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Gorman: Handling concussions with Kid gloves

| Friday, Feb. 25, 2011

Ray Shero recalls a game from his days at St. Lawrence University when he caught an elbow from Providence's Peter Taglianetti while crossing the blue line, then skated back to the bench.

While trying to clear the cobwebs, Shero felt a nudge in his side and heard someone call his name, telling him to get up.

"I was on the Providence bench," Shero said Thursday while watching Penguins practice at Consol Energy Center. "I didn't miss a shift and played the next night at Brown, but I had a massive headache."

Shero still can smile about it, but the Penguins' general manager knows concussions are no laughing matter. Not when Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby has been out with concussion symptoms since Jan. 5 after absorbing blindside hits from Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman and Washington's David Steckel in a five-day span.

Crosby isn't just the Penguins' captain but also the block upon which Consol Energy Center was built. He's the future of the franchise, not to mention the face of the hockey. It's time to stop thinking of him as an asset but rather as a 23-year-old whose life is out of sorts because of brain trauma.

The Penguins should tell Crosby his season is officially over, regardless of whether they make a Stanley Cup playoff run.

The decision shouldn't be left to Crosby.

Shero brings a unique parental perspective to the matter, considering he's dealing with people with concussion symptoms at work and home. Not only is Crosby sidelined indefinitely, but so is Shero's 15-year-old son. Chris Shero has missed the past three weeks of school after suffering a concussion that went undetected for two weeks as he continued playing junior hockey.

Crosby's status isn't just a hockey issue but also a health issue that is taken personally in an organization in which majority co-owner Mario Lemieux, CEO/president David Morehouse, Shero and coach Dan Bylsma have children who play the sport competitively and consider Crosby one of their own.

"Probably the best way I can put is, it's a helpless feeling with concussions," Shero said. "If we know Sid has a high-ankle sprain, we know it's going to be six to eight weeks or eight to 10 weeks. We have a timeframe. ... With a concussion, you're not exactly sure. You're a bit helpless because it's your kid."

It wasn't until Chris Shero, a freshman at Upper St. Clair, couldn't concentrate long enough to complete a test and his grade dropped from an A to a D in one of his better subjects that his parents had him tested. Now, Chris has to watch as his Pittsburgh Hornets Under-16 team has a chance to qualify for nationals without him.

"But that's not important," Ray Shero said. "I'll make the same analogy with my son to Sidney Crosby or Eric Tangradi or Nick Johnson or Arron Asham or whoever: Hockey is not important. Let's be honest here. This is their health and, in my kid's case, schooling. You don't want them to return to play before the doctors deem them ready to be cleared to play."

It makes you wonder whether Shero's recent acquisitions of wingers James Neal and Alex Kovalev were made to complement Crosby in an eventual return this spring or replace his scoring if he's shut down for the remainder of the season.

Shero has no idea whether Crosby can, let alone should, come back this season.

The Penguins need to put Crosby's long-term health ahead of their short-term future. If nothing else, it would provide relief for Crosby's parents. They are dealing with concussions to both Sid and their daughter, Taylor, a freshman goaltender at Shattuck-St. Mary's prep in Faribault, Minn., where she is a teammate of Lemieux's daughter Stephanie.

"Whether it's Sidney Crosby or your own son, whatever the process is going to be, it's going to be," Shero said. "The problem with concussions is that we really don't know. It's the unknown. ... I don't know if it scares you. You're just cautious with how you treat your son, your players. ... They all have parents. They're kids, you know. They've got their life ahead of them."

When it comes to concussions, the only thing known for sure is this: Hockey is not important.

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