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January 16, 2006 - Concussion symptoms still bothering Primeau

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Concussion symptoms still bothering Primeau

Monday, January 16, 2006

By CHUCK GORMLEY
Courier-Post Staff

VOORHEES

Every morning since Christmas Day, Keith Primeau has pulled himself out of bed, driven a few miles to the Skate Zone and skated by himself for 45 minutes.

After working up a good sweat, he's climbed onto a stationary bike and for another half hour has pedaled his way to nowhere. After that, he's tried walking down a hallway and flipping a ball in the air, only to find that when he catches it, his head spins.

"I can do every task they give me," Primeau said Friday. "But I have symptoms after each task. My head spins."

All of which has led the Flyers' 34-year-old captain to wonder to himself again and again: Will I ever play hockey again?

"I still want to," Primeau said after yet another day in his battle against concussion symptoms. "Sometimes I feel like we're running out of time. And sometimes I feel like we're not running out of time.

"If I choose to take that position (of not coming back) then I'm starting to wallow in self pity. I can't allow myself to enter into that. Some days I say, "Yes, there's a light at the end of the tunnel,' and some days I say, "No.' "

Primeau has not played a game for the Flyers since Oct. 28 in Carolina, three days after being shouldered to the ice by Montreal Canadiens rookie Alexander Perezhogin.

Since then he has visited with several concussion experts and has learned that this concussion is completely different from the concussion he played through during the 2004 playoffs, when he was practically unstoppable with 16 points in 18 games.

Primeau said the concussion he suffered two years ago in a game against the New York Rangers caused cognitive trauma with typical concussion symptoms, like fatigue and slurred speech. He said that while his symptoms were difficult to deal with off the ice, he was still able to perform at a high level on the ice.

According to Primeau, this concussion has caused vestibular trauma, which has resulted in symptoms that mimic vertigo: a spinning, dizzy sensation that makes it difficult for his eyes to focus on moving objects.

"Any time I make quick head movements (the spinning) comes on again," he said.

Primeau began taking medication for the symptoms three weeks ago and said it's helped him gain better focus. He's also begun skating with a tinted eye shield because bright lights stimulate more symptoms.

"Dimming the light seems to be helping," he said. "I'm not sure I'll use it if I get back. (The shield) is becoming less and less of a hindrance."

Primeau said he's also been fitted with a new mouth guard that is thicker in the area of his molars for better shock absorption. He said he did not wear a mouth guard until after the concussion he suffered two years ago.

Primeau now admits it was a mistake for him to play after that concussion. His symptoms persisted throughout much of the lockout last year and although this latest concussion was clearly a new one, there is evidence that suggests concussions may have cumulative effects on the brain.

Primeau said his sole focus right now is returning to the Flyers this season. He believes he is making daily progress, but when asked to give a loose time frame for a possible return, he refuses. Clearly, the earliest he will return to the lineup is after the Olympic break in late February.

The looming deadline facing both Primeau and Flyers general manager Bob Clarke is the March 9 trade deadline. Although Clarke said he will not place any pressure on Primeau to return, he will need to address the need for depth at the forward position if Primeau cannot return.

There has been talk the Flyers might have interest in Penguins forward Mark Recchi or Blues forward Doug Weight, but are reluctant to pull the trigger.

"(Clarke) hasn't put pressure on me yet," Primeau said. "He's been very patient. He continues to ask me how I'm doing. I definitely don't want to interfere with him doing what he needs to do. But I want to be the guy who fills my slot, not somebody else.

"I understand the position the team is in, but right now, my health is of greater concern. I still want to be the one who comes back. I want to be the one who replaces me."

Niittymaki in: Flyers goalie Antero Niittymaki said he was satisfied to learn he's been added to the Finnish Olympic team, bringing the Flyers' number of players going to Turin, Italy to 10.

"I think I played well enough to deserve to be on the team," he said. "I've never played in a World Championships or Olympics so it will be fun to see what it's like."