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April 11, 2006 - Primeau tests ice by practicing a little

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Primeau tests ice by practicing a little
VOORHEES, N.J. -- Even though he won’t play tonight, to see Peter Forsberg taking part in all the non-contact drills at practice was encouraging. Likewise, to see Petr Nedved, who will play tonight, skating hard was a good sign.

But there was one injured Flyer who actively participated in practice that no one -- absolutely no one -- expected back so soon.
The Flyer? Keith Primeau.

It was just one practice, lasting 1 hour and 16 minutes. But, he was there, skating hard, playing physical, communicating with his teammates as if he were still the captain and had been there all along.

"I feel not bad," said Primeau. "Obviously, I feel better than I have (felt before) to be out there. 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."

Before anyone jumps to conclusions, it doesn’t mean Primeau is riding in on the white horse to save the damsel in distress that is the Flyers right now.

Primeau is still a long way off. His target return of next September remains intact. This was just the next step in a long process of overcoming a debilitating injury.

"September at the earliest, that was the time frame (set) with the announcement back in February and that has not changed," said Primeau. "The organization has been great giving me the ability to get better at the pace I wanted to have. If that means six months from now, as long as I have no regrets on how I tried to get myself in position to play, I can live with that."

Primeau, however, would not pooh-pooh the idea of returning in time to take part in this season’s playoffs, although he did say the odds were pretty long.

"That is a long way off," he said. "I still believe in hypotheticals. My head will have to feel a lot better than it did (Monday) when I was out there. My legs and conditioning, because I worked so hard with (trainer) Jim McCrossin, felt decent. (But), my head still felt like it was a foot behind.

"I am not going back on comments I made 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."

Speaking of long odds, McCrossin equated Primeau’s return to that of the worst team in baseball somehow winning the World Series.

"Is there a chance?Sure there’s a chance, but it’s a long shot," McCrossin said. "It’s like the Kansas City Royals, who somebody told me are 500,000-1 to win the World Series. It’s an outside chance."

Primeau is eligible to return in the playoffs without costing the Flyers any additional money against the salary cap because players are not paid in the postseason and it was collectively bargained by the NHL and the Players’ Association that injured reserve players can return for the playoffs even if their salary would push a team’s total above the salary cap.

However, in an interesting twist, Flyers General Manager Bob Clarke said the team might have enough wiggle room under the salary cap to get him into a game or two before season’s end if he were deemed healthy enough to play.

"We only used some of his money (at the trade deadline)," Clarke said. "(Kim) Johnsson is also long term and so is (Chris) Therien, so there is some money floating out there. But, until he tells me that the doctors and he agree that he can play, I’m not even going to worry about it."

Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said he was surprised to see Keith join the team for practice, but welcomed his return, even if it means he doesn’t play in a game again until next year.

"Yeah, wow," said Hitchcock. "He came to me this morning and told me he wanted to skate with someone other than Jim McCrossin and that’s no problem for us.

"We enjoyed having him back there on the ice but this is light years away from even thinking about having him play competitive ice hockey again."

McCrossin said Primeau was cleared to practice with the team in non-contact drills only, but Primeau was throwing his body around pretty seriously Monday, looking like a guy trying to come back next week, not five months down the road.

"He did it, but we didn’t want it to happen," said McCrossin.

"My biggest problem is I can only play one way," said Primeau. "I really can’t try to play perimeter or play aorund the outside or use some level of skill because it is not part of my repertoire.

"If I can’t be physical then I will never play again. I wasn’t any worse for wear after what little contact I had. Which is good. That’s another positive."

Primeau is exactly the kind of player the Flyers are missing right now, not just in games, but as a leader and respected voice as well.

Part of Primeau’s goal of practicing with the team might be to be a leader during practice and hold players accountable for their mistakes, much like he did when he was captain.

Not that current captain Derian Hatcher has a problem doing that, but Hatcher has to worry about himself first before admonishing teammates, considering he’s been a sub-par defensemen during the last few weeks.

"I hope this has a positive effect (on my teammates)," said Primeau. "I was talking to the 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 that’s great."

Yet, as remote as the chance for his return may seem, there was definitely a glimmer of hope making it’s way around the locker room.

"I didn’t know he was going to practice, but it was a positive sign," said Mike Knuble. "It’s a great thing. As a team, we’re hoping he’s well enough to be back in the lineup here at some point."

Primeau, 34, has missed 68 games this season with a concussion and related symptoms stemming from an elbow to the jaw by Montreal Canadiens rookie Alexander Perezhogin last Oct. 25.

He held a news conference at the end of February to announce he wouldn’t play again this season, but would continue to rehab with the hopes of being back in time for training camp next season.

There’s no question that the scrutiny will intensify with Primeau’s condition, now that he’s back at practice, and it will begin today, when he may take to the ice again as part of the team’s morning practice before tonight’s game with Pittsburgh.

However, Primeau insisted he doesn’t want to fans to get their hopes up, he doesn’t want to be a daily distraction and he doesn’t want to take away from the team in any way.

"If I meant that to be my intention I would stop right now," he said. "The focus can’t be on me. It has to be on guys in locker room. These are the guys who are going to go out and try hardest in the playoffs. If I am interfering I don’t want that to be the perception. I’ll want to work on my own."