By Tim Wharnsby, CBC Sports
October 11, 2016
There he was, the aw-shucks kid from Cole Harbour, N.S., celebrating another championship moment a dozen days ago, this time with his Canadian teammates at the Air Canada Centre.
Sidney Crosby was at the top of his game, once again. His latest golden moment capped off a remarkable 31-month ride in which he won 2014 Olympic gold in Sochi, the 2015 IIHF World Championship, the Stanley Cup last spring and now the World Cup of Hockey title.
The 29-year-old Crosby was the easy choice as tournament MVP, and with the honour joined Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky as the only players to win the Conn Smythe, Hart Trophy and Canada Cup/World Cup MVP awards.
The Pittsburgh Penguins did the right thing and gave their captain some well-deserved time off. He didn't have to report to training camp until last Tuesday. Two days later, Crosby and the Penguins visited U.S. President Barack Obama and were feted for their Stanley Cup victory at the White House.
The next morning the captain practised for the second time with the Penguins and talked afterwards with reporters about his excitement to play in his only pre-season game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh.
But Crosby didn't feel well on Saturday morning and was pulled from the lineup. Still, he attended a Penguins event for their fans on Sunday and was his usual classy self. He talked with fans and satisfied all their autograph requests.
But as his teammates practised on Monday morning Crosby underwent a concussion test and the result came back positive. The team announced he had suffered a concussion in Friday's practice but did not provide further details.
The hockey world took a collective deep breath. Not again.
Feeling 'pretty good'
On Tuesday, Crosby skated on his own before the team's practice. Afterward, he confirmed to reporters that he suffered a concussion when he "kind of got tangled up" in Friday's practice.
No one in the media who attended that workout reported seeing any indication that Crosby was hurt. When pressed for the specific moment when he may have suffered the concussion, Crosby declined to elaborate.
"I'm not making this up," he insisted. "If nobody saw it, I don't know what to tell you."
Crosby said the possibility of a concussion "didn't even cross my mind" Friday, but he woke up the next day "not feeling great" and experiencing a headache. He said he reported his symptoms to team doctors, who administered the concussion test.
Crosby said he felt "pretty good" after Tuesday's skate but did not give a timeline for his recovery, saying only that he's day to day.
It seems likely he'll be a spectator on Thursday when the Penguins raise their Stanley Cup banner on opening night before a game against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.
Of course, what's scary here is Crosby's concussion history. He had escaped setbacks in the last four seasons, but he's not far removed from a troubled time with head and neck injuries in 2011 and 2012.
The problems began in back-to-back games on Jan. 1 and Jan. 5, 2011. Crosby was at the top of his game back then, too, but was derailed by a headshot from then Capitals forward David Steckel in the Winter Classic at Heinz Field.
Five days later he was run into the boards hard by Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Victor Hedman.
Crosby hoped to return for the playoffs that spring, but suffered a setback while pushing himself in April. He didn't return to action until Nov. 21, 2011, missing 68 games.
The comeback, however, lasted only eight outings. He collided with linemate Chris Kunitz in the neutral zone late in a Dec. 5, 2011, game.
It was later discovered that Crosby's issues went beyond his head. His agent, Pat Brisson, revealed in January 2012 that Crosby may have suffered fractures to two vertebrae in his neck. Crosby missed 40 games before he returned in mid-March of that year.
Former Los Angeles Kings defenceman Willie Mitchell once told me that when he battled a concussion as a member of the Vancouver Canucks in 2010, the stress of getting back on the ice only added to the uncertainty and frustration of his post-concussion syndrome.
Once the Canucks were eliminated in the playoffs that spring, the external pressures disappeared and his road to recovery took fewer twists and turns.
Crosby knows this. He's been down this road before, and only he'll know when the time is right for his return.