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April 11, 2006 - Primeau takes ice on skates

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Primeau takes ice on skates

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Perception is reality.

The reality yesterday was Keith Primeau put on his practice sweater, laced up his skates and tore around the ice with his teammates for the first time in more than five months.

So what should we all believe? Is Primeau going to ride into town on a white horse as the savior of this misbegotten Flyers bunch? Can he round up the troops, help them to kill an occasional penalty or two, and save the day before some dastardly Sabre or Ranger snuffs out their Stanley Cup hopes?

The Primeau who took the ice yesterday at Skate Zone in Voorhees looked much like the Primeau who threw his teammates on his back two springs ago and carried them within one goal of the Stanley Cup finals. If there was any dizziness, nausea or other post-concussion symptoms, they certainly didn't show themselves.

Joking and jovial, he was different than the concussed captain who worked out early in the morning and left the building before anyone could talk to him.

"I felt good," he said. "My conditioning and my legs felt as good as they can be for the amount of time I've been off. It felt really good to be a part of the practice and join my teammates differently than I have for the last five months."

His recovery has been as much mental as it's been physical.

"For about five months, my inner struggle was me against my mind and my mind was winning that battle. It wouldn't allow me to do anything. It's only in the last few weeks that I finally feel I can put up a bit of a fight and persuade myself mentally and physically to try and do more."

So he's increased his workout regimen, spending more time skating on his own, more time working out in the gym. And more time working on convincing the people around him that he was ready -- is ready -- for the next step.

"It was about 2 1/2 weeks ago that I was able to convince everybody to give me an opportunity to really get back and skate on a regular basis and bike every day and push the exertional stuff from a therapeutic standpoint," he said.

So why the big push now? Could it have something to do with the fact that over these last 2 1/2 weeks, since a March 22 win at the Rangers, the Flyers are 3-4 and look like a team running out of gas as the playoffs approach?

How about their penalty-killing unit getting used and abused for five goals against Toronto last Saturday? And what about the fact that fill-in captain Derian Hatcher has done little to step into the leadership breach created by Primeau's absence?

All those questions, and now the biggest one of all: Is Primeau coming back for the playoffs?

"That's a long way off," he said of the postseason. It's not, actually, and could start as soon as April 21, so now would be the right time for him to dust off the cobwebs if a postseason return was on his mind.

Primeau skated hard and participated in every drill during yesterday's 75-minute practice. He started only killing penalties, but by the end of the practice, he was taking regular shifts at center between Turner Stevenson and Branko Radivojevic. He sped up and down the ice, throwing his body around like a regular player during a regular practice.

Afterward, Primeau insisted that nothing has changed since his post-Olympic announcement that he would not play again this season. That there was no time frame for his return, that he would be ready when he was ready.

Guess what: He looks pretty ready.

And as much as teammates and coaches tried to downplay the significance of the event, the Flyers are in desperate need of the skill-set Primeau brings: faceoff success, experience killing penalties and strong leadership. His mere presence on the ice yesterday seemed to lift the team's energy.

"He's pushing the guys hard, and if you don't make the right play in practice then he comes after you," said Sami Kapanen. "You could see today; he was flying up and down the ice and it makes everybody else work that much harder, too."

That's just the reaction Primeau was hoping for.

"I hope (a return) has a positive effect. ... Whether it's morale or excitement, if it's a positive emotional lift, great."

So what's next? If he feels as good as he did yesterday, Primeau will run the same routine today: Practice with the team and work out in the gym in the morning, then work out again during tonight's game against Pittsburgh.

He'll do this for at least a week and then meet with the medical people to talk about the next step.

That next step could be a return for the playoffs. The odds on such an occurrence?

"There's an outside chance he could come back and play," said trainer Jim McCrossin, who has worked with Primeau every step of his recovery.

Primeau said he wants the accent on the outside part, that none of the millions of Flyers fans in the Delaware Valley should buy playoff tickets just to see him.

"I want people to understand I'm working to get better; I'm trying to get better so they can see me play again because I want them to see me play again. I just can't put a time frame on when that'll be."

We'll do it for him: Game 1 of the playoffs.