‘I felt ill’: Pittsburgh Penguins’ former GM reflects on Sidney Crosby’s first and latest NHL concussions | National Post pittsburgh penguins hockey news

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May 4, 2017 1:30 PM EDT

Last Updated May 5, 2017 8:24 AM EDT

Filed under Sports Hockey NHL Comment Facebook Twitter Email More Share this story 'I felt ill': Pittsburgh Penguins' former GM reflects on Sidney Crosby's first and latest NHL concussions Tumblr Pinterest Google Plus LinkedIn Reddit

Ray Shero was nauseous.

Sitting with a number of his scouts on Monday evening, the New Jersey Devils general manager glanced up at the television screen at the Pittsburgh-Washington playoff game and saw a Penguin splattered on the ice.

“I was about 20 feet away from the TV. I didn’t know who it was…” Shero recalled. “At first, I thought it was Bryan Rust.”

Then someone in the room said: “No, it’s Sidney Crosby.”

The same Sidney Crosby who starred during Shero’s run as GM of the Penguins from 2006-14.

The same Crosby who hoisted the Stanley Cup for Shero’s Pens in 2009.

The same Crosby who suffered a devastating career-altering concussion during an outdoor game at Heinz Field against the Washington Capitals on Jan. 1, 2011.

And, most importantly to Shero, the same Crosby who helped his then-teenage son Chris cope when both players were attempting to battle through head injuries in 2011.

Now, six years and a new team later, here was Shero, the glee of having won the 2017 NHL draft lottery momentarily siphoned by shock as he saw a crumpled Crosby needing help.

“When I saw the replay, honestly, I felt ill … I really felt ill,” Shero said. “I haven’t felt that way in a long time.”

Jamie Sabau / Getty Images

Shero pauses. Normally one of the most articulate GMs in the sport, he is struggling to find the words. That’s how emotional he is with this entire Crosby situation.

Crosby played hard for Shero. He was a stand-up captain for Shero. He mentored Shero’s son through a time when neither player knew what the future held for them, both in hockey and in life.

And now, to see this. Again.

“To be honest, if he was hurt, was hoping maybe a leg or something,” Shero says. “You just hope it wasn’t another, well…

“You know, it brought me back to the outdoor game and having gone through all that with him. I mean, about that time, my son suffered a concussion right after that and was out of hockey for a long time.”

Shero, the hockey executive, will always be grateful to Crosby for helping bring the 2009 NHL crown to Pittsburgh. Shero, the dad, will forever be even more thankful to Crosby for being there for Chris.

On New Year’s Day of 2011, Crosby was turning to pursue a puck when the Capitals’ David Steckel made direct contact with his head. While he was able to skate off under his own power, a subsequent blow from the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Victor Hedman four days later left Crosby unable to play another NHL game until November.

Two weeks after the Steckel-Hedman incidents, Chris Shero, then just 16, suffered his own concussion while playing for the Triple-A Pittsburgh Hornets.

[np_storybar title=”Opponents don’t intend to injure, but they do target stars like Crosby: Shero” link=””]In what elicited a sigh of relief from the hockey world, Sidney Crosby skated in full equipment on Thursday morning.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told reporters at the Penguins practice facility in Cranberry, Pa.. that Crosby “was in the process of rehabbing” from a concussion he suffered Monday, but refused to speculate if the Pittsburgh captain would be available for Game 5 against the Washington Capitals on Saturday.

The most important aspect here is Crosby’s health. The fact that he was back on the ice is a huge step, to be sure.

In the meantime, one of the most debated issues since Crosby’s injury revolves around whether Sid The Kid, like many of the league’s star players, is a target for opposing teams.

For Ray Shero, the answer is yes. During his tenure as Penguins GM from 2006-14, he saw firsthand how Crosby would receive so-called special treatment from the competition, especially come playoff time.

It’s a tactic, he says, that has been used in the NHL for decades.

At the same time, Shero dismisses the conspiracy theories out there that teams meticulously plan ways to seriously injure the league’s elite players like Crosby with the intent to sideline them for the long term.

“Are they targeted? I don’t think that’s ever changed,” said Shero, now the GM of the New Jersey Devils. “Look at the Flyers-Boston final of 1974. The Flyers knew they had to shut down Bobby Orr. Yeah, they targeted him.”

The Flyers coach at the time just happened to be Fred Shero, Ray’s dad. Prior to that final, teams had preached keeping the puck away from Orr, who revolutionized the game with his offensive flair from the back end. But Fred Shero’s blueprint was different: continuously dump pucks in Orr’s corner and physically pound him, a philosophy that hopefully would take its toll as the series went on.

It worked. The Flyers ended up winning the series in six games, capturing their first Stanley Cup in the process.

“I saw something Gary Roberts said referring to if that had been an 1980s Norris Division game involving, say, Chicago and Detroit, and the (Crosby incident) happens, I’m not sure the whistle goes before they drop their sticks and gloves,” Shero said. “Back then, players patrolled and policed themselves. Now, I’m not sure this is politically correct, but…

“Here’s the thing: targeting doesn’t mean trying to hurt guys. Targeting means you know who’s dangerous. (Washington knows) who Phil Kessel is, Pittsburgh knows who Nick Backstrom is. But it’s never been ‘Let’s go out and seriously hurt that guy.’”

— Mike Zeisberger [/np_storybar]

“He was out of school for two months,” Ray Shero said. “He didn’t play hockey until the next year. Having gone through that as a parent, well…”

All the while, Crosby was seeking all the advice he could get to educate himself on concussions and different treatments. It was at this time that Ray Shero first got to know Michael “Micky” Collins, who heads the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s concussion testing unit.

And as both Crosby and Chris Shero looked to Collins and other brain specialists to find answers, Ray Shero once again discovered just what a stand-up guy his captain was off the ice as well as on.

“Sid was fantastic,” Shero said. “He knew Chris was going through the same thing as him. The Penguins would be playing February, March, and he’d reach out to Chris and say ‘come on down’ — there’s a practice area where they’d shoot and they’d practice shooting. And they’d be talking — how are you feeling, what’s going on, things like that.”

In separate interviews with Pittsburgh-area media outlets early in 2012, both Crosby and Chris Shero discussed how they leaned on each other during their respective recoveries.

“We talked back and forth on how everything was when I had my concussion and when he had his,” Chris Shero told KDKA-TV. “We talked about how things were. We were able to relate to each other, so (it was) much easier with that. He helped me and I maybe I helped (him) a bit.”

Said Crosby at the time: “It’s nice when someone can relate, no matter what age. Even for him to hear what I was going through was good for him. To see someone who can’t go to school and can’t be with his friends, I think it was good for me to get a different viewpoint on it.”

For years, Eric Lindros had preached for open-mindedness when it came to seeking concussion treatments. In Ray Shero’s mind, Crosby’s injury against the Capitals six years ago augmented that message.

“Jan. 1, 2011 with Sid changed so much. Not only for the league, but for me and my son,” he said. “Whether a guy gets a concussion in Pittsburgh, Wilkes-Barre, wherever, it doesn’t matter to me — Sidney Crosby, Chris, it’s just a hard thing to go through with all the unknowns. Having gone through that with my son the same time as Sid, it changed a lot of different things. The Penguins, the protocol with the league, the improvements we’ve made on that front … just as a parent.

“When you see something like that happen, those are the people I think about. His parents. His sister. And what they’re going through.

“When I saw Sid lying there, I just felt, well, ill. Oh my God.”

He wasn’t alone.

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