Time for Sid to give it up?

Pictou Advocate sports

I’ve been thinking a lot about Sidney Crosby this past week and a half, ever since he was smashed to the ice in an ugly play in which he suffered his fourth concussion.

I’m worrying about him, too.

I’ve also been thinking about his mom and dad, Trina and Troy, the loyal parents who have supported him so well since the day he was born, since he first put on skates as a two-year-old.

I can’t help it.

Sure, in my sports writing career I’ve seen many athletes injured. In most cases, the injuries aren’t extremely serious and the players get back to what they do right. But I’ve also seen careers end that way. I think of Courtney Malcolm and Nelson Wilson.

With Crosby, it’s hitting close to home.

Having lived in Colby Village, a short walk from the home where Sid grew up, it’s hard not to consider him one of our own.

He attended the same schools where our three children went. He learned hockey in Cole Harbour Place, the same facility where our children played. He played on the same fields in the same neighbourhoods, ate at the same restaurants, went to the same movie theatres and libraries.

In the Cole Harbour Minor Hockey Association, he played for highly-respected coach Paul Mason, who also coached our younger son a number of seasons earlier. I knew then that Paul was an outstanding handler of young players.

When Sid goes down, I think of the good things in his career. I’ve followed his every move since he was a six-year-old, out on the ice at Cole Harbour Place, all by himself, skating and skating and skating some more. Even then, we were watching a kid who could skate better than youngsters several years older. We were watching a small guy who showed potential far sooner than most little guys.

Sid had wonderful support from his father, who had been a goaltender in the Quebec Junior Hockey League. Troy and Trina have travelled to Sid’s games ever since he played junior hockey. They must know Pittsburgh and other NHL cities as well as veteran players.

Hockey provides many bright moments. Countless nights in front of the big screen in the living room. Memorable goals by our favourite players. Important victories for the teams we’re passionate about. Championships lined with exciting plays and dramatic story-book finishes. Yes, we’re blessed to be fans.

Those of us who have spent many years in Cole Harbour were fortunate to see a huge talent develop before our eyes. The little fellow alone on the ice becoming better and better, until he reached the lofty level of being acclaimed as the greatest player on the planet.

Hockey’s a great sport. Unfortunately, bad things, ugly things, happen from time to time. Like two Monday nights ago, right before our eyes on the big flat screen. Seeing the replay over and over that evening, and watching it many times on sports shows the following morning, makes the incident look uglier and uglier.

I had spent that Monday afternoon writing a chapter for my new book, Remembering Pictou County. It was about New Glasgow’s Jon Sim and Colin White, whose hockey careers took them to the NHL a couple decades ago. Pictonians know their stories well — Jon winning a Stanley Cup championship, then bringing the famous mug home; Colin following up with two cup wins and two parades up Provost Street.

I was looking forward to that evening, even though it was going to be the same menu as most nights this time of year — watching the Toronto Blue Jays on one channel, flicking to the NHL playoffs on another. It can’t get better than that.

I was fooled.

This was to be a very different evening in front of the TV. It was game three of the series between Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals. The game was just minutes old.

Sid was in front of the Washington net, was pushed roughly aside and, as he was falling to the ice, he was cross-checked viciously by defenceman Matt Niskanen. It may not have been intentional, but it was terrible seeing Sid face down on the ice in extreme pain. When he got up, he looked dazed. It was obvious he suffered another concussion. By morning, it was confirmed.

It’s happened to Crosby too many times. Each time, there was fear a brilliant career might be over. Each time, he came back, better than ever. But a human being, even a great athlete like him, can endure only so much. Especially to the head. Whether he returns or not, there’s no guarantee it won’t affect him years from now.

The headline in Halifax Metro screamed in black block letters: “This Needs to Stop.” The related story inside — a column by Dan Robertson, the play-by-play voice of the Montreal Canadiens who grew up in Trenton — had this heading: “I felt sick to my stomach.”

So did I, Dan.

We’re left with serious questions. What effect will another Crosby concussion have on him? What effect will it have on his future? Should he consider hanging up his gear and retire? Medical minds are already suggesting exactly that.

It’s a tough, tough decision, one Crosby himself will have to answer. He’ll turn just 30 in August. So much more time to excel. So much more time to thrill fans.

Let’s not forget, though, that this isn’t the first time a superstar had to face such a serious issue. Bobby Orr was the best defenceman ever. Yet he was exactly 30 when he had to end his career after a dozen knee surgeries. He hadn’t even played a thousand NHL games.

It would be a darn shame if Sidney Crosby, like Orr, has to bow out prematurely. But his long-term health is the most important matter.

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Hugh Townsend
A New Glasgow native and Nova Scotia sports journalist for more than 60 years.