, scoring a spectacular goal in his season debut against the New York Islanders on Nov. 21, part of a four-point night in which he showcased that yes, indeed, he does still have it. He rolled up 12 points in eight games before getting jostled around by Boston on Dec. 5 and going back to square one.
He’s running out of ways to say that he’s frustrated. He remains adamant his condition can be manageable and understands whenever he returns he could be one hit away from putting more than his career at risk.
Still, he presses on. Rumors and snarky tweets from detractors who insist on calling him “Cindy” aside, Crosby remains as popular as ever. His black No. 87 jersey is the top-seller at the Penguins’ arena. The second most popular jersey is the blue No. 87 jersey he wore at last year’s Winter Classic.
Crosby’s return against the Islanders was the second-highest rated Penguins regular season broadcast ever, only outdone by Mario Lemieux’s comeback in 2000. He finished sixth in the All-Star game voting among Eastern Conference forwards despite playing just two weeks all season.
When the league’s luminaries gather in Ottawa next weekend for the annual midseason showcase, the NHL’s brightest star will continue to hide in plain sight back in Pittsburgh, waiting for the day when the doctors tell him he can get back to being Sidney Crosby.
When Sid the Ghost can become Sid the Kid again, order to his life will be restored