Tonight marks the long-awaited, anticipated, and longed-for return to the ice of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ captain, Sidney Crosby.
image via nhlsnipers.com
Now, before you roll your eyes, say, “Ruby, who cares?”, and stop reading, let me assure you that this really matters. Not just because I adore Sidney Crosby (though I do), have missed him so (though I have), and want to see the Penguins’ roster further invigorated by his presence (though that I want as well).
The story I am about to tell you is one of hardship, heartbreak, and triumph. In two generations of Penguins’ men, no less.
Sidney Crosby made his NHL debut with the Pittsburgh Penguins at the ripe young age of 18, in 2005. Called many things (hockey players/coaches/commentators/devotees to the game in general love them some nicknames), including “Sid the Kid” and “The Next One” (for those of you missing the connection, it’s a reference to the amazing Mr. Wayne Gretzky, The Great One), he has been an all-around wunderkind in the six-ish years he has been on the ice. The grown-up, spotlighted, NHL ice, I should say. He was skating probably in his mother’s womb (ouch!), and was already a well established presence in junior league and earlier play.
But in the interest of keeping your interest, I won’t detail all that (plus I don’t want to spend my day fact-checking stats).
Oh, and no, I’m not bad at math. At least not the simple kind. I know that 2012-2005 = 7, not 6 years. Stay with me here, all will be revealed in time – though I trust a number of you already know where this is going. Let me tell it my way, aight?
Even just beginning with Crosby’s NHL play, I could throw so many stats and records at you. Don’t worry, I’ll just pick a few things. Named team captain at 19, the youngest NHL player to receive that designation. . . 2009 put a Stanley Cup ring on his finger, at the time he was the youngest captain ever to win one. . . Oh yeah, and there was that Olympic Gold Medal he helped to win at Vancouver 2010. This guy was unbelievable. This guy was unstoppable. This guy was on fire. This guy lived in Mario Lemieux’s basement.
Mario Lemieux. . . Lemieux, Lemieux, how sweet is thy name on my breath, truly on the breath of all who love hockey, most particularly all who love Pens’ hockey. Super Mario (they just erected a statue to him in Pittsburgh, you know). . . Stop, Ruby! You haven’t gotten to that part of your story yet.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, according to everyone in the know in the hockey world (most everyone, maybe let’s don’t ask Alex Ovechkin - or any Caps’ player while we’re ahead), Sidney Crosby is an incredibly nice guy. So root for him when you read this.
I come to where the very difficult part of Sid’s story begins.
By most every account it was due to a couple of hits he took in the first two games of January 2011 (starting with the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on New Year’s Day). Now I’m not interested in naming names, nor debating whether the hits were clean. In another place and time, perhaps, but here and now I want to stay with the positive and write only good things about people.
These hits caused concussion symptoms to appear in Sidney Crosby. Concussion symptoms that were so incredibly severe, he missed the rest of the 2011 regular season, as well as that year’s post-season (for those of you who don’t know, the hockey post-season is long – which makes me a happy girl – lasting into June for the teams that go all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals).
He missed the beginning of the 2011-2012 (the current) season, but came back to the NHL ice in November of last year. And all was right with the world. Until he had to stop playing again the very next month, due to a return of his concussive symptoms.
There has been some mudslinging done by fans and hockey writers in the city of Pittsburgh – and no doubt some other cities. They say Crosby is a whiner, that he is too soft to play, etc., etc., ad nauseam. I say you don’t screw around with brain injuries in any arena, but particularly not in one where it is part and parcel of play to take blows to your body and your head (the latter is very strongly discouraged, but still a real possibility) each time you skate out onto the ice. I think the majority agrees that Sidney Crosby is being intelligent and judicious. Also, I’m sure that for a lot of the time he has been off, team physicians, owners (hello again, Mr. Lemieux), and Pens’ teammates have been laying down the law and telling Sidney, ‘No way.’
Because you’ve got to realize this isn’t all Sidney Crosby’s decision. Twenty-four years old (we all know boys don’t make completely rational choices at that age) – which is in your hockey prime – unbelievably talented (with the hardware to prove it), and absolutely in love with the game. Just think of the frustration, the fear, the internal battles that he must have faced.
image via askmen.com
I imagine team owner/Pens’ legend/mentor-to-Crosby Mario Lemieux had an idea of it. Mr. Lemieux had many injuries through his career as well (and was still incredible, I’m sparing you his awards and stats completely – okay, I will permit myself to tell you that he is the only person to ever win a Stanley Cup as both a player and an owner). But what I remember most vividly as far as his health battles was when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Uh-huh. Cancer.
Mario Lemieux had cancer. Mario Lemieux beat cancer. Mario Lemieux came back to play amazing hockey after cancer. Mario Lemieux established a foundation to help others fight back against cancer. Mario Lemieux has kicked cancer’s ass in every way, upside-down and sideways.
So who better for Sidney Crosby to have as a presence in his life during what has undoubtedly been an agonizing period? I don’t know any details on interaction between the two – and I don’t think anyone should (to my knowledge no one has make this stuff public). That’s such unbelievably personal territory for both men.
But tonight, when Sidney Crosby skates back on to the ice for what I hope so much is a permanent return, I will hold my breath. I will probably hold it for 60 minutes of regulation play, plus any potential overtime, plus 34 minutes of period breaks, plus all official on-ice and t.v.-time outs. I’ll manage somehow not to asphyxiate. ;)
And I will hope and I will pray for this young man, because the battle may not be even halfway won for him. Head injuries are scary, and they are tricky, and they are (when this serious) for life. Bravo to Sidney Crosby and the entire Penguins’ organization for making sure this doesn’t become something even worse, something that could end not just his career, but his life. Bravo to team owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle for putting Sidney Crosby’s health and well-being before games and trophies. Bravo to all of Sidney Crosby’s teammates for supporting him and playing amazing hockey in their own right. Bravo to all of the team staff, most especially the medical and training staff (whose names don’t get flashed around so much), and to the specialists from all over who have evaluated and treated Sidney Crosby. Bravo to the fans who have supported Sidney Crosby throughout all of his career, the fair weather and the foul.
Tonight is not just about Sidney Crosby, it is about so many individuals who have helped him to get to where he is.
Which, when the puck drops at 7:30 EST, will be exactly where he belongs. On the ice.
Note made on the first period break: I don’t know how I managed it, but I forgot to add bravo to Dan Bylsma and the rest of the coaching staff. They deserve high praise for their handling of everything in this situation as well.
(Any errors in stats, writing, or behavior generally are completely my fault. I’ve been sitting with this post for several hours now – I don’t like inserting a whole bunch of hyperlinks, but here it seemed necessary – so my editing may not be up-to-snuff.)
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