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April 1, 2006 - Primeau doing what he can for Johnsson

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Primeau doing what he can for Johnsson


VOORHEES — On a 75-degree March afternoon with most of the Flyers headed out the door from a morning practice to cars that will take them home to lunch with the family, two figures in black continue to circle the ice at the Skate Zone.

One knows he will not play hockey again this season. The other is rapidly approaching the point when he could be in the same position.

They skate, they do noncontact drills and they constantly self-monitor the sensations in their bodies for signs of progress.

Captain Keith Primeau looks over at Kim Johnsson. Both men are suffering from post-concussion symptoms. Primeau, who's declared himself out for the 2005-06 season, knows exactly the frustration his teammate is experiencing.

He understands why Johnsson has chosen to stop talking publicly about his situation. The two months he's been out must feel like two years for Johnsson because Primeau's been out for five months and it feels like a lifetime.

“One day it feels good,” Primeau said, “it feels functional, everyone is asking him and you say "I feel good.' Everyone goes away thinking you feel a lot better. Only to come in the next day and something has set you off.

“You don't feel half as good as you did the day before. Only to answer the same questions from the same people again. Saying I don't feel good again.

“It becomes an emotional rollercoaster, one that's really difficult. As he's stated, and I follow his sentiment, this is something we've done every day since we were five years old. To not be able to do it, to not be able to do it with the same kind of energy or enthusiasm is demoralizing. I know exactly how he feels because I can see it on his face.”

With only three weeks until the start of the playoffs, it's unrealistic to think Johnsson can be ready to make a complete comeback and a significant contribution.

Ask Johnsson to discuss the possibility and all he will say is, “There's nothing to talk about.”

Maybe so, but this much has been documented: When the 2004 Eastern Conference finals ended, Kim Johnsson was arguably the best defenseman on the Flyers, with a very bright future.

Then came the lockout, a new set of rules and struggles for Johnsson at the start of the current season before he suffered a cataclysmic hit in Detroit on Jan. 13. Although he played some games after that, he was never the same.

“Year to year it's not just a transition, an evolution of your game,” Primeau said. “It's an evolution of your status, your role within a team. Earlier in his stay here, he was just asked to do the right things.

“Then all of a sudden you have an influx of new players and you lose a lot of veteran leadership. He's asked to be a guy (a leader) and it took him some time to adjust to his role.

“Once he started to figure it out, he played the way he knows how. He started to remove those pressures, just play his game and then unfortunately this happened.”

Primeau sees strength in numbers as the players work together.

“It's an emotional boost for me to have someone to work with,” he said. “It allows me to try to motivate him to get through it and for me to get through it. I gain some solace from having one of my teammates with me under trying circumstances.”

Although outsiders can't get through to Johnsson, an insider like Primeau can. But he tries to be respectful.

“The last thing you want is to be asked about it,” Primeau said. “You're asked about it all the time. The monotony will make you go mad. I'm just as guilty. I ask him every day. I'm sincere, because I know the emotional rollercoaster that he's on.”

Johnsson just became a father for a second time but one gets the sense his current state is depriving him of fully appreciating the joy of the experience.

Coach Ken Hitchcock says the calendar tells him he can't count on having Johnsson back, as cold as that might sound.

“He played 30 minutes a night (in the "04 playoffs) and he played great,” Hitchcock said. “But that was a long time ago. That was two years ago. Once he adjusted to the new game, he really played well this season.

“Anytime you could get someone back like him (for a later round of the playoffs), it's great stuff. But we don't want to sit here and say we need him back, we hope we get him back. We can't focus on that. It's all about who's in the locker room. It's very callous and cold at times, but that's the nature of our business this late in the season.”