Sidney Crosby has experienced a lot since he began playing hockey. But never, he says, anything quite like this.
And it's an opportunity he doesn't intend to squander.
The lockout that has shut down the NHL for more than three months means that hundreds of players, including Crosby, will have a rare opportunity to spend an extended portion of the holiday season with family and friends in areas far removed from where their employer is based.
Generally, only players recovering from a significant injury or illness can count on having more than a couple of days off at this time of year because the league's collective bargaining agreements with the NHL Players' Association have mandated there be no games or practices Dec. 24 or 25.
But with no CBA in effect, and thus no hockey, Crosby is free to head to his offseason home in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, after a player-organized workout at Southpointe this morning.
"I don't even remember [having such a break at this time of year]," he said Tuesday. "Even in minor hockey, we always had a hockey tournament over Christmas, so this is definitely new territory.
"Usually, during the season, we get one or two days, and even that is awesome."
Coincidentally or not, that's the same term teammate Ben Lovejoy used to describe the longest stretch of time off he's had off around Christmas, a six-day break when he was in college.
Crosby said he plans to remain in Nova Scotia for "at least a week," and suggested that his decision about whether to play in Europe this winter could come shortly after that.
"I'll probably just wait and see what's going on [with the lockout]," he said. "We should have a pretty good idea in early January of what's going to happen. Hopefully, it's not a decision I have to make."
Crosby would prefer to be playing in the NHL, to have the league and NHL Players' Association sculpt a CBA that would make it possible for an abbreviated 2012-13 season to begin. He has not identified the country in which he would play if he goes overseas, and there is no rush to make a decision because many European leagues are taking their holiday break. (One exception is Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, which comes out of a 10-day break today.)
Although the Penguins have taken Wednesdays off for most of the lockout, some will report to Southpointe for a final pre-holiday skate with teammates this morning.
Crosby estimated that five or six likely will participate, with local players fleshing out the group so that it can conduct drills and probably some form of scrimmage.
The turnout among Penguins is a precipitous drop from late last week, when 13 skated, but likely will dwarf the turnout Thursday and Friday. At this point, only defensemen Brooks Orpik, Deryk Engelland and Ben Lovejoy are expected at Southpointe. The exodus began at the start of the week, when three Southpointe regulars -- Matt Niskanen, Pascal Dupuis and Joe Vitale --did not show up and continued Tuesday, when goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and winger James Neal were absent.
Whether there will be any workouts next week isn't clear. That might hinge not only on how many players are in the area then, but whether there is ice available during a week when schools are closed and tournaments are popular.
But even if there aren't sessions at Southpointe, most of the Penguins have made plans to get on the ice while they're out of town.
Left winger Matt Cooke, who is returning to his hometown of Belleville, Ontario, suggested that he might skate with members of the local Ontario Hockey League franchise.
Lovejoy, who plans to travel to his wife's hometown of Philadelphia after the workout Friday, said he likely will stay off the ice for three days, but hopes to resume skating Tuesday. He also plans to do it the following day, here or in his native New Hampshire.
Crosby, said he'll make a point of skating, if only because he doesn't believe he has a real choice.
"Being home for that long over the holidays, I might put on a few pounds," he said, failing to suppress a smile. "I'm going to have to make sure I stay in shape."
Of course, plans are subject to change if, unlikely as it seems, there is a breakthrough in the CBA negotiations and preparations for the 2012-13 season get underway.
"Right now, the plan is, hopefully, to be back here for New Year's," Cooke said. "We'll see. There's no definite plan. That's the good thing about being within driving distance."