The white helmet that he had been wearing in practice that signified Do Not Disturb comes off Monday night as Sidney Crosby returns to play in his first game in almost a year after recovering from a concussion.
And if the NHL’s marquee player has been uncomfortable being in the limelight as the NHL’s poster boy for headshots, wait until he gets a load of the media hoard that is descending on Pittsburgh for the Penguins game against the New York Islanders.
When Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma announced on Sunday that Sid the Kid was ready to resume playing, U.S. cable network Versus quickly shifted gears, dumping the Boston Bruins-Montreal Canadiens game in favour of the Penguins-Islanders tilt.
The CBC also said that it plans to carry the game.
As Globe and Mail hockey reporter David Shoalts reports from the city that is quickly filling up with reporters from across Canada and the United States, the atmosphere might well rival that of a Stanley Cup game.
Crosby last played an NHL regular season game on Jan. 8 after a second consecutive head shot sidelined the league’s best player. Tests determined it was a concussion and Crosby is sidelined for the remainder of the year and for the first 20 games of the current NHL season.
When he returned to the ice at training camp to prepare for the start of the 2011-12 NHL season, Crosby was required to wear a white helmet as a reminder to his teammates that he was not to be jostled.
And while Crosby was cleared for practice contact several weeks ago, his teammates have not exactly been going out of their way to paste their star player into the boards. That should start tonight in earnest against the Islanders.
With the NHL struggling to come to grips with heads shots and the alarming frequency of concussions, Crosby’s slow return has generated a huge amount of publicity, much to the chagrin of the league which insists it has taken measures to try to clean up its game.
Crosby, too, has been an unwitting figure in the controversy.
Normally pleasant and polite with the media, the 24-year-old has declined interviews in recent weeks as speculation grew on when he might return to action.
Both Crosby and the Penguins insisted that Crosby would talk when he had something new to announce. But on Sunday it was left to the Pittsburgh coach to drop the bombshell that Crosby was ready to play while the player kept to himself.
Crosby is expected to speak with the media later on Monday morning after the Penguins hold their pre-game skate.
“He’s been wanting to play hockey for a long time,” Bylsma told reporters on Sunday – and so has the NHL, which relies on athletes with the star power of Crosby to sell the game in the U.S.
And the huge buzz Crosby’s comeback is generating throughout the sport is not likely to wane very soon with everybody wondering how Crosby will respond playing meaningful minutes in a game where heavy contact is an inevitability.
Bylsma is warning not to expect too much too soon, even though Crosby has been flying through practices of late. A heavy on-ice workload is not anticipated, at least not through the first couple of games.
Crosby is expected to centre a line with wingers Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis and he should feel pretty good about making his first start in over 10 months against the Islanders.
During his career, Crosby has recorded 62 points against both the Islanders and the Philadelphia Flyers, the most of any other NHL team.
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