To the few inside the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa on the morning of April 20, it didn't seem extraordinary when Penguins captain Sidney Crosby stepped onto the ice for a game-day skate.
But Mr. Crosby was about to hit a speed bump in his recovery from a concussion. After that practice, he stopped skating with his teammates.
Friday, two days after the Penguins lost their first-round series to the Tampa Bay Lightning, he divulged that he had had a setback.
"I started to get some symptoms," said the young player considered to be the face of the NHL. "I [had] started to ramp things up a bit as far as working out and skating, and I got a little bit of symptoms. I had to take a step back."
Asked if that meant headaches, Mr. Crosby said, "Yeah, all that stuff that goes along with it."
He has had to cease workouts and plans to stay in Pittsburgh -- rather than go to his offseason home in Nova Scotia -- so he can be closely monitored by concussion specialist Michael Collins of UPMC, but Mr. Crosby is optimistic he will be healthy for the start of the 2011-12 season in October.
"It's been really slow," he said of his recovery, "but I'm not worried about that. I feel like, from where I was a couple months ago, things are a lot better. Just being able to skate was encouraging. Hopefully, the next step doesn't have any hurdles and I'm able to begin getting ready for next season as usual."
Mr. Crosby, 23, looked to be on his way to his second league scoring championship with 66 points in 41 games -- exactly half the season -- but he took hits to the head in successive games, first by Washington's David Steckel during the Jan. 1 outdoor Winter Classic at Heinz Field, then by Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman Jan. 5 at Consol Energy Center.
He was diagnosed with a concussion Jan. 6.
Mr. Crosby's popularity and the interest in his status are such that the NHL this spring revised its protocol for recognizing symptoms and diagnosing concussions.
Mr. Crosby reitereated yesterday that he had only neck pain and no outward concussion symptoms after the hit by Mr. Steckel, but he admitted he might have suffered two separate concussions, four days apart.
"That very easily could be the case, but it wasn't because of lack of care or anyone not being as diligent as possible," Mr. Crosby said. "It was just the way the circumstances were. I don't think anything would have changed the way everyone looked at things."
Penguins general manager Ray Shero said he and the club were "100 percent confident" that Mr. Crosby got the proper care.
He was cleared for light workouts in late January and eventually started skating separately from the team. On March 31, he joined his team for a morning skate at St. Pete Times Forum before a game at Tampa. The next step would have been getting clearance for contact -- to hit other players and absorb hits -- but his symptoms returned before he reached that point.
Mr. Crosby said he had accelerated his skating and workouts to nearly full steam in the hope he might be able to return during the playoffs, but that exertion may have triggered the re-emergence of symptoms.
Still, he is encouraged that he got that far along in his recovery and cites getting back to practice as an instrumental boost.
"For me to be able to skate and be around the guys, that was important for me," he said. "I think that had a lot to do with me being able to recover as fast as possible, too, being around the guys and seeing how well they were playing."
Mr. Crosby promised that when he returns, beyond perhaps a short feeling-out process of the physical aspects of hockey, he will not alter his playing style, which blends skill, skating and tenacity at the highest level.
"I only know one way to play," he said. "I'm not going to change my game or anything like that. I have to play the same way.
"The reason you make sure you're recovered is so you can do that. If not, then you put yourself in a pretty bad situation. I'm going to make sure I do everything I can to get better and play the same way I need to next year."
At some point, he is expected to be allowed to start the process again, beginning with some sort of workouts.
"Hopefully, the next step doesn't have any hurdles and I'm able to begin getting ready for next season as usual," he said.
Mr. Shero plans on having Mr. Crosby in the lineup next season.
"He had made lots of progress, but he wasn't there," Mr. Shero said. "He looked fantastic skating, which was great news. But this is an injury where when you do have something, whether it's fogginess at times or whatever, you have to step back a little bit.
"But the great news is, he's got all kinds of time on his side right now."
For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1721. First Published April 30, 2011 4:00 AM