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Serious questions, concerns raised over news of Sidney Crosby’s neck injury

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OTTAWA -- What is going on with Sidney Crosby?

Did he suffer a broken neck as well as a concussion last January? Should the Pittsburgh Penguins' doctors have caught it? Have things soured between the franchise player and the team?

Will he return this season?

Pat Brisson, Crosby's agent, played it cool Saturday night after the NHL Skills Competition in Ottawa, as reports and speculation swirled around the face of the League -- who skated in Pittsburgh earlier in the day, not with his fellow stars in Ottawa, and has missed all but eight games in the past year.

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Brisson confirmed that Crosby had healed from a neck injury discovered this week by a specialist in Los Angeles. He did not confirm that Crosby had fractured C1 and C2 vertebrae, the bones that connect the skull to the spine. He said third-party doctors would review test results early next week.

Asked if Crosby would play this season, Brisson said: "That's his goal. I mean, his goal is to be safe and sound and be symptom-free and play this year. Of course, that's his goal. But again, it's a little premature to talk about timelines. I have no idea. It's a complicated injury. It's a brain injury. It's a concussion. I wish I knew, but I don't."

Sportsnet's Bob McCown reported Saturday that Crosby was concerned about the treatment he was receiving in Pittsburgh, so he saw a specialist in Utah where an MRI indicated an abnormality with his C1 and C2 vertebrae. CBC's Elliotte Friedman quoted Brisson as saying "the possibility of two fractured vertebrae (C1 and C2) was discovered."

The Penguins released a statement that said Dr. Robert Bray, a neurological spine specialist based in L.A. , diagnosed a "neck injury" as well as a concussion and that the neck injury "is fully healed." The Penguins said Bray's findings will be "evaluated by independent specialists over the next few days."

Brisson told reporters Crosby went to Utah a couple of weeks ago, before visiting doctors in Atlanta and L.A. But Brisson said Bray was the one who found the neck injury, and he found it "based on his experience."

What was Crosby's reaction?

"Sidney's not surprised anymore," Brisson said.

"He's a strong-minded person, and he's gone through a lot. He just rolls his sleeves and he moves forward and tries to do the best he can to fix this problem," he said.

Were there fractures?

"I've heard all kinds of different speculations," Brisson said. "All I can say right now, it's a neck injury, a neck-related injury that we are looking into."

Is Crosby 's neck healed?

"According to Dr. Bray, he's safe and not in danger, so therefore, it's a good sign," Brisson said.

What caused the neck injury?

"I have no idea," Brisson said. "I'm not sure whether it's Jan. 1, Jan. 5 or the Krejci hit. I can't speculate since I'm not an expert in that area."

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Crosby collided with David Steckel, then of the Washington Capitals, during the Winter Classic outdoor game on Jan. 1, 2011. He complained only of a sore neck. He was bumped from behind against the end boards by the Tampa Bay Lightning's Victor Hedman on Jan. 5, 2011. Doctors diagnosed a concussion.

He sat out until Nov. 21, when he made a triumphant two-goal, four-point return against the New York Islanders. But in only his eighth game back, he collided with teammate Chris Kunitz and took an inadvertent elbow to the head from the Boston Bruins' David Krejci. He reported concussion-like symptoms and hasn't played since.

If the neck injury occurred so long ago that it has already healed, shouldn't the Penguins' doctors have caught it earlier?

"It's always easy to go back and point fingers here and there," Brisson said. "But you want your players … When they get hurt, you want the injuries to heal fast and be found fast, to have solutions. It's unfortunate it's been 13 months already. I feel for him."

Is Crosby on the same page with the Penguins? Brisson was diplomatic, referring to his relationships with the team's owners and executives.

"I know the Penguins want to have Sidney healed and healthy more than anything," Brisson said. "I do know Mario [Lemieux] well, David Morehouse, Ron Burkle, Ray Shero. I mean, they have the same goal. They want him healthy as a person first. It's too premature to tell when he's going to be back and all that, so to comment any further …"

Brisson didn't finish the sentence.

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