Finally healthy, Primeau longs to return to hockey

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Finally healthy, Primeau longs to return to hockey

It will be two years this June.

Two years of complete health for Keith Primeau.

Two years during which his post-concussion syndrome is far, far behind.

“I’m very lucky,” the former Flyers captain said. “I knew what normal felt like and I am lucky to have gotten back to there. I worked toward that goal. A lot of guys can’t do it. It spirals out of control.”

Primeau retired in September 2006 after playing just nine games the previous season because of a blind elbow to the head from Alexander Perezhogin on Oct. 25, 2005 in Montreal.

From that day through much of 2012, Primeau suffered terribly from post-concussion syndrome, yet tried to live a normal life coaching his sons, dabbling on the business side of minor-league and junior hockey, and even putting himself through college.

Now, he’s fully healthy and wants to get back into the pro side of things off the ice.

“I’m feeling good and consistently good, which is the biggest thing,” Primeau said. “I didn’t want to get myself into a [job] situation that I could not get myself out of if I didn’t feel well. Since June 2012, I’ve been feeling good.

“It’s time to get back. I’m OK to start at the bottom and roll my sleeves up. There’s a lot of clubs out there that don’t know that I am healthy now or even available. I want to get back involved in the league.”

During his absence from the game, Primeau coached locally and held two front office positions with the ECHL’s Las Vegas Wranglers.

Truth be told, he’s been in the shadows for the past several years -- still living in Voorhees, N.J. -- trying to get healthy before committing to a full-time job.

Just getting through college –- he has a degree, earned in 2011, from Neumann University -- was a difficult chore in itself, yet it’s something the 42-year-old is proud of. He may not have won a Stanley Cup, but he’s got a degree in liberal studies.

“Our belief as a family was, get your education and neither my wife [Lisa] nor I had our college degrees,” Primeau said. “We tried to get our [four] kids to understand the importance and they’d look at us without a degree and that is the biggest reason why I went to school.

“Got my liberal studies degree from Neumann. I wanted to go back and get it, let my kids see it, and know it would help me in the business world.”

His oldest daughter, Kylie, attends Villanova.

This is an odd time for Primeau, who played six of his 15 NHL seasons in Philadelphia. He’s been away from the NHL side for almost a decade, and yet he’s had an impact from afar that people don’t know about.

He provided input for club chairman Ed Snider a few years ago for work on the NHL competition committee with regard to player safety. Even more important, he sat down with former NHL director of player safety Brendan Shanahan to assist him on safety as it pertains to head shots, concussions and punishment.

“When Brendan got the job, I was still very frustrated with what I saw at the NHL level,” Primeau recalled. “I didn’t think there was much going on. I went up there and he showed me the documentation, which indicated they were taking it very seriously.

“That offered some comfort. Brendan asked me if I could change part of the game for head contact and player punishment, what it would be? I did in document form and sent it to him. I look at the [rules] now and feel there are parts of my thoughts in there in the end result, for sure.

“My position was there is always a consequence for your action, whether intentional or unintentional. Doesn’t matter ... the other thing was we have to protect the player’s head. Head contact can’t be part of the game. Protect the player’s head, which wasn’t the case before, and you have to be as objective as possible. Take the human element out of it.

“You can’t be biased because this team is a good team that is supposed to win the Stanley Cup and this is their best player or this is the worst team in the league and he’s their worst player. You have to be able to say it’s apples to apples.”

Primeau captained the Flyers from 2001 until Derian Hatcher replaced him in late January 2006 when it became apparent Primeau wasn’t coming back that season. Turned out, he never came back.

“Keith has a lot of assets that a head coach would like in the NHL,” former Flyers head coach Ken Hitchcock said. “A lot of things that a head coach would find appealing. He’s been a captain. He has a player’s mind still. He thinks like a player.

“He’s had to change and learn to adapt his role from young to older player. He could talk to players and has experiences that would help a player. Selfishly, he would really help a head coach somewhere.”

Primeau captained one of the best, star-filled Flyers clubs in the past two decades that almost reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2003-04.

The roster was amazing and varied: Mark Recchi, John LeClair, Jeremy Roenick, Tony Amonte, Eric Desjardins, Simon Gagne, Michal Handzus, Kim Johnsson, Danny Markov, Todd Fedoruk, Marcus Ragnarsson, Sami Kapanen, Patrick Sharp, Dennis Seidenberg, Robert Esche, Alexei Zhamnov ...

It was a team that should have beaten Tampa Bay in the seven-game Eastern Conference finals series, yet was so banged up on defense, Kapanen was back there playing with a concussion. Lightning exec Phil Esposito would later say that Primeau was the most dominant player in that series. 

“Keith was a very good captain on a very challenging team,” Hitchcock recalled. “There were a lot of veteran players set in their ways. He had to captain that group. I felt he managed that group really well. ... The team he captained before the lockout, had we been remotely healthy, that would have been a championship team.”

This is what Primeau feels he can bring. Hitchcock was a tyrant with a veteran group of players that were part of their last hurrah as Flyers. Primeau became Hitch’s voice in the dressing room. No easy task.

“I tell my kids stories about Hitch all the time,” Primeau said. “He was tough. I know it happened in Dallas the first year until the lightbulb went out. The first three or four months I could not stand Hitch because of his delivery.

“Then I finally got past the delivery and listened to the message and 99.9 percent of the time, Hitch was bang-on. That is why we had such a good relationship. I became the conduit to the locker room.

“J.R. was always saying, ‘Hitch is always yelling at me.’ I said to J.R., ‘He yells at everyone. Get past that. Listen to what he is saying. He is saying the right thing.' That is the hardest adjustment for a professional athlete.”

Even though that Flyers team did not win the Cup, Primeau remains one of the all-time Flyer captains for handling a group that was mutinous, at times, given its difficult cast of personalities.

“Yeah, we should have won,” Primeau said. “If we only had some healthy defensemen. And we would have won the Cup if we had gotten by Tampa in Game 7. No question in my mind.”

A decade later, Primeau has moved on, but what follows next for him remains uncertain.

“What is it that I want to do and that’s part of the conflict because I am not entirely sure,” Primeau said. “I love coaching, which is teaching, but I have an interest on the management side.

“Ultimately, I want to move forward on the coaching side and being involved in player development from the mindset and approach to the game. Being on the bench side for seven years at different levels, I appreciate the coach's position a lot more than I did as a player.”

Flyers answer Ron Hextall's plea with comeback OT win over Islanders

Flyers answer Ron Hextall's plea with comeback OT win over Islanders

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Shayne Gostisbehere’s fist pump was so vicious and mighty, the celebration was probably felt back in Philadelphia.

This was an exultation the entire Flyers felt, too.

When it started to look like the bye week wasn’t the break they needed, the Flyers reached down deep and got one Sunday night at the Barclays Center in the form of a 3-2 overtime victory over the Islanders (see Instant Replay).

“It allows you to take a breath,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “That’s one thing for sure.”

A sigh of relief for a team beaten and bruised — losers of three straight by a combined score of 15-4, not to mention 3-9-3 in its past 15 games. The Flyers had lost the day prior on home ice to the Devils, 4-1, with a performance not exactly inspiring confidence following five days off.

On Sunday, they trailed 2-0 in the second period.

“We've got to get better at dealing with adversity when something goes wrong,” general manager Ron Hextall said bluntly before the game. “We need to get back on the horse and get back going. Big deal, a team scored a goal. We need to react better to it.”

Finally, the Flyers reacted the way their GM had been hoping.

They flipped the deficit into a victory when Gostisbehere skated behind the net and put the puck on Claude Giroux’s stick for the game-winner with 1:40 left in the extra session. Gostisbehere whipped his arm through the air and embraced Giroux, along with Jakub Voracek, who started the play by stripping Islanders captain John Tavares.

“On a lot of different levels, it’s an important win,” Hakstol said. “It’s huge. And more importantly for us, a great effort. Thought we deserved the two points. Sometimes maybe that’s what it takes to get over the hump — a tremendous effort for 60-plus minutes. I thought we got that out of everyone tonight.”

For Giroux, it was his first goal since Dec. 21.

For Steve Mason, his first win since Dec. 21.

And for the Flyers, their first road victory since Dec. 14, as they went 0-6-3 in the previous nine games away from home.

Yeah, “it was needed,” as Wayne Simmonds said of the win.

“We’ve been fighting it lately and I thought that was a good game from start to finish,” he said. “I thought everyone played well. I think we made bounces go our way tonight instead of hoping and waiting.”

Simmonds scored what might have been the biggest goal of the game. The Flyers, down 1-0 in the second period, came up empty for 33 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play and the proceeding 5-on-4 advantage. The Islanders then padded the lead to 2-0 moments later, putting the Flyers’ backs against the wall.

But Simmonds kept his team from uncoiling with a goal at 14:10 of the period, giving the Flyers life at second intermission. If not for that score, who knows how the Flyers come out in the third period, trailing by multiple goals yet again.

"I think we were plying well,” Giroux said. “We had a lot of chances and [the puck] wasn't going in. Everybody on the bench was frustrated. When Wayne got that first goal, I think [there was] a little relief on the bench. I haven't seen a team celebrate so much just for a first goal. It was kind of a relief and we had a little boost out of that.”

Ivan Provorov scored the equalizer 1:47 into the final period when he maintained possession from the blue line to the circle, adeptly skating around two Islanders to put the puck on net. Provorov’s pass to Travis Konecny hit off the skate of New York’s Adam Pelech and into the net.

“I came off the bench and I saw [Brayden Schenn] was going into the zone, so I took a few hard strides, got the puck from him and I saw it was kind of an odd-man situation,” Provorov said. “I held on to the puck a little bit, saw T.K. going backdoor, passed it there and it went off their D skate.”

Just as important as the timely goals was the Flyers’ discipline. Against the Devils, the Flyers compiled 19 penalty minutes, forcing them on seven penalty kills. This time, the Flyers sharpened up, not allowing the Islanders a power play until midway through the third period. In total, they had just four penalty minutes and killed off both power plays faced.

That gave them a chance.

“We just kept saying it the whole time, ‘Keep going, keep going, guys,’” Simmonds said. “We just need one [goal] and from one comes two, and Mase held the fort.”

Mason made 17 of his 36 saves in the third period and overtime combined.

Now, the Flyers at least go into another important back-to-back — starting Wednesday at the Rangers before welcoming the Maple Leafs Thursday — with some confidence instead of a lost weekend.

“I thought the focus was purely on going out and playing well,” Hakstol said. “And you know, that’s harder to do than you might know — when you start to feel some of the pressure without a win in a little bit. I really liked that side of it. Even in that situation, all the guys played well. Hopefully that puts our entire team in the right direction.’’

Best of NHL: Crosby scores league-leading 28th goal in win vs. Bruins

Best of NHL: Crosby scores league-leading 28th goal in win vs. Bruins

PITTSBURGH -- Conor Sheary scored two goals, Sidney Crosby added his league-leading 28th and the Pittsburgh Penguins won their fourth straight game, 5-1 over the Boston Bruins 5-1 on Sunday.

Pittsburgh led 2-1 through two periods before breaking out in the third with three goals in a span of 2 minutes, 57 seconds.

Sheary scored his 17th and has nine goals in nine games. Bryan Rust added his 12th and Patric Hornqvist his 11th for the Penguins, who won a season-high seventh straight at home. Pittsburgh the NHL's best home team, is 13-0-1 in its last 14 home games.

Evgeni Malkin had two assists for a season-best seven-game point streak. Crosby added two assists for a three-point game. Matt Murray made 44 saves to win his fourth straight game.

David Krejci scored his 11th for the Bruins, who have lost four straight and five of their last six (see full recap).

Rangers shut out Red Wings in 1-0 OT win
DETROIT -- J.T. Miller scored at 1:56 of overtime to lift the New York Rangers to a 1-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday.

Henrik Lundqvist made 21 saves for his second shutout of the season and 61st of his career. The Rangers managed only 19 shots in a game that featured few memorable chances by either team.

The winner came when Mats Zuccarello and Miller swooped in alone on Detroit goalie Jared Coreau. Zuccarello made a simple pass to Miller, who lifted the puck over Coreau for his 16th goal of the season.

Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall played for the first time since Jan. 4, returning from a lower-body injury. The Red Wings put forward Drew Miller on waivers (see full recap).

Atikinson lifts Jackets over Senators in wild OT win
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Cam Atkinson's second goal of the game at 1:09 of overtime lifted the Columbus Blue Jackets a 7-6 win over the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night.

Atkinson had a breakaway after a shot by Senators captain Erik Karlsson missed the Columbus net and went around the boards out to Atkinson, who was at center-ice.

The Blue Jackets trailed 5-3 after two periods before Lukas Sedlak and Matt Calvert scored 31 seconds apart to tie it less than 2 1/2 minutes into the third. Atklnson then gave Columbus a 6-5 lead with 9:10 remaining, before Kyle Turries tied it for Ottawa on the power play less than 2 minutes later.

Nick Foligno, Scott Harrington and Zach Werenski also scored for the Blue Jackets, and Joonas Korpisalo finished with 28 saves.

Zach Smith and Mike Hoffman each had two goals and Mark Stone also scored for the Senators. Mike Condon had 22 saves (see full recap).