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November 6, 2005 - Primeau faces concussion questions

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Primeau faces concussion questions

Sunday, November 6, 2005

The decision facing Flyers captain Keith Primeau as he recovers from his umpteenth concussion really does not involve playing hockey again.

It involves his ability to teach his kids how to drive a car, to remember what he read in the morning newspaper, to recollect the PIN number for the debit card in his wallet.

Primeau, who will turn 34 on Thanksgiving, already has proven he can play hockey with a concussion. He did it so well two springs ago that he led the Flyers in playoff scoring and darn near won them a Stanley Cup.

Primeau is the first to admit he came back too soon from the concussion he sustained against the New York Rangers on Feb. 12, 2004. But he plowed through those bouts with headaches and fatigue, taking just as many hits as he dished out while playing perhaps the best hockey of his career.

Primeau was rewarded handsomely for his gutsy performance with a three-year, $13.5 million contract. But he paid a sobering price, enduring concussion symptoms for the next 12 months.

Adam Deadmarsh knows the feeling.

On Sept. 22, after nearly three years of battling concussion symptoms, Deadmarsh officially retired from the NHL at the age of 30.

"I've kind of been holding on and hoping and praying that I'd recover from this concussion issue and I haven't been able to do that," Deadmarsh told The Canadian Press at the time of his retirement.

"I think it's time that I kind of moved on and made a decision and faced the fact that my brain doesn't want to play hockey anymore."

Flyers center Peter Forsberg played seven seasons with Deadmarsh when both played for the Colorado Avalanche. They roomed together on the road and won a Stanley Cup together in 1996.

Forsberg knows first-hand the difficulties Deadmarsh faced.

"You see up close what could happen if you don't take care of yourself if you get hit hard a couple times," Forsberg said. "His was a special case because he got hit hard a couple times in a row. Some guys are more susceptible."

Pat LaFontaine, Jeff Beukeboom, Nick Kypreos, Brett Lindros, Geoff Courtnall. They all were more susceptible to concussions and they all retired from hockey before they were ready. All of them will tell you today they had far more undocumented concussions than ones documented.

Forsberg said he was once knocked out in a game with the Avalanche and is not really sure how many concussions he's had.

"Maybe five? You start writing them off after two or three," he said with a nervous laugh. "I don't think it's a matter of what you can tolerate; I think everybody can play through it. But you're just going to hurt yourself going out there and playing. It's just stupid to go out there and play. You put yourself at risk.

"You have to make sure you're OK to come back. It's a worst-case scenario if you get hit again after you come back."

Dr. Mark Lovell, a world-renowned neuropsychologist who directs concussion testing for the NHL and NFL, said any athlete who has sustained multiple concussions runs the risk of short-term memory loss long after they retire.

"If you look at large groups of athletes, certainly as the number of concussions increases the more severe the consequences," Lovell said. "What is difficult to know is exactly what each individual's concussion tolerance is."

It is equally difficult, Lovell said, to determine the long-term effects multiple concussions will have on individual players once they retire.

"It varies with any given individual," he said, "but the types of things people report are not feeling as mentally sharp as they once did; and they may have short-term memory problems."

These are the issues Primeau must confront before lacing up a pair of skates again with the Flyers. They are the same issues Eric Lindros faces every time he steps on the ice for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Both players' bravery is beyond reproach. Each could walk away from the game today and their courage would not be questioned. They won't, of course, because they both believe they can dodge the inevitable.