Crosby has found his fame, alright

This article was written in 2003 for a website that never paid me for the story — although they put the story on their site. That website is defunct and it serves them right.

I was thinking about this story the other day as I thought about the pratfalls of freelancing; I’d thought I’d dust this story off and post it here on the blog for posterity.

Sidney Crosby is on his way to hockey fame
By Ryan Van Horne
Sidney Crosby. Remember that name. If it isn’t a household name in your home, it will be soon.

The precocious 16-year-old hockey player plays for the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and has already grabbed the attention of Wayne Gretzky, who has tabbed Crosby as a likely candidate to challenge his scoring records.

“It was a huge compliment,” Crosby said. “But there isn’t going to be another Wayne Gretzky and no one is going to break his records. For him to say that though, I’m doing something right and I just want to keep doing it.”

Crosby has dreams of playing in the NHL, but he’s so close to realizing it that he doesn’t talk about it.

“I don’t think that far ahead,” Crosby said. “I just want to enjoy it. The older guys, they say enjoy it while you can because it goes fast.”

“It’s serious hockey,” said Crosby. “A lot of people are going to go on and play professional hockey. It makes you want to play that much more.”

Crosby’s immediate success in major junior surprised some, but not his former midget coach, Brad Crossley, who coached him with the Dartmouth Subways in 2001-02. That was the year Crosby skated into the spotlight at the tender age of 14 by leading the Air Canada Cup in scoring, garnering most valuable player honors and leading Dartmouth to a silver medal. He was the youngest player at the tournament and it was the best finish yet by a Nova Scotia team at the Canadian AAA midget championship.

“He’s a revelation to everyone else, but he’s fitting in just the way I expected him to,” Crossley said. “He just has the ability to raise his game to another level and he has an innate understanding of what’s going to happen a play ahead. He’s head and shoulders above everyone else.”

Crosby has a passion for the game that he inherited from his family. His dad was a major junior goalie and a draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens and his uncles and cousins also played high-caliber hockey.

They introduced him to hockey, teaching him to skate when he was three. Crosby started playing when he was five.

“He just loved it,” his mother, Trina Crosby, said. “It was like he couldn’t get enough of it.”

But it’s not unusual for kids to start so young, or show such zeal. What makes Crosby special is that he combines skill and a strong work ethic. Take it from Michael Chiasson, a teammate of Crosby’s for seven years. Whenever Crosby would invite Chiasson and his other friends over, it was never to play with toys or video games.

“It was always hockey,” Chiasson said. “He was always the hardest worker on and off the ice. He always thinks he can do better. He wants to improve his game even if he’s on top. There’s been all kinds of people who are good hockey players who have hit the wall, but I knew Sidney wasn’t going to.”

Hockey isn’t the only thing at which Crosby directs his energy; he is also a straight A student.

“He’s an amazing role model,” said Karen Dale, the vice-principle at Astral Drive Junior High School in Cole Harbour. “He’s kind to people. He was really kind to students in the learning center and to special needs kids.”

Despite the prestige of being featured on Hockey Night in Canada and written about in Sports Illustrated, Crosby remains humble and Dale doesn’t see it changing.

“He is one of the nicest kids I’ve ever seen go through here,” Dale said.

Though he had his share of fans and supporters, Crosby wasn’t really appreciated in his hometown. So when the opportunity came for Crosby to move away at the age of 15, it wasn’t a difficult decision and he left to play for Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a prep school in Faribault, Minn.

“It was good for him,” said Trina Crosby. “He developed as a hockey player and as a human being.”

After that season he was picked first overall by Rimouski in the QMJHL draft. It was the first time a Nova Scotian has been selected first overall.

He’s not all grace, though.

“He’s got more grit than Gretzky and he’s not scared of the corners,” said Dennis MacInnis of the International Scouting Service. “He reminds me of Peter Forsberg. He’s got that grit that you don’t normally see in a finesse player.”

MacInnis and ISS rank Crosby as the best prospect for the 2005 NHL draft.

“There’s nobody that brings everything to the table that he does,” said MacInnis. “He’s truly a special player.”

Athletes and brain injuries

I thoroughly enjoyed writing my first article for a national magazine.

I wrote a Science of Sport feature for Sportsnet Magazine on a new medical device called the Halifax Consciousness Scanner. Basically, it’s a brain scanner that measures how well your brain is functioning.

There are many athletes suffering concussions, especially hockey players, but there are none more famous than Sidney Crosby. What happened to Crosby is an example of why there needs to be a profound shift in the way brain injuries are diagnosed in sport.

On Jan. 1, 2011, Crosby collided with David Steckel of the Washington Capitals late in the second period of the Winter Classic. He was woozy as he skated to bench and missed the rest of the second period. Presumably, he was examined during the second intermission and NHL.com reported that he “toughed it out” and returned to play in the third period.

On Jan. 5, in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, opposing defenceman Victor Hedman hit Crosby from behind and Crosby’s head struck the plexiglass. Hedman was penalized and — astoundingly — Crosby was out on the ensuing power play and did not miss a shift in the third period.

As Dr. Ryan D’Arcy suggests in the story, a player’s brain function is altered after a blow to the head. Although they might not have a concussion, they have an injury that requires healing. A second hit, compounded with the first, can cause a more serious injury than either would have on its own.

Many believe this is what happened to Crosby. In two consecutive games — five days apart — Crosby suffered two blows to the head and was not taken off the ice because trainers had to rely on a crude behavioural test known as the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS). Studies have shown that the GCS can fail to detect a concussion 43 per cent of the time. Considering such a high failure rate for a major brain injury, one can’t help but wonder how poorly it detects more subtle brain injuries.

After the second hit, the all-star centre missed a combined 101 games and some wondered if his career was over. Players, teams, and the league need to take a close look at the potential of the Halifax Consciousness Scanner as it goes through clinical trials.

I thoroughly enjoyed writing this piece. I learned a great deal researching it and I loved the challenge of having to write a complex story in just 450 words.

Click here to read the story.