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February 11, 2001 - Primeau settles comfortably into role as a Flyers leader

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Primeau settles comfortably into role as a Flyers leader
 
There was a time when you could saunter over to Keith Primeau and chat about his play and he would shy away from saying anything that suggested he might someday be "The Man."

That's because the guy sitting across the room from his locker stall wore No. 88 and was the leader of the team.

Once the ice chips settled in the off-season and Eric Lindros decided to sit out the year if need be, Primeau became that leader, like it or not.

A funny thing happened along the way. The Flyers' 6-foot-5, 220-pound center has begun to enjoy his new status, and has accepted his role as a team leader, in the dressing room and on the ice, from his first shift in the preseason to his most recent one Friday night in Long Island.

"He's been a warrior for us," Flyers coach Bill Barber said. "He really has. I admire his play. He's worked hard. He does the extra things to excel. Just because he does not wear a letter doesn't mean he is not one of my go-to guys. He is."

Primeau has grown up this season, undoubtedly helped by the fact that Lindros is not here. He might never become a No. 1 center in the Lindros mold, but he certainly fulfills that top role here and has been the most consistent forward on the ice every night in the absence of Lindros and John LeClair.

And that is something Flyers management was hoping would happen this season.

"The time I was here playing with Eric, we didn't play very many games together," Primeau said. "We weren't in the lineup very much [because of injuries]. It would be a very different situation and locker room if Eric were here.

"I continue to say that I have not stressed that I had to do more just because he is not here. I just go out and try to do my job. Compete hard, play hard, and hope good things happen. Some nights, they don't."

Along the way, Primeau has become a team captain without ever wearing the "C." (Eric Dejardins does.) In fact, he doesn't even wear the "A" as an alternate. (Mark Recchi does.)

Primeau remains one of the few players Barber can point to on any given night and say to himself, I know what I'm going to get from this guy. His game has improved that much from last year.

Primeau is tied for the club lead in goals (23) with Simon Gagne. He and Gagne are also tied for the lead in power-play points (16), and his 47 points are one fewer than Gagne, who is the team's overall leader. Primeau's face-off winning percentage is 54.75, second best on the club, but remember, he takes all of the important offensive draws in the game, much as Lindros did. He has 12 goals and 24 points in his last 16 games and has missed just five games all season - two with a mild concussion, three with a sprained right shoulder. Primeau is also the most visible of the Flyers after games. He is always at the forefront for post-game requests. Because he has played such a prominent role in the Flyers' success this season, he is also the most often quoted. That was far from the case last year and never the case in Detroit, although it was for a while in Carolina. Barber says Primeau is comfortable with himself and his status on this club even if he doesn't have a letter attached to his sweater. "Yeah, I do feel comfortable here," Primeau said. "I learned a long time ago and learned from my mistakes that my job is not just to perform on the ice. So much more goes into your professional being as a hockey player. Media relations, public relations. I accept that. And if I can deflect some of the attention away from the younger guys and allow them to play, I will do that, too." Primeau was reluctant a year ago to publicly discuss offensive target numbers. Now that he is close to scoring 30 goals, he has begun to reconsider that. "You go into a season and it becomes more team-oriented," he said. "You have to have some personal goals. There has to be some sort of a challenge. The way I started [with a concussion], I would never have gotten to 30 goals. I would say now that 30 is not satisfactory. But I think 30 is a marker, and we'll judge things from there." Carnival time. Today is the Flyers Wives' Fight for Lives Carnival at the First Union Center. Holders of early-admission tickets are invited to come at 2:30 p.m. Those tickets are sold out. The portion of the event for the general public runs from 4 to 7 p.m., and tickets remain available.