Kovacevic: Crosby healthy, happy, hungry
The world's greatest hockey player was standing at center ice with a puck on his head.
In the Bizarro world of local sports of late, with the Pirates collapsing like stoned hippies and the Steelers defending Dick LeBeau better than they defended Carson Palmer, this felt just about right.
There was Sidney Crosby, along with 11 other Penguins and a few extras engaging in one of their impromptu scrimmages Tuesday morning at Southpointe. Other than the team-licensed gear, it bore no resemblance to the training camp that should have been taking place. There were no coaches, referees, linesmen or anyone else at ice level. Seven bundled-up fans watched from the bleachers.
The captain, improving as cleverly as ever, had that puck balanced on his helmet as he lined up for a faceoff against, uh, Deryk Engelland. They squared up, Crosby's head tilted forward, gravity played the role of linesman, and off he went.
Before long, he burst down the left wing, curled in on the poor rent-a-goalie and sweetly tucked a shot inside the far post.
That an upbeat enough image to take your mind off “Hoka Hey!” or all three of Lawrence Timmons' tackles?
“It's nice to get on the ice,” the captain told me right after stepping off. “It's been a lot of fun. I've been feeling good all summer … but now you kind of crave something else.”
Oh, yeah. That.
I could invest this page in a John Tortorella-sized rant on the NHL's stupidity in shutting down a sport that a) can ill afford it during a growth period and b) has openly boasted of record revenues since the last lockout, way back in 2004 and c) is letting the usual clique of cheapskate owners pull Gary Bettman's strings.
But I won't. I'd rather talk actual hockey, as I'm sure is true of all who love the game.
Let's talk about how good it is to see Crosby happy again.
Not happy. Beaming.
I'm not sure any of us will ever fully process what he went through these past couple years. It wasn't just about the concussion and the neck. It was about the doubts, about picturing life without what he loves most.
“Symptom-free. No problems.”
Another huge grin.
Not easy to stay down after that, is it?
But wait until you see him, however long that takes. He has a stronger build than he's ever shown, and he's positively flying about the rink. Looks like he's right where you'd want him to be at 25, ready for the prime of an already brilliant career.
In other offseasons, he's focused on a specific area to master, such as faceoffs.
“Missing as much time as I did, I just want to get back to the speed and skill of the game. Obviously, that takes games to get back, but I've done a lot more game-type scenarios, quickness work, things to make the transition a little easier.”
That's a very Sid way of saying he's in exemplary shape.
Questions do remain, but that only offers an excuse for more actual hockey talk.
Here's a topic: Who will be Crosby's linemates?
Pascal Dupuis will be one, but the Penguins' vain pursuit of Zach Parise left the same vacancy on the other wing.
“I think we have a lot of good wingers here,” Crosby said. “I'm comfortable with all our guys.”
I'm guessing it will be Chris Kunitz. Dan Bylsma can mix and match next to Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, who play mostly off each other, anyway.
And what of Crosby's usage on the power play, which was so confounding in the playoffs that Bylsma took the wacky step of taking him off the top unit?
A fixed role is way overdue.
“You try to find different places to work to everyone's strengths,” Crosby said. “I feel really confident out there wherever it is, but I'd say my comfort zone's always been on the half-wall. The point is new to me, so goal line or half-wall, I'd prefer.”
Half-wall it should be, then.
Like I said, fun to talk a little pucks, isn't it?
If only the NHL would collect its senses, we'd do it all the time.
Of course, some do, anyway. That's the nature of the hockey fan. Even if they watched football the night before, they'll claim to their buddies they were dissecting some Predators-Ducks rerun on NHL Network.
I asked Crosby if the sport — owners or players — should ever take advantage of that.
“I hope not. I hope that nobody who's making any decision or taking any stance will take our fans for granted. But there is a business side, and we all know that. We just want something that's fair, and hopefully people can understand that.”
He shook his head. It's pretty clear he's still one of those grasping to understand.
“I can't really compare it to anything. Not at all. You know, I'd rather just be playing.”
And when might that happen?
I mentioned I've heard for a while it won't go past October.
“I have no clue. I couldn't give you a date. I don't see it going that long, but there hasn't been a lot of progress the past couple weeks. We've kind of been at a standstill. Hopefully, it's one or two meetings away, and everything starts rolling.”
And someone's hand — rather than his head — can drop the puck.
Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.