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‘Sid the Kid’ gets ready to be the man at Sochi Games

Reuters, TORONTO

Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby smiles during NHL hockey practice in Montreal, Canada, on Feb. 7, 2012.

Photo: Reuters

For Canadians, Sidney Crosby is an ice-hockey god.

A superhero with a hockey stick wearing the Maple Leaf on his chest, who came to the hockey-mad country’s rescue four years ago at the Vancouver Winter Games by scoring the golden goal against the US that crowned Canada Olympic champions.

“Sid the Kid,” the all-Canadian boy from tiny Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, with impeccable politeness and magical talent, was the toast of the Great White North.

A once-in-a-generation player who would carry the Canadian flag and hockey hopes of his country for years to come, Crosby’s future seemed as bright as the shiny gold medal that hung around his neck.

However, the architect of one of the greatest moments in Canadian sporting history would spend a good portion of the next two years not in the spotlight, but sitting in the dark, his brilliance dimmed by sport’s latest scourge — concussions.

Just 23 years old when he was flattened by a David Steckel shoulder on Jan. 1, 2011, there were concerns Crosby might never again grace National Hockey League (NHL) arenas. If he did return, concussion experts warned the Pittsburgh Penguins captain may never be the same dynamic force he was.

However, after a long, tedious recovery Crosby heads to Russia, once again at the peak of his powers.

When Canada announced their Olympic lineup to the usual scrutiny and fanfare on Jan. 7, Crosby’s name was back at the top of the NHL scoring table, with 65 points on 24 goals and 41 assists.

As the NHL season moved past the midway mark Pittsburgh was leading the Eastern conference standings and Crosby was on pace for his first 100-point campaign since 2009-2010 and a contender for league most valuable player (MVP) honors.

“It’s a proud moment when you’re named to Team Canada, no matter whether it is the Olympics or world juniors,” Crosby said. “Everyone expects to win gold and that has always been the expectation, and I don’t think that is going to change.”

“That doesn’t mean it’s any easier,” he added.

The youngest NHL captain to hoist a Stanley Cup, a bulging trophy case that includes a Hart trophy (NHL MVP), an Art Ross trophy (NHL scoring champion) and Rocket Richard trophy (goal-scoring leader), Crosby has already assembled a Hall of Fame-worthy resume.

However, for all his honors and achievements, including two Lou Marsh awards as Canada’s athlete of the year, Crosby may well one day be best remembered for his remarkable resilience and saintly patience.

For more than two seasons Crosby wrestled with concussion-like symptoms and the frustration of aborted and failed comebacks.

His indestructible aura shattered, Crosby slipped into seclusion plagued by headaches and dizziness, unable to read or watch television due to a debilitating sensitivity to bright lights and loud noises.

He would spend months consulting with concussion specialists seeking out cutting edge therapy, including treatments in a gyroscope chair not unlike those used by astronauts preparing for space travel.

By the time he was finally ready to play, the NHL was in lockdown mode. Owners locked out players in a bitter labor dispute that chopped last season’s schedule to 48 games.

Until the current campaign, Crosby had appeared in fewer than 100 games over the three seasons since his initial injury.

In a country where hockey borders on religion, Crosby is the pope.

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