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December 22, 2004 - Being home for holidays has odd feel

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Being home for holidays has odd feel
By WAYNE FISH
phillyBurbs.com

Keith Primeau will be home for Christmas week, but the Flyers captain has mixed feelings whether that's cause for a song.

Sure, it will be nice spending the holidays with his wife, Lisa, and their four children. Traditionally, the Flyers spend the holiday on a long road trip to the west or south.

This year is obviously the exception. There is no NHL. On Christmas morning, the owner-mandated lockout will reach 100 days, with no end in sight.

No new talks between the NHL and the players' union are scheduled, so this promises to be a somewhat subdued holiday week. It's well accepted that if negotiations aren't revived by early next month, the season is in real jeopardy.

"It's nice to be home for the holidays; it's not something we're used to,'' Primeau said Tuesday. "It's very different than our normal routine. But if we all had our way, we would definitely prefer to be playing.

"We thought we might make some headway a week ago, only to discover that we haven't. We just hope in the new year that both sides can come to the table again and make up the difference.''

Tuesday, Primeau's small workout group, which had been skating twice a week at a rink in Medford, N.J., moved back to the Skate Zone, the Flyers' regular training facility in Voorhees.

The move was necessitated by Zamboni problems at the Medford rink. Returning to the Skate Zone, however, was nothing special, according to Primeau. Because the Flyers' locker rooms are "locked,'' the players are paying $200 an hour for the ice and using the public change rooms, just like everyone else.

Primeau has spoken to teammates who don't make it to Medford or Voorhees to exchange information and get a read on their mood.

"A lot of the skating groups have ceased,'' said Primeau, "or they're skating with little hope. I talked to Simon (Gagne), and there was a lot of discussion about setting up charity games in the new year if the season was washed.

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"I spoke to my brother (Wayne) in San Jose and some guys in Toronto. The frustration has always been there. But I don't think we've given up hope yet. I always thought the first real breaking point would be January. If this breaking point passes without resolution, I'm very fearful as to where the game will go.''

Despite the fact the union made a first move on Dec. 9, Primeau believes it will do so again before an imaginary deadline passes.

"Unfortunately it's getting to the point of who wins, who loses, who's going to take the next step, who's going to blink,'' he said. "But it's really not like that. It's more important that we get negotiating. It's doesn't matter which side initiates it.

"Because the players understand the importance of not losing the entire season, I would be surprised if we didn't come with another proposal again to try to make up some of the difference.''

Primeau's group, which includes Marcus Ragnarsson, along with ex-Flyers Chris Therien, Eric Weinrich and Chris McAllister, plans to continue to skate at the Skate Zone through the holiday.

"It felt good,'' Primeau said of the first time on Skate Zone ice since the lockout began. "It's more our environment. By no means is it a sign that we know anything that anybody else doesn't or that something is about to be resolved.''