The final episode of HBO’s “24/7” series followed Sidney Crosby as he left the ice after the second period of last Saturday’s Winter Classic, with the Penguins captain looking dazed after a blindside hit to the head from Washington’s David Steckel.
Wednesday — four days later — Crosby suited up against the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he was rattled by another hit, an above-the-shoulders check into the glass that earned Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman a minor penalty for boarding.
That night, Crosby flew with his teammates to Montreal for Thursday’s contest against the Canadiens, but headed home the next day amidst reports that he was dealing with a minor concussion and would miss approximately a week, or however long it takes until he’s judged to be symptom-free.
The timing of the concussion has led to questions regarding Pittsburgh’s handling of its franchise player, and both Crosby and head coach Dan Bylsma addressed those Saturday as the Penguins prepared to face the Minnesota Wild.
“Post-Winter Classic, he did not have concussion symptoms,” said the Penguins coach. “After the Tampa Bay game, he was not feeling right and, per our doctors’ orders, if he woke up in the morning and felt the same way, he would need to get evaluated. He woke up in the morning and still wasn’t feeling completely right.
“The only reason he left Montreal was because … Matt Cooke was chartering a flight back home to deal with family issues, so Sid was able to hop on that flight and come home with him and see doctors that day.”
Bylsma was quick to shut down the idea that the Penguins would take a gamble with any player’s wellbeing — let alone one in whom they’ve made a five-year, $43.5 million investment.
“There isn’t time or a person that we would put on the ice that had concussion symptoms, and we were acutely aware of those symptoms and dealing with our doctors,” said Bylsma. “He did not go into the Tampa Bay game with any symptoms that we felt were concussion-related.”
Although Crosby saw doctors after the Steckel hit, he wasn’t tested for a concussion at that time. That makes it impossible to know which hit resulted in the issue, or if it was a cumulative effect of both, though he did say he felt off during Wednesday’s game even before the Hedman hit.
“Who knows when I actually got it,” Crosby stated. “Wednesday, throughout the game, I just didn’t feel right. Does that mean I had all these huge symptoms? No. There are times when you play and you know there’s a difference. I would compare it to when you’re sick; you just feel a little off. That’s when I went to the doctor after the game … at that point, that’s when my head was starting to bother me a little bit more.”
Looking back, however, Crosby said he wouldn’t change anything.
“It may be easy to say that now, but I didn’t have any head problems [after the Winter Classic] and it didn’t feel like a concussion; it all seemed to be neck-related,” he said. “I’ve gotten hit a lot over the course of my time playing hockey and had sore necks and that’s kind of what it felt like at the time. Wednesday, when it started to get more in my head and I felt a little off, that’s when I saw the red flag.”
As for how Crosby’s feeling now, he said he hasn’t been taking any medication and is getting rest to expedite the healing process.
“I’ve felt better, but I’m doing all right,” he said. “You just feel off – headaches, a little sick. That’s what’s what it’s been like the last couple of days. Hopefully soon, I’ll be symptom-free and able to start doing exercise. If I can get through that without any symptoms, you go to the next step and maybe start skating.”
In addition to being symptom-free, Crosby will undergo neurocognative testing before he returns to ensure that it matches his previous baseline test two years ago. He said he recognizes that any concussion situation is “pretty serious” and will be extra cautious, especially because this is his first concussion and he’s unfamiliar with the symptoms.
Neither of the hits was punished by the NHL with a fine or suspension, but Crosby stressed that it’s still the responsibility of every player to avoid dangerous hits to a vulnerable opponent.
“You talk about headshots and dealing with them, and that’s been something that’s been a pretty big point of interest from everybody,” he said. “When I look at those two hits, we talk about blindside – that’s a big word – and unsuspecting player. There’s no puck there in both of them, and a direct hit to the head in both of them. So, if you want to go through the criteria, I think they fit all those.
“I know it’s a fast game, and I’ve been hit a thousand times. But when you get hit like that, there’s nothing you can do. There’s no way to protect yourself. On the Steckel one, I feel like he could’ve gotten out of the way and avoided me. Whether he tried to hurt me, only he knows, but you still have to be responsible out there. He’s got to be the one to try to avoid me in that situation.”