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Crosby's Nagging Injury

on Thursday, 08 September 2011.

CONCUSSION WOES STILL HAUNT THE PENGUINS CENTER

Crosby's Nagging Injury
Sidney Crosby has announced that there will be no timetable for his return to National Hockey League action, however, he feels that he will be back in the upcoming season.  He has been skating, but he still experiences concussion symptoms when reaching 80-90 percent physical exertion capacity.  The Pittsburgh center and league golden boy has not played since receiving two concussions this past January.  As you may recall, he suffered the first injury during the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day at the hands (er, shoulder) of David Steckel of the Washington Capitals.  A few days later, on January 5, he received another hit that exacerbated his earlier injury, compounding the concussion.  This time it was a check from behind from Viktor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
When you look at the first collision, Steckel’s right shoulder collides with Crosby’s left jaw.  Steckel is skating up the left side of the defensive zone, moving up-ice as the puck is passed out of the zone.  Crosby is turning, swiveling his head and keeping his eyes on the puck.  Steckel moves to step around Crosby but Crosby turns right into Steckel’s path.  A collision is imminent and Crosby is not watching the man in front of him.

Steckel, now with the New Jersey Devils, is six-feet-five-inches and is a faceoff specialist that plays on the fourth line. Crosby is five-feet-eleven-inches.  Steckel did not dip is shoulder or lower his body to drive into his opponent.  It was a collision.  It was an avoidable collision, by both parties, but a perfectly acceptable collision in a game of collisions.  A player was injured and that is lamentable, yet had that player not been as high profile as Crosby I would not be writing about it now.

A few nights later, Crosby is skating into the offensive zone against Tampa.  He is chasing down the puck behind the net.  As he releases a pass around the backboard, Hedman glides into him.  His legs are not churning.  He does not launch into him.  It is not charging.  With his gloves pressed against Crosby’s back, he checks him into the boards.  The glass doesn’t rattle wildly, Crosby’s face isn’t mashed comically and his helmet doesn’t fly off.  It is the type of hit you see every night in NHL arenas.  In my opinion, Crosby should not have been playing.  He had clearly had a concussion against the Caps and was toughing through it.  I defy anyone to watch the two hits and tell me that the Hedman hit was anything but the garden variety.  For Crosby, it was a blow too soon after being concussed.  But hindsight is 20/20.

Now Crosby is lobbying the league to punish players more harshly for blows to the head.  I agree, blatant blows to the head should be punished and we have seen suspensions handed out for such offenses.  Shane Doan, Daniel Briere, Joe Thornton, Matt Martin, Tom Kostopoulos, Mike Brown, Scott Nichol, Daniel Paille, Anton Volchenkov, Trevor Gillies, Pavel Kubina, Danny Heatley, Brad Marchand, Matt Cooke and Raffi Torres were all suspended for blows to the head last season.  One could say that the league is already policing this matter rather well.  Stars and rank-and-file players alike are being nabbed when they go up high.  But as I have illustrated, Crosby was not targeted high.

Crosby has stated that players are responsible for their sticks; why not make them responsible for their bodies as well?  I agree.  But I feel they are already made responsible for their bodies.  Many of the suspensions I mentioned earlier were for elbowing to the head.  Knee-on-knee contact is just as devastating to a career.  Some of you may remember the controversy surrounding the hit Ulf Samuelsson put on Cam Neely in the 1991 Wales Conference Finals.  That knee-on-knee hit definitively shortened Neely’s career, yet it went uncalled in the game, let alone warranted a suspension.  Last season there were no fines or suspensions for knee-on-knee hits.  You can see how the league has controlled these sorts of egregious fouls.

Crosby is reacting to his injury as though he were Cam Neely and Steckel were Ulf Samuelsson, a man many consider the dirtiest player to ever play the game.  He is asking for special treatment because of his star caliber.  But the fact is that he is not the victim of a dirty play.  No one stuck out their knee or elbow, no one launched into him or even lined him up a la Scott Stevens.  He skated into the path of a very big man, plain and simple.

When the Pens next played the Caps on February 2, Steckel had to defend himself in a pitiful fight against Tim Wallace, a kid out to make a name for himself.  Allan May once told the story of how he became a fighter in the NHL.  He said he was always a scorer coming up through the ranks.  But when he got to the NHL he was not of the offensive caliber to hang around long unless he found another way to make himself valuable.  So Wallace, a youngster trying to stay out of the minors, felt he could earn some points with the organization by taking on the big bad meanie that injured the star player.  Check it out on YouTube.  It is pathetic.  

Crosby got injured.  It is unfortunate, but it does happen.  Some people accept that fate.  Others pout.  They skip All-Star weekend.  They become reclusive.  All of their hard work has been side-tracked by something they could not plan for.  Hopefully he grows from all this.  Hopefully he learns that he has an identity outside of hockey and that he can be useful to his team, his family and his community even when not in uniform.
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