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Penguins star Crosby dealing with neck injury, not just concussion

Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby skates during practice in Sunrise, Fla., Friday, Jan. 13, 2012. Crosby's health issues may not be limited to his head. Media reports say that an MRI performed on Crosby by a specialist in Utah shows an abnormality with his C1 and C2 vertebrae. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Alan Diaz

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Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby skates during practice in Sunrise, Fla., Friday, Jan. 13, 2012. Crosby's health issues may not be limited to his head. Media reports say that an MRI performed on Crosby by a specialist in Utah shows an abnormality with his C1 and C2 vertebrae. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Alan Diaz

OTTAWA - Sidney Crosby has been dealing with much more than a concussion.

The Pittsburgh Penguins confirmed Saturday that their franchise player was diagnosed with a neck injury more than a year after his career was derailed by a hit in the 2011 Winter Classic.

The latest twist in a frustrating recovery for the NHL's marquee player came after he visited neurological spine specialist Dr. Robert S. Bray in Los Angeles earlier this week. That's where the neck problem was discovered—a development that raised more questions than it answered about Crosby.

Chief among them is whether the Penguins star is satisfied with the medical care he's received from the NHL team. The player's agent, Pat Brisson, refused to shed any light on that issue while speaking with reporters following Saturday's skills challenge.

"I can't really comment on that," said Brisson.

In a statement, the Penguins said Crosby would "be evaluated by independent specialists over the next few days" to confirm Bray's findings.

While some reports suggested Crosby suffered a fracture to his C1 and C2 vertebrae, Brisson indicated that it was too soon to draw that conclusion.

"I guess once the results will come early next week, they'll be able to release a much better diagnosis (that's) more precise," said Brisson. "I only go based on the information that we are getting and are going to be getting."

News of the neck injury hit like a bombshell just hours before the skills challenge at Scotiabank Place. It originated in a sourced report from Bob McCown of Rogers Sportsnet before later being confirmed by the Penguins and Brisson.

With the league's best players gathered in Ottawa—save for Crosby—it also provided another reminder of the pall his absence has cast over the sport.

Crosby's injury problems date back to a hit from David Steckel, formerly of the Washington Capitals, in the Winter Classic game on Jan. 1, 2011. He took a subsequent hit from Tampa's Victor Hedman four days later and has only played eight games in the 12 months since.

Brisson said it was impossible to tell the exact source of the neck injury.

"I honestly don't know," he said. "I have no idea."

All of Crosby's injury problems had previously been attributed to a concussion—although his current absence hinted at other troubles. Crosby passed an ImPACT test after last playing on Dec. 5 but still hasn't felt well enough to practice with the team.

The 24-year-old has resumed skating on his own recently, including sessions in Atlanta while seeing chiropractor Ted Carrick last week and in Los Angeles during his visit with Bray.

Penguins general manager Ray Shero spoke with reporters after the NHL's board of governors meeting on Saturday morning and sounded optimistic about Crosby's recovery.

"Hopefully we'll see next week as to where he is and we'll get the reports from California and compare notes to what's been done so far," said Shero. "We want to continue to look to see how we can get this under control and manageable so he can return to play."

Crosby made a stunning return to Pittsburgh's lineup in November, scoring two goals and adding two assists against the New York Islanders in his first competitive game in more than 11 months. In eight games this season, he had two goals, 10 assists and a plus-7 rating.

The native of Cole Harbour, N.S., is the hockey's most recognizable player. He scored the golden goal for Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, captured the Hart Trophy in 2007 and became the youngest player to captain his team to a Stanley Cup in 2009.

Pittsburgh entered the all-star break sitting fifth in the Eastern Conference and the team is still hoping to welcome him back to the lineup this season.

"Let's just see what happens this week once we get some more information from his trip to California," Shero said. "I'm optimistic he's going to play."

Brisson also sounded a note of optimism.

"He's safe," said Brisson. "He's safe and that's great news."

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