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November 1, 2005 - Concussion clouds Primeau's future

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Concussion clouds Primeau's future
Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Courier-Post Staff

Keith Primeau was supposed to appear at Signal Hill Elementary School Monday dressed in a Chewbacca costume. Instead, the Flyers' captain underwent cognitive tests at Jefferson University Hospital, where it was determined he has suffered another concussion and is experiencing whiplash symptoms.

According to Primeau, this is the fifth documented concussion of his 15-year NHL career. But as recently as two weeks ago, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound center told the Courier-Post he might have sustained 100 concussions since the time he began playing as a 5-year-old.

The question of how many concussions Primeau can sustain before suffering long-term brain damage is something the Flyers are examining carefully.

Flyers head trainer Jim McCrossin said that if Primeau sustains a sixth documented concussion, he and the Flyers would have to seriously consider his future.

"That is why we are monitoring his symptoms daily," McCrossin said. "I wish I could answer that. That at six (concussions) we're gonna call it quits, and Keith, you have to call it quits. That is where (Dr. Gary) Dorshimer and Dr. (Gerri) McGinnis and all the doctors who evaluate Keith have to come up with a decision. Keith's health is our first priority. There is life after hockey."

Primeau, who will turn 34 later this month, has a wife and four children. He said his last documented concussion, which occurred on Feb. 12, 2004, in a collision with former Rangers center Bobby Holik, resulted in post-concussion symptoms that lasted for 16 months.

He said those prolonged symptoms made him second-guess his decision to return for the 2004 playoffs, when he led the Flyers in scoring with nine goals and 16 points in 18 playoff games.

"I wonder now how smart that was because the last one (in 2004) felt cumulative," Primeau said. "It felt like all the times I've been bumped since I was a kid. That's not a good feeling."

Primeau's latest troubles began one week ago when he was elbowed in the head by Montreal Canadiens rookie Alexander Perezhogin.

"It was a whiplash situation because he hit his head on the ice really hard," Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I don't care if you've never had a concussion before. That's an awful blow to the head to take."

Primeau played two more games after the hit, but when he complained of headaches and neck tension before the Flyers' game against the Ottawa Senators Sunday night, the Flyers kept him out of the lineup.

On Monday, Primeau was examined by Dorshimer and McGinnis, the team's neurologist. According to NHL Players' Association guidelines, Primeau must now wait a minimum of seven days before undergoing further neuro-psychological testing.

McCrossin said Dorshimer and McGinnis did not put a grade on Primeau's latest concussion but are treating it as cumulative head trauma. He said the club is also working to relieve tension in Primeau's upper cervical area with massage therapy.

"It's causing an irritation and can slow down your circulation," McCrossin said. "Second, the muscles in the neck go up into the head. If they are tight, they are pulling down on the head and causing a headache."

In addition to headaches and neck tension, Primeau also experiences a "spinning" sensation when he lies down and said his eyes feel "busy" and "fatigued," McCrossin said.

McCrossin, who said he's had more conversations with Primeau than the Flyers' captain has had with his wife, said Primeau will be restricted to taking walks for at least two days and there is no date for when he can resume physical exercise.

The Flyers must report Primeau's information to the NHL, which is collecting data on every player who suffers a concussion. Former Flyers center Eric Lindros, who sat out the 2000-01 season with concussion symptoms, has been instrumental in the study.

"I never understood what Eric was going through, but now I do," Primeau said.