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Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby prepares to take a face off in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets in Pittsburgh Tuesday, March 20, 2012. (Associated Press)

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby prepares to take a face off in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets in Pittsburgh Tuesday, March 20, 2012.

(Associated Press)

Pittsburgh Penguins fire medical staff Add to ...

The doctor who was at the centre of at least some of the controversy surrounding the treatment of Sidney Crosby’s concussion problems has parted company with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Dr. Charles Burke, 57, an orthopaedic surgeon whose association with the NHL team goes back to 1983, left the team along with the rest of the medical staff on July 10. The Penguins announced Friday they now have an official association with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, with three of its specialists in charge of their medical treatment next season.

However, the Penguins carefully avoided any connection between Crosby’s concussion and the change in their medical team. Those close to the team say Crosby and his advisors, who eventually sought outside treatment, did not have anything to do with the departure of Burke.

The change is said to be connected with a new business venture between the Penguins and UPMC rather than any lingering resentment over the handling of Crosby’s concussion. The team and the medical centre plan to open a training and sports medicine centre in 2014 in a northern Pittsburgh suburb.

One source with knowledge of the move said the parting was amicable between Burke, who was never paid for his services, and the Penguins. He is helping them make the transition to the new system.

Penguins general manager Ray Shero is on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

“We anticipate that the UPMC performance training centre will become the pre-eminent centre in North America for hockey training and rehab,” Penguins president David Morehouse said in a statement released by the team. “We also would like to thank Dr. Charles Burke, who has been such an integral part of the Penguins’ medical team over the past 24 years. We appreciate all the outstanding services provided by Dr. Burke and his team of specialists and wish them the best in the future.”

The new head physician for the Penguins is Dr. Christopher Harner, who is the president of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. Two other UPMC doctors will join him as the team physicians.

Also part of the new plan is for one of the three doctors to travel to all of the Penguins road games. This makes them only the second NHL team, in addition to the Chicago Blackhawks, to have their own physician at their regular-season road games.

This also played a role in Burke’s departure. While he is affiliated with the UPMC, he is not a staff member like Harner and the new team. Burke has a private practice, which makes it difficult for him to travel with the Penguins.

The venture with the UPMC is part of a trend in professional sports. While many teams still use unpaid medical professionals, who trade the perquisites of an association with a professional team for their services, others enter into business relationships with medical centres. The NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, for example, already have a similar arrangement with the UPMC at their practice facility.

In addition to a sports medicine clinic and treatment centre, the facility will have two ice rinks and training centre. The Penguins will use it as a practice facility and it is also expected to attract elite players from the northeast and midwest.

The staff at the new centre will be provided by the UPMC and there will be more than 15 specialists available for the Penguins.

The Penguins’ former medical team was the subject of criticism after Crosby was hit on the head Jan. 1, 2011 during the annual NHL Winter Classic. Crosby was allowed to play four days later and suffered another head injury. The doctors then diagnosed a concussion on Jan. 6, which began a long period of recovery and uncertainty for the Penguins’ superstar.

Crosby, 24, finally came back to play in late November but was injured again after eight games. By that time, he moved away from the Penguins’ doctors and consulted outside physicians, one of whom diagnosed a neck injury that was previously undetected. He was able to play late in the season and finished 2011-12 with 37 points in 22 games.

Burke was not involved in the day-to-day treatment of Crosby by the concussion team that initially treated him, which was from UPMC. But as the team physician it was his responsibility to clear Crosby to play. Crosby never publicly criticized the Penguins doctors during his lengthy recovery.

Follow on Twitter: @dshoalts

 

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