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April 25, 2006 - Primeau says he's close to return

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Primeau says he's close to return

BY ED MORAN
Philadelphia Daily News

Turner Stevenson and Keith Primeau were standing at center ice long after everyone but the scratched players had left HSBC Arena Monday afternoon.

They were tired, dripping sweat and breathing heavy from a fast-paced game of four-on-four with two members of the coaching staff and the other Flyers not playing in what would be an 8-2 loss to the Sabres, after also having taken part in the morning skate.

Stevenson wasn't done, and he was challenging Primeau to one more drill. So he pointed around the rink and called for 10 pucks to be lined across the blue line. He wanted a series of sprints, one full lap around the rink at full speed, and then 10 shots.

It didn't go unnoticed on the bench where trainer Jim McCrossin and Dr. Gary Dorshimer were sitting and watching closely.

"Ten-for-ten," Dorshimer said after Primeau took his shots.

It was probably a good thing Dorshimer stayed behind to watch; he and others from the Flyers' medical staff likely will be asked to participate in a decision very soon on whether to let Primeau back in the lineup for the first time since he was sidelined in October by a concussion.

That decision time could come Tuesday, it could come Wednesday, or it could come later this week, depending on how the Flyers' captain feels.

If Primeau has his way, he will be stepping onto the Wachovia Center ice as a player Wednesday night in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series the Flyers now trail, 2-0. If not Wednesday, then Friday for Game 4. It's what he wants. And what he now feels he can do.

"I'm close. I feel I'm close," he said.

It's hard to imagine this is actually a thought that Primeau is having and that it is really anything more than a pipe dream. But it is true.

He is not done with his career at 34, and the thought that another shot at the playoffs will never come does not escape him.

"Lisa (his wife) says that the only way they're going to get me to retire is by locking the rink and throwing away the key," he said. "But that's not true. When I'm done, I'll go. No hesitation. But when that time comes, I want it to be on my terms. And right now, it's not on my terms."

And as far as Primeau is concerned, the door is open again.

The symptoms that forced him to declare himself out for the season Feb. 28, that had the team doctors saying they would not clear him to play this season, have subsided. In their place has risen a burning desire to resume his career.

It is a dangerous proposition, to be sure. The science regarding concussions is so imprecise that no one can say with any degree of certainty that lifelong damage will not result from one more hit to a head that has been concussed more times than can be accurately counted.

Primeau knows this. So does his family. So do the Flyers. But if Primeau says he can go, that he wants to go, and if the doctors agree his symptoms are gone and that medically there is nothing saying he can't return, then the Flyers will more than likely sew the "C" back on Primeau's shirt and welcome him home.

Primeau is aware of the risk. Whenever it is brought up, he says, "I know."

But he is thinking past all that and going where his heart is taking him. And that is back into the game, past the announcement that his season is over and past everything that has been said about the improbability of him playing in these playoffs.

"I'm just trying to get back," he said Monday. "I wish it was tonight. But I'm just not at that point. So I can't say, yes, Wednesday, I'm going to be back. I really can't. But I want to be back tonight; I want to be back tonight, Wednesday, Friday."

And so that is what he will push for. He hedges his answers, because he knows a setback would be crushingly disappointing.

But the look says it all. If he wakes up feeling good Tuesday, he skates hard in practice and then wakes up feeling good again Wednesday, there is a chance he will take the ice for Game 3,

"I'm feeling better," he said. "I've added some light contact in practice here the last few days. I wouldn't say I was 100 percent in that contact, but I felt pretty darn good.

"For me it's how I feel afterward, when my heart rate comes back down and the adrenaline settles down and I have to go back to just doing a regular routine. If that's symptom-free, then I'm feeling pretty good.

"My head is finally allowing me to try to do more stuff and I'm trying to do that. I'm trying to push it as hard as I can in the hopes that I can try to play at some point.

"I'd love to be in the lineup Wednesday night, but I can't sit here and say I'm going to be in the lineup Wednesday night. I'm trying to be in the lineup the last game, I'm trying to be in the lineup tonight."

For the Flyers, it would be an elephant-sized shot in the arm. Primeau is the leader of this team, and what he would bring back to the lineup would be huge, immeasurably huge.

No matter how much he skates.

And so the tension mounts. No one talks about Primeau's return openly. But it is expected he is going to try, and soon - very, very soon.

He just can't say exactly when.

"I still have some hurdles before that's possible, so I don't want to make any guarantees, because that's not fair," he said. "It's not fair to my family. It's not fair to the organization to make that type of assumption without first clearing some hurdles and some visitations to doctors."