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With Sid The Kid back tonight, did you ever ref a game that's had this much anticipation (a player's return, etc.)? I'm sure Sid, the Penguins and even the Isles are a bit nervous tonight, but how would you think the officials feel?
The entire hockey world has sat on the sidelines in hopeful anticipation of Sidney Crosby's long awaited return to action. Selfishly, we have held our breath in fear that we might never see this great player perform on NHL ice after suffering the devastation of post-concussion syndrome. Personally, I applaud Sidney and his handlers for delaying any return to action until they were confident that the healing process was complete. Finally, he's back.
The 'breath holding' will continue however every time that Sidney goes into a hard area on the ice or absorbs a body check. Is this young man just one hit away from the end of a glorious career such as Marc Savard and others experienced?
Questions abound as to how his opponents are going to play against him? I don't think there is one player within the game that wants to be known as the guy that ended Sidney Crosby's career. I saw that kind of fear in the eyes of Scott Stevens in Game 7 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Final when he laid out Eric Lindros with a head rattling hit as Eric crossed the blue line with his head down.
Sidney too, will be hit as I don't expect his opponents to take a "softer" approach in the way they play against him - after all, this superstar is a game-breaker that can make people look bad even when they check Sid closely. I anticipate the special attention befitting his superstar status will continue. We can only hope that any form of body contact will be clean and within the rules. More importantly we hope that his body (and brain) will sustain the impact.
You can bet that Sidney Crosby's teammates will be quick to shield their captain and respond to any liberties opponents might consider taking. The referees will also be on high alert and have their radar dialed up whenever No. 87 steps over the boards. The refs will naturally feel some added pressure to make sure nothing is missed.
Kenrick, I think "excitement" is the emotion to best describe what players, officials and fans alike will feel upon Sid The Kid's return tonight as opposed to nervousness. Adrenalin will be flowing through Sidney's veins that will spill over and create positive energy felt by all game participants. There will be a buzz in the Pittsburgh arena tonight that will give new meaning to the CONSOL Energy Center naming rights.
There have been several games over the years that have been much anticipated. I don't believe any have captured the attention of the hockey world such as Sidney Crosby's return tonight. The 'Sidney Watch' has been going on for over 10 months as he struggled with concussion like symptoms. The game will be rewarded with his return tonight.
As I drove with my NHL Old-Timers' Tour colleagues in the van this morning from Medicine Hat to Lethbridge, Alberta for a charity game tonight, I posed your question to them Kenrick. We shared individual stories of games that reminded each of us (to some degree at least) of what will take place tonight in Pittsburgh.
I refereed Eric Lindros' first game in the NHL after a one year delay to the start of his 13 season NHL career after being selected first overall pick by the Quebec Nordiques in the 1991 Draft. The Big 'E' refused to play in the NHL until a trade could be arranged by Quebec. Philadelphia won the Lindros sweepstakes and the hockey world watched with much anticipation as the player tagged The Next One stepped on NHL ice for his first game. My father even flew in from Canada to watch Lindros in this first game.
Even though it was just a pre-season game, the long awaited day had finally arrived. What made the game even more interesting was the fact that the Flyers' opponents in the Spectrum that night were the same Quebec Nordiques that Eric refused to play for.
Theo Fleury felt the emotion that Sidney will experience tonight as he attempted to make a comeback with Calgary Flames in 2009 after a six-year absence from the NHL. His first exhibition game in Calgary is something he remembers to this day.
Always a fan favourite in Calgary this little guy with the gifted scoring touch and hear of a lion received a standing ovation upon his return that night and was cheered each time he touched the puck. Theo would save his best for when it counted the most.
With the score tied in overtime and the Flames on the power play Olli Jokinen appeared to score the game winning goal just as the horn sound and no time left on the clock. The goal didn't count so a shootout would be needed to determine the outcome.
Theo told us, "Their first two guys missed I was second shooter for us. I went in and scored and the place went absolutely nuts. I thought the roof was about to come off the Saddledome. My goal in the shootout won the game for us. My wife told me she saw grown men crying in their seats. When you've played in lots of big games the emotion, the adrenalin takes over. It was like I was skating in slow motion."
We work out our whole life to play every day. When you can't or it's taken from you like Sidney has experienced, it gets very frustrating. Sid was born to do this. I know exactly how he will feel tonight and I believe he will be the best player on the ice."
Theo Fleury, Billy Smith and Jimmy Mann both mentioned Mario Lemieux's comeback game against the Leafs on December 27, 2000 to end his 3 1/2 year retirement along with Wayne Gretzky's first game back in Edmonton following his trade to the Los Angeles Kings as much anticipated returns.
Even though Ron Duguay was still a couple of years away from becoming the New York Rangers' top draft pick (13th overall) in 1977, Ron, as a Rangers television broadcast analyst, still hears about the night that Eddie Giacomin returned to Madison Square Garden for the first time after being claimed off waivers on Oct. 29, 1975 by the Detroit Red Wings.
Ranger fans didn't have to wait long in anticipation of Eddie Giacomin's return to Madison Square Garden ice. Two days later the Red Wings played at MSG and Giacomin made his debut in goal for his new team.
Ron Duguay said that Eddie Giacomin was so beloved by Ranger fans that he received the longest standing ovation ever by the Ranger faithful. They were also so angered by the move that the majority of the fans in attendance at that game were cheering for the visiting Detroit Red Wings.
Duguay went on to say that tears were evident streaming down the cheeks of Eddie Giacomin with the ovation and chants throughout the entire game of, "E-D-D-I-E, E-D-D-I-E!"
In Pittsburgh, around the NHL and throughout the entire hockey community I believe there will be the odd tear of joy shed for Sidney Crosby's return. Not only is Sid, "The Face of The Game," but as Theo stated best, "Sid was born to do this."
Stay safe, my friend.