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Team captain Crosby says there is ?no? rift with Penguins

| Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012

Sidney Crosby's neck is not broken, and neither is his relationship with the Penguins or their medical staff.

"There (are) not a lot of answers with this stuff, and (the organization) has been more than encouraging when it came to seeking out other opinions," Crosby said Tuesday during a news conference before the Penguins played the Toronto Maple Leafs at Consol Energy Center.

Crosby is dealing with a soft-tissue injury in the neck and recently received an injection to alleviate swelling between his two uppermost vertebrae.

He has not played since Dec. 5, though he resumed on-ice workouts Jan. 13. There remains no timetable for his return, general manager Ray Shero said.

Shero and Crosby displayed a sense of calm and camaraderie during the 16 minutes they spent addressing a situation that over the weekend appeared distressing at best.

Dr. Alexander Vaccaro, a Philadelphia-based orthopedic surgeon, could not confirm evidence of past or present vertebrae fractures, he informed Penguins majority co-owner Mario Lemieux, CEO David Morehouse and Crosby's agent, Pat Brisson, on Monday.

Lemieux, Morehouse and Brisson met in Philadelphia with Vaccaro. Other members of Crosby's concussion team were listening on a conference call, Shero said.

The soft-tissue injury is treatable and could cause neurological symptoms similar to those from a concussion, the medical experts agreed, Shero said.

"It's hard to pinpoint when this could have happened, whether it was an existing injury or whether it happened in one of the eight games he came back," Shero said.

"There has never been any indication from any (medical expert) we've dealt with over the last year that would indicate he would have to shut it down for the season or have to retire."

The soft-tissue injury could be causing neurological symptoms that have plagued Crosby dating to Jan. 6, 2011, when he was diagnosed by UPMC Sports Medicine clinicians with a concussion after he sustained two blindside hits over a span of five days.

Dr. Robert Bray, a California-based spine surgeon who diagnosed Crosby with a neck injury last week, requested an independent review of those findings, Shero said. Bray administered the shot to Crosby, who said it was a one-time-only treatment.

Bray will oversee Crosby's therapy.

Crosby has not been diagnosed with a second concussion, his team of experts said, and he was playfully dismissive about the potential for him to tell the difference between symptoms from the concussion and neck injury.

"I'm not a doctor," Crosby said, flashing a smile. "I'm not going to sit here and answer. I wouldn't really know what I'm talking about."

Cleary, Crosby was aware of rumblings within the hockey world that he is not happy with the Penguins' medical team, which is headed by Dr. Charles Burke, an orthopedic surgeon, and also includes Michael Collins, a clinical psychologist with extensive neurological training and head of the UPMC clinic.

"Anyone going through this just tries to find something to kind of lean on and make sure that you're given all the information and kind of going from there," Crosby said. "But the more information you can gather, the better. That's what they've encouraged and have been very supportive of that."

Shero defiantly supported his medical staff, which faced scrutiny from outside the organization for a presumed missed diagnosis of the neck injury.

"What was being ruled out was anything more than that," Shero said of a specific soft-tissue diagnosis.

A Canadian radio talk show host, citing unnamed sources, said Saturday that Crosby was diagnosed with fractures of the C1 and C2 vertebrae. The Tribune-Review also reported that the Penguins believed that fracture diagnosis might be confirmed by an independent review of Bray's diagnosis.

As the scene Saturday was unfolding in his native Canada, Crosby watched the NHL All-Star Skills Competition at Lemieux's house in Sewickley.

Crosby said he has not talked about his neurological symptoms often with Lemieux, who during his Hall of Fame career with the Penguins overcame back and hip injuries and Hodgkin's disease.

"I think the biggest thing is he's always just said, 'Whatever you need, we're there for you,' " Crosby said. "They (Lemieux and majority co-owner Ron Burkle, a California-based billionaire) have been encouraging for that.

"(Lemieux) can share his thoughts, but the main thing, like everybody else (with the Penguins), is just support and encouragement to hopefully get some answers and hopefully be back as soon as possible."

Team Crosby

The known members of Sidney Crosby's concussion team:

Person: Practice, Facility

*Dr. Charles Burke: Orthopedic surgeon, UPMC Sports Medicine

Michael Collins: Clinical psychologist, UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Clinic

Dr. Joseph Maroon: Neurosurgeon, UPMC Department of Neurological Surgery

Dr. Joseph Furman: Otoneurologist, UPMC Center for Hearing and Balance

Ted Carrick: Chiropractor, Life University (Georgia)

Alex Guerrero: Physical therapist, Private practice (Utah)

Dr. Robert Bray Spine: surgeon, Disc Sports and Spine Center (California)

Dr. Alexander Vaccaro: Orthopedic surgeon, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital (Philadelphia)

*Penguins team physician can clear players for return-to-play

Sources: Pittsburgh Penguins; Tribune-Review records

Chris Harlan contributed to this story.

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