Perhaps it’s the range of unpleasant symptoms he’s experienced, or the frustrations of a long recovery, but it’s the considered opinion of Sidney Crosby, owner of the most-talked about brain in recent hockey history, that the NHL should ban blows to the head.
Asked if the planet’s pre-eminent professional league should follow the lead of organizations such as Hockey Canada in taking a zero-tolerance approach to head shots, the Pittsburgh Penguins superstar said: “I don’t think there’s a reason not to take them out.”
“I read a stat that there’s 50,000 hits in a year, and we’re talking about 50, maybe. You know, 50 head shots. And to take those out, the game’s not going to change,” he told a news conference in Pittsburgh. “As players, we’re professionals, the odd time maybe there’s accidental contact but for the most part we can control what goes on out there. For sure, it’s a fast game, but we’ve got to be responsible too. A guy’s got to be responsible with his stick, why shouldn’t he be responsible with the rest of his body when he’s going to hit someone?”
Those words were music to the ears of one of Canada’s foremost concussion specialists.
“Isn’t that great,” said Dr. Charles Tator, a neurosurgeon at Toronto’s University Health Network and founder of the safety and advocacy group ThinkFirst. “That’s what we need: people of Sidney’s stature and profile and intelligence to come out with a direct message that we can get hits to the head out and still preserve the great game of hockey.”
Poolsters and Penguins fans will surely take a different view, but Tator said Crosby’s cautious, painstaking recovery from concussion – and his evident willingness to follow medical advice – is also a good thing when it comes to setting an example.
“I think what we’re seeing here is very good management of his concussion,” he said, later adding “the Sidney Crosby event has heightened the knowledge of concussion in the hockey world, among parents, coaches ... so that’s the good that’s come out of it.”
What isn’t as good, however, is that there is still no timeline for Crosby’s return, even if the player himself remains convinced he will play again.
When a reporter raised the possibility that Crosby may never progress beyond the 90-per-cent effort he deployed before having a setback this summer, the Cole Harbour, N.S., native said “it’s a pretty slight one, I wouldn’t bet on that.”
“I’m lucky, I feel like I’m in pretty good shape and on the right end of this,” said Crosby, adding it’s “likely” he’ll suit up in 2011-12.
As is often the case with concussions, it’s not entirely clear how soon that could happen – Crosby’s good friend Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins missed nearly a full season after a bad concussion, Minnesota’s Pierre-Marc Bouchard sat out most of two years.
At the other end of the scale sits Montreal’s Max Pacioretty, who was cleared to play barely two months after the Bruins’ Zdeno Chara slammed his head into a stanchion.
The Penguins kick off the season next month, but Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero insisted the team will take every precaution with Crosby and that the Stanley Cup-winning captain and Olympic gold medalist won’t be rushed into the lineup.
“He’ll be worth the wait,” Shero said.
Michael Collins, a clinical psychologist who runs the sports medicine concussion program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre, said he expects Crosby to make a full recovery given his recent progress.
“I anticipate Sid returning to hockey and playing well in the future,” said Collins, who accompanied Crosby to the news conference.
Collins said Crosby’s initial symptoms – he suffered a hit to head from Washington’s David Steckel on Jan. 1, and a second four days later from Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman – indicated a long recovery.
Indeed, Crosby hasn’t played since, and experienced a setback in his recovery after reaching 90-per-cent intensity earlier this summer.
Crosby said the only symptoms he’s currently experiencing are occasional headaches.
Collins said difficulties with dizziness, light sensitivity and concentration – Crosby said in the weeks after his diagnosis it was hard to listen to the car radio or watch video with teammates – were also the result of “vestibular” damage, which affects things such as spatial awareness and balance.
“Sid’s a Ferrari. His vestibular system is better than anyone else’s, that’s why he’s the most elite hockey player in the world,” Collins said. “It makes sense that where his injury was, it’s going to take a while to rehabilitate this.”
Tator said it can be one of the tricky elements of concussion diagnosis to determine which symptoms involve the vestibule of the inner ear and which have to do with its associated brain functions.
Another intriguing facet to Crosby’s recovery is that the Penguins’ medical staff have enlisted the help of Ted Carrick, a chiropractor with a specialty in neurological conditions who also holds a doctorate in brain-based learning.
Carrick, who worked with Crosby at a chiropractic college in Georgia last month and was also at the news conference, said he’s helped re-educate Crosby’s brain and has observed considerable progress in recent weeks.
“It’s Christmas for Sid Crosby and the people who care for him,” Carrick said.