When Sidney Crosby took to the ice with his Penguins teammates on Thursday for their morning skate, something stood out. His helmet was the same black color as his teammates, meaning he has been cleared for contact. The change in helmet color was sign enough, but then Crosby confirmed it himself after the skate.
"I'm cleared for full contact, he said. "I've been good since around camp. Everything has gone really smooth."
This is a huge step in his recovery and now means we aren't that far from seeing him return to games -- relatively speaking. He has been taking part in team practices wearing a white helmet to signify no contact as he has been on a long road to recovery from a concussion suffered last January.
"When you've waited this long, you want to make sure you do everything right," Crosby said when asked if it is tough being patient. "It's exciting if anything. I don't think it's hard to be patient at this point. I'm getting closer and just want to make sure I respond to everything well here in the next however long it is."
Now, we still likely won't get a timetable for a return to playing. The Penguins will continue to do what they have been, and that's using patience and extreme caution. But I don't think there is any question that being cleared to hit and be hit was the biggest hurdle for him to clear physically.
"I thinks it's up to how I respond to getting hit, so I guess it's up to me," Crosby said. "We'll just have to see at that point.
"Its a big step but we'll see how things go. I've got to get hit in practice. Today wasn't hitting so it didn't feel any different. I've got to get hit here at some point during practice, but we're playing so much it's hard to get hit right now."
So who will be the first one to actually hit him? Your guess is as good as mine. I can't imagine any player will want to hit the star for fear of setting him back again. But coach Dan Bylsma thinks it won't be long before Crosby makes somebody want to hit him.
"Sid's the type of player that he instigates contact," Bylsma said. "He'll do something that will warrant that from a player. He'll go out and do something. ... I think every training camp when Sid's been healthy he's always ended up in some kind of jostling where the ire's gotten up on both guys and that'll happen again because of the way Sidney competes."
While his teammates have done their best to protect their captain during practice, Crosby has admitted to some jostling at times with no recurrence of the symptoms that have sidelined him since taking head shots in consecutive games in early January.
Bylsma says he may try to find some extra practice time for Crosby to help get him acclimated but added Crosby's participation in nearly every drill during training camp means Crosby might not have that much further to go.
"He's been with the line, he's been in drills, he's covered some drills that have contacted," Bylsma said. "He was wearing a different color helmet but he's been in those situations."
Sorry Jeremy Roenick, but expect to hear a lot more about Crosby after this development.
The Associated Press contributed to this report