While the Bruins and Habs have a pretty big game of their own Monday night in Montreal, not even an Original Six showdown between two ancient and bitter rivals could overshadow the biggest story in the sport. And Bruins and Canadiens alike were happy to hear that one of the game’s true marquee stars was ready to return after being sidelined since suffering a concussion in January when Pittsburgh hosts the New York Islanders on Monday.
“It’s great to see Sidney making a return,” Bruins coach Claude Julien told reporters after his club’s morning skate on Monday. “He’s a great ambassador for the game at a young age. Whether it’s through him speaking or through him playing, I think he’s been great that way. And to lose him for almost a whole year it hasn’t been good for the league or anything else.”
Montreal counterpart Jacques Martin agreed, as Crosby’s return was also a subject of questions from reporters after Montreal’s skate.
“I think for the fans that’s great news,” Martin said. “[He’s] one of the best players in the game and I think he brings a lot to our sport. He’s a tremendous individual committed to the game and committed to getting better. It’s nice to see him back playing.”
Both teams have personal connections to Crosby, with Montreal defenseman Hal Gill winning a Cup with him in Pittsburgh in 2009 and Boston center Patrice Bergeron winning gold alongside Crosby on Team Canada at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
“It’s nice to see anyone that’s been out as long as he has come back and be healthy and get to play,” said Bolton, Mass., native and former Bruin Gill, who is currently sidelined himself with an infection. “I know it’s huge for the league, but I know he’s a guy that’s champing at the bit to play hockey again.”
Bergeron has an even more unique bond with Crosby, having suffered through his own long and agonizing comeback from a severe concussion suffered in 2007. Bergeron has kept in touch with Crosby during his recovery and was glad to see the long road back was finally nearing its end.
“First of all, I’m happy to hear that, not just for him as a hockey player but for him as a person,” Bergeron said. “I think his health is the most important thing and I’m really happy to hear that. It’s obviously good for the league and good for him.”
Bergeron knows firsthand how difficult it is to be forced out of the game you love by injury.
“It’s obviously not easy as an athlete,” Bergeron said. “You want to come back as fast as you can and help your team. It’s hard to have to be patient and not be able to contribute on the ice. It’s not easy, but he’s done the right thing.”
Bergeron also knows what Crosby will be going through Monday night, when the flood of emotions hit him as he steps on the ice for the first time this season.
“Obviously, the nervousness is there,” Bergeron said. “You’re anxious and excited. You just want to get that first one out of the way and have it behind you and look forward. I’m sure he’s going to feel the same way, but I can’t really speak for him. I’ve been through it, but everyone’s different.”
Monday’s return isn’t the end of this story. It took Bergeron almost an entire season to get back to where he had been before his injury, and Crosby could face a similar uphill struggle in regaining his all-world form.
“It took me a while,” Bergeron said. “That year I came back it took me, I don’t know exactly how long, but it took me a long time. Everyone’s different. In my case I felt fine on the ice. I felt 100 percent, but I didn’t feel like myself. It was more a matter of timing and rhythm and finding your game. I was doing some good things on the ice, but I knew I wasn’t myself.”
Having seen the long struggle Bergeron had to overcome and the ongoing issues that Marc Savard continues to deal with, Julien preached patience for fans expecting to see Crosby instantly back at the top of his game.
“When you look at what we’ve been through with Patrice and what it did to him, to our team and everything else, we understand where they’re coming from,” Julien said. “I think people have to be careful about expectations after he’s been out for a year. If he does great off that bat, good for him. It will show how good a player he is. But I think if things don’t go as smoothly, people have to understand what he’s been through and give him that opportunity. But personally, and honestly, I’m really happy to see him back.”
Players from around the league, even on both sides of the game’s oldest rivalry, certainly agree with that final sentiment.
“It’s tremendously important,” Montreal forward Michael Cammalleri said of having Crosby back. “He’s proven to be the best player in the game for the last few years here for sure and I think it’s really important that we have him back.”
Bruins captain Zdeno Chara concurred.
“It’s nice to see him back,” Chara said. “You don’t want to see one of your star players and probably one of the best players in the world be sidelined and be hurt, so it’s nice to see him back and I’m sure he’s going to play well.”
Crosby has already gotten the hardest part out of the way. He’s gotten the Bruins and Canadiens to find common ground on the subject of his return. Getting back to piling up points should be a breeze compared to that.