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April 10, 2006 - Primeau sees progress toward return

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Primeau sees progress toward return

BY TIM PANACCIO
Knight Ridder Newspapers

He wasn't just skating. He was going full bore.

He wasn't avoiding contact. He was hitting people.

And he wasn't making small talk. He was scolding his teammates for sloppy practice habits.

Flyers center Keith Primeau, who has not played since Oct. 28 at Carolina because of post-concussion syndrome, was back on the ice Monday at Skate Zone in Voorhees and participating in every drill, including penalty killing.

The reality of the situation: Primeau said in February he's done for the season.

The hope of the situation: If Primeau can practice over the final nine days of the regular season without incurring concussion symptoms, he'll come back for the playoffs.

"It's a long shot, like the Kansas City Royals being 500,000-to-1" to win this season's World Series, said Flyers trainer Jim McCrossin. "I think there is an outside chance he could come back and play. But we're so far away."

If Primeau, the Flyers' former captain, wakes up this morning without symptoms, that's a huge step forward. For now, he still has some focus problems with his vision.

"My head will have to feel a lot better than it did today when I was out there," Primeau said of playing in the playoffs. "My legs and conditioning, because I worked so hard with Jim McCrossin, felt decent. My head still felt like it was a foot behind.

"I am not going back on comments I made the last time this started and comments I made in my press conference. At this point in time, there is no way I could make that kind of decision or assumption."

September remains the target date for Primeau's return. But he held out hope Monday that he could return early.

"Obviously, I feel better than I have (felt recently) to be out there," Primeau said. "This is part of my therapy, my rehab. It's another hurdle, a huge hurdle for me. I feel really good, which is the most important thing."

So why did Primeau act and speak as if he were wearing the "C" again, instead of Derian Hatcher? Some players commented that perhaps someone else needs to hold the club accountable for awful performances, such as Saturday's humiliating 5-2 loss to Toronto.

"He is very demanding of other players," Mike Knuble said. "I have not played with him that much, but he is that type of guy who puts guys on edge a bit. That's good. Maybe that is something we need. Even if it helps in practice. Anything he says on the ice will be thought about and, hopefully, applied."

Primeau said he fell back into his captain's routine unintentionally.

"I hope this has a positive effect (on teammates)," he said. "I was talking to guys, giving them a hard time if they missed a pass. I wanted to wade myself back in, but old habits are hard to die. I felt myself revert to old tendencies. Whether it is morale or excitement, if it's a positive, emotional lift (for them), that's great."

Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock and general manager Bob Clarke said they had no idea of Primeau's intentions to practice until he showed up and got medical clearance. He was told by McCrossin not to have any contact. He disobeyed.

"My biggest problem is I can only play one way," Primeau said. "I really can't try to play perimeter or play around the outside . . . because it is not part of my repertoire. If I can't be physical, then I will never play again."

Clarke would like to see Primeau play a game before the playoffs even if it means moving cap money around. But he is operating on the September deadline - not April. The Flyers never used Primeau's full cap exemption as a long-term injured player in the event he came back at the end of the season.

"Until he tells me that he and the doctors agree he can play, I won't even worry about it," Clarke said.

Hitchcock was of the same mind regarding Primeau being back in the lineup.

"Don't even go there," Hitchcock said. "He skated with us for one practice. ... This is light years away from thinking or even playing hockey again competitively."

Primeau said if these practices become "distracting," he'll stop. He said he wanted to do this last week but didn't feel healthy enough.

"As long as I have no regrets on how I tried to get myself in position to play," he said, "I can live with that."