PITTSBURGH — Look at your right hand. Close your eyes. Do you know where it is? Are you certain?
For months, Sidney Crosby was not.
While the rest of his Pittsburgh Penguins teammates spent the summer resting, working on their golf game and trying to get over a seven-game loss to Tampa Bay in the opening round of the playoffs, one of the game’s best players spent it searching for a way back to normalcy.
Two head shots within a week of each other last January ended the former MVP’s season, and put his career in jeopardy.
Entering his seventh NHL season, the 24-year-old franchise cornerstone didn’t set out to be the most public case study on the mysterious and sometimes mysteriously lingering effects of concussions. He simply wanted to feel better and get back to doing what he loved.
The road back has been more arduous than he ever possibly imagined when he was scratched out of the lineup after a game against Tampa Bay on Jan. 5 after experiencing what he has since described as “fogginess.”
The organization did its best to give Crosby some space. Coach Dan Bylsma and general manager Ray Shero checked in occasionally. Teammates, both old and new, would text or call to talk about anything and everything but the state of Crosby’s head.
“I figured he was getting enough of it from everywhere else,” forward Jordan Staal said. “All that matters to us really is that he’s healthy. All that stuff you thought you heard, I didn’t pay any attention to it.”
The unique demands of Crosby’s job – namely making sudden movements and constantly recalibrating your balance to adjust to an ever-changing environment – and getting to the point where Crosby feels “normal” is an uncertain proposition.
A thriving vestibular system allows a person to trust his senses. For a person with vestibular problems, that’s difficult because the brain might be receiving faulty information.
The Penguins open the season Thursday in Vancouver. Crosby remains on injured reserve and still has no indication on when he’ll be cleared for contact.
However, he will travel with the team when it begins the season on the road.
“Even if I’m not playing, it’s kind of a fresh start,” Crosby said.