Rough-and-tumble Crosby should ease up, says concussion expert
The physical play of Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby through the first three games of the NHL playoffs has one concussion expert worried the most recognizable face in hockey could be putting himself in unnecessary danger.
After getting involved in three fights or near-fights on Sunday in the Penguins’ 8-4 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, Crosby’s recent concussion history does not seem top of mind for the superstar.
However, Matthew Holahan — an associate professor of neuroscience at Carleton University in Ottawa — says one hit or punch to the head of Crosby could be enough to trigger a variety of issues.
“You might have a mild brain injury that will heal itself, but then somebody else starts hitting you in the face and that could compound that damage and it might not totally recover,” said Holahan, who has no personal knowledge of Crosby’s specific condition.
“With Crosby, he’s got to be careful. He’s probably fully recovered, but his brain is still susceptible and there’s no protection from a concussion. Once you get a concussion, your brain is sensitized to further damage. It doesn’t get stronger, it only gets weaker, which is why he might want to be more careful with some of the play he’s engaging in.”
On Sunday, shortly after the Flyers took a 3-1 lead halfway through the first period, Crosby and Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux squared off and each received five-minute fighting majors.
The pair formed a most unlikely fighting combo, as both have missed stretches of playing time because of concussions. As the game progressed, Crosby continued to mix it up physically with a variety of opposing players and earned himself another roughing penalty in the third period. The Penguins now face elimination, trailing the best-of-seven series 3-0.
“It’s kind of surprising,” Holahan said. “A lot of people have been criticizing his (apparently softer) behaviour recently. I don’t know if it’s because of the playoffs or if he’s gone through a bit of a change himself.
“With concussions, that can actually happen. People, if they still have malfunctioning brain tissue, they could go through some behavioural change. It’s hard to say if he’s going through some brain degeneration or if he’s just all pumped up because of the playoffs.”
Former NHLer Keith Primeau is well aware of the risks associated with concussions in hockey.
Following a 15-year career that started with the Detroit Red Wings and ended with a six-year stint in Philadelphia — with stops in Hartford and Carolina in between — Primeau was forced to hang up his skates in September 2006 after suffering his fourth concussion. Six years later, he continues to experience symptoms and has since co-founded of Stopconcussions.com, a group that emphasizes player safety that starts at the grassroots level in minor hockey.
Primeau said the actions of Crosby and Giroux should not be encouraged.
“It is an emotional time of the season and players will act on those emotions, but we have to remember the goal is to stop attacking the head,” Primeau said in a statement to Postmedia News. “In Crosby’s and Giroux’s situation, being deemed healthy to play means healthy to decide to fight. Stopconcussions does not condone any actions that result in blows to the head and we will continue to educate everyone on how to make the game safer.”
Primeau said any incident that results in a blow to the head should be punished, regardless of whether there is injury.
Crosby missed half of the NHL season in 2010-11 and played just 22 games in the regular season this year because of recovery setbacks and concussion symptoms.
He made his return on Nov. 21, 2011, and played eight games before having to sit out again. On March 15, he rejoined the Penguins and finished out the regular season symptom-free.
Given that recent history of such a vulnerable condition, Holahan said the superstar should possibly re-evaluate his style.
“It would be wise for Crosby to try to avoid those fights,” he said. “He’s going to get hit, for sure, but I think he should have changed his style to be a team leader through his playing ability rather than his aggressive ability.”
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