Optimism abounds in Crosby's recovery

Penguins forward Sidney Crosby smiles at a reporter's question during a news conference at the...

Penguins forward Sidney Crosby smiles at a reporter's question during a news conference at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Penn., Sep. 7, 2011. (JASON COHN/Reuters)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:22 AM ET

PITTSBURGH - On another devastating day in the small world that is hockey, there was a bit of encouraging news in this city on three rivers that was drawn closer, emotionally anyway, to a Russian city named Yaroslavl.

During a hockey off-season in which the news often has been downright sickening, not getting bad news when it comes to the status of the game's best player has now become the new good.

Such was the case Wednesday when Sidney Crosby and his doctors provided the first subtantive update on the concussion which has kept the NHL's marquee player in a frustrating fog until only recently.

The good news is some of the best minds when it comes to minds believe Crosby will be able to return from his concussion. When, they're still not sure, but "likely" at some point this season.

"I don't look at concussion as the bogeyman here," Dr. Micky Collins of UPMC Sports Medicine Program said.

"I think this is a manageable injury and we're making progress. I anticipate Sid returning to hockey and playing well in the future.

"But I can guarantee you we are not going to make any mistakes in this case. Before Sid goes back to play, we are going to make sure he is 100% recovered, no ifs ands or buts about it. Fortunately we have very good ways of assessing that ... we understand what we have to achieve before we put Sid back in harm's way.

"We're going to introduce contact in a careful way. We're not even close to that now."

Crosby, who shot down the idea he had considered retirement, said perhaps he could get by on being 90% healthy. "But I'm not going to roll the dice on that," he said.

What was interesting was the talk about the nature of Crosby's brain injury and the "reconditioning," as Collins put it, that has been going on during his rehabilitation.

First and foremost is that it will allow Crosby to lead a fulfilling and pain-free life away from the ice.

But it makes one wonder that if a hockey brain as brilliant as Crosby's has to be "reconditioned," will it ever be able to come close to performing at the level we came to appreciate? Damage has been done. The process now has been how to cope with it.

Collins said Crosby's concussion, sustained eight months ago when he was hit on the head in successive games, is a "vestibular" type of concussion, relating to the system that gives us our sense of balance and spatial orientation.

"Sid is a Ferrari. His vestibular system is better than anyone else's. That's why he's the most elite hockey player in the world," Collins said. "I knew that we were in for a long recovery. The type of symptoms Sid had initially are exactly the symptoms that we see that end up taking the longest to recover from concussion."

"It's not as simple as saying there's a date and I'll feel better," Crosby said. "I'd love to have answers sometimes. There were different points where I was definitely frustrated."

After Crosby suffered a recurrence of his symptoms when he started to push it three weeks ago, Dr. Ted Carrick, distinguished professor of Neurology at Life University in Marietta, Ga., was brought into the mix.

He worked with Crosby in his lab to figure out how Crosby's vestibular system had been scrambled.

"Areas of space were not in an appropriate grid to where he would perceive them," Carrick said. He was able to quantify Crosby's disorientation, "if I can call it that, and develop new strategies that allowed us to build him a new grid."

Said Crosby: "I'm really happy with the last three weeks. It's been very positive. It has been a tough road."

Crosby might very well be, in the words Collins, "a Ferrari," but right now it still sounds like he's working with a sticky clutch and only three gears.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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