PITTSBURGH – This was what the thousands of fans who showed up for the opening day of Pittsburgh Penguins training camp wanted to see: Sidney Crosby at full speed for the first time in eight months.
Crosby pushed himself harder, longer and at a faster pace throughout a nearly 70-minute practice Saturday than he has at any time during his concussion-caused layoff. Afterward, he said he felt fine and plans to test himself similarly throughout camp, unless there are unexpected setbacks.
The practice session began with him receiving a loud and lengthy standing ovation from fans who waited three hours for him to take the ice with the third and final practice group of the day at Consol Energy Center.
Selanne's career comes full circle
John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist Teemu Selanne is back in Anaheim for another season, one that will begin where his career started -- Helsinki. READ MORE ›
"I was really happy to be back out there," Crosby said. "Obviously it was fun to go out there and work hard. It's never fun when you're tired, but at the same time, you miss that and the fatigue and having to battle through that."
Crosby rewarded the fans with his accustomed full-tilt skating – they haven't seen that since he last played on Jan. 5 – and by visibly driving himself to see exactly where he is in his recovery. Afterward, he said there were no headaches or any other of the concussion-related symptoms that have slowed his recovery at times.
The only sign that this wasn't business as usual was the white helmet that he wore, signifying he couldn't be targeted for contact. The other skaters wore black helmets.
A great start, and now Crosby wants more days exactly like this. If they occur, Crosby knows he will be that much closer to being cleared for contact – a necessary step before team doctors allow him to play in games.
"That was a really good pace -- it was tough but fun to feel it again," Crosby said. "I worked as hard as I possibly could out there. For that period of time, that's the longest I've went at that pace. It felt good."
It looked good, too, and it was evident the fans were intently watching Crosby's every burst of speed, every shot, every moment he accelerated at a near game-like pace. Even minor accomplishments like completing a no-look pass from the corner elicited cheers from a crowd in which it seemed every other fan was wearing a No. 87 jersey.
Crosby couldn't help but notice all the attention he was receiving.
"It says a lot about our fans and I appreciate that," Crosby said. "I miss being out there. I'm as eager as they are to be out there. I want to get back, and I'm doing everything I can in my power to make sure that is as soon as possible. That being said, there are necessary steps to take and I'm going to make sure I do that."
Crosby also made clear who will decide when those steps are complete.
Ted Carrick, a chiropractic neurologist who has been working with Crosby, told a Pittsburgh radio station Friday that Crosby is as ready for contact as any other NHL player who reported to camp this weekend.
That's clearly not the more cautious, we're-not-going-to-rush-him stance that is being taken by Michael "Micky" Collins, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center-based concussion specialist who has been overseeing Crosby's care, the team or team physician Charles "Chip" Burke.
Crosby said there is no division on his medical team.
"Before contact, I have to talk to the doctors," Crosby said. "As far as the final say, that will be our team doctor (Burke). At the end of the day, he's got to be the one who clears me to play. It will be up to him. There is constant communication. Everyone will be well aware of everything before each step is made."
For Crosby, the next step is to practice again Sunday, and every day the Penguins hit the ice thereafter. He plans to keep working at the same level of exertion that he would at any other training camp.
Last month, Crosby was exerting himself at about a 90 percent pace when the headaches and other side effects forced him to adjust his regimen.
Encouraged by how he has felt the last few weeks, Crosby isn't counting on any such step this time, unless his body tells him otherwise
So, full speed ahead?
"Yeah, that's pretty much the plan," Crosby said. "It's a day-to-day thing, talk to coach (Dan Bylsma) and see what he thinks. This is camp and guys need to work on being physical, so it doesn't make sense for me to be in certain drills, but we'll communicate through that process. … It's one day, and I'm glad I felt good."