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.”

For Shayne Gostisbehere, Dave Hakstol, Stadium Series brings back cherished memories

For Shayne Gostisbehere, Dave Hakstol, Stadium Series brings back cherished memories

PITTSBURGH -- For Flyers coach Dave Hakstol and defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, tonight’s Stadium Series game between the Flyers and Penguins brings back memories.
 
Hakstol coached North Dakota in an outdoor hockey in college, while Gostisbehere participated in one as a freshman at Union College.
 
For Hakstol, however, this whole idea of outdoor hockey began when he was growing up in central Alberta in the small town of Drayton Valley.
 
“I think everybody’s got great memories of growing up outdoors,” Hakstol said. “We had a back creek that we could shovel off. I’m sure everybody could sit back and tell you stories of playing on the outdoor rinks.
 
“For me, most recently, I’ve got two kids growing up playing on outdoor rinks, backyard rinks. It’s pretty cool. It takes you right back to the heart of the game.”
 
Hakstol’s outdoor coaching experience came during a game between Nebraska-Omaha and his North Dakota squad in 2013 at the “Mutual of Omaha Battles on Ice.”
 
“I don’t know how to describe it,” Hakstol said of the event. “It’s just a different feel. It’s an ideal scenario.”
 
He said while tonight's game is special, it’s still about the points, first and foremost.
 
“You are cognizant of everything that surrounds the event and the game,” Hakstol said. “Yet for us, it’s two points. We’re fighting for every point here. That is going to paramount.”

Gostisbehere played at Fenway Park in 2012 for Union in a game against Harvard. That night, Union won, 2-0, to become the first ECAC club to ever win outdoors.
 
“I played at Fenway Park against Harvard and it was fun,” Gostisbehere said. “That was my freshman year and the only one I ever played in.
 
“Good crowd. It wasn’t packed obviously, but it was a night game. The ice was really good. It was really cold, too. It was pretty cool.”
 
As warm as it was Friday here -- a historic 78 degrees -- temperatures will begin in the 40s tonight at Heinz Field and then drop. It rained this morning but has since ceased.
 
“The biggest thing for me was to take a second, look around,” Gostisbehere said, admitting he failed to do that in college and won’t make that mistake again.
 
“Just cherish it a little bit. You are so focused on the game, it’s tough. That was biggest thing for me. It was such a blur. Just being in college and having the opportunity to play at Fenway Park was pretty awesome.”

This will the Flyers first-ever outdoor affair in Pittsburgh.
 
“It’s pretty exciting and I’m glad to be part of it,” Gostisbehere said.

Flyers-Penguins 5 things: Different teams meet outdoors at Heinz Field

Flyers-Penguins 5 things: Different teams meet outdoors at Heinz Field

Flyers (28-25-7) at Penguins (37-14-8)
8 p.m. on NBC, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

It’s time for some outdoor fun.

The anticipated Flyers-Penguins Stadium Series game has arrived, as the two rivals clash Saturday night at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

Let’s get you ready for it all with five things to know.

1. Eye on the ice
The one caveat of playing ice hockey outdoors is, of course, the weather.

The forecast is calling for rain showers from morning until noon with temperatures in the low-to-mid 50s. The precipitation is expected to taper off and temperatures are expected to dip into the high-30s for puck drop.

The ice can still be playable with some rain. No matter what, though, the game ice will certainly be a bit different than playing in a concealed arena.

“I'm sure they will do the best they can to have it ready,” Michael Del Zotto said this week (see story). “Unless it is really cold, the ice is always going to be chippy playing outdoors.

“It doesn’t matter what the ice conditions are because both teams are playing with it. It’s not an advantage or disadvantage for either team. Both have to deal with it.”

Ultimately, players are ready for anything weather-wise -- with the wind being just as big of a concern as the ice (see story).

2. Two directions
The Flyers and Penguins are in contrasting spots.

Pittsburgh is built for another Cup run.

The Flyers are not yet. Instead, they are fighting simply for their postseason lives.

The orange and black have lost seven of their last 10 games. Since the 10-game winning streak, they are 9-15-4 with the NHL’s second-fewest points at 22.

When the Flyers won 10 straight, they had a plus-14 goal differential over that span. In the 28 games since, they have scored an NHL-low 48 markers and own a minus-36 goal differential.

So, like last season, the Flyers have a mighty mountain to climb for a playoff berth (see story). They are now five points back of the Islanders, who currently hold the second wild-card spot with 68 points. The Flyers, at 63 points, also trail the Bruins (68) and Panthers (66), while the Sabres (62) and Lighting (62) are right there in the mix.

Meanwhile, the defending champion Penguins are third in the NHL with 82 points and first with 3.47 goals per game, spearheaded by Sidney Crosby’s league-best 33 scores.

3. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Brayden Schenn is on a three-game goal streak and ranks No. 1 in hockey with 14 man-advantage tallies. Since Jan. 8, he is tied with Wayne Simmonds for the Flyers’ lead in goals at eight. He also owns eight goals and eight assists in 23 career games against Pittsburgh.

Penguins: Right winger Patric Hornqvist, who plays alongside Crosby, was super active in the first meeting with the Flyers, recording two assists, five shots on goal, three hits and three blocked shots. The 30-year-old has 17 goals, 18 assists and a plus-19 rating, while the Penguins are 12-3-0 when he scores a goal.

4. This and that
• Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth is making his sixth straight start and ninth in the last 10 games. He is 2-2-2 with a 2.23 goals-against average, .921 save percentage and two shutouts in seven lifetime matchups with Pittsburgh.

• Penguins goalie Matt Murray is 5-1-2 in his last eight games with a .940 save percentage and 1.84 goals-against average. In two career games (one start) against the Flyers, the 22-year-old is 1-0-0 and has stopped 39 of 41 shots faced.

• Pittsburgh has won four of the last five meetings with the Flyers. This is Game 2 of the four-game regular-season series between the teams. The Penguins won the first matchup, 5-4, on Oct. 29 at the Wells Fargo Center.

• Penguins defensemen Justin Schultz (upper body) and Kris Letang (upper body) will be game-time decisions. Schultz is a team-best plus-31 on the season, while Letang is a two-time All-Star.

• Jakub Voracek has 32 points (15 goals, 17 assists) in 29 career games against Pittsburgh.

5. The rivalry
Relive some great moments from the Flyers-Penguins rivalry with these terrific pieces from CSN’s Orange Line.

Danny Briere recalls brawl in Pittsburgh

The origin of Philly’s hatred for Crosby

Reliving Flyers’ five-overtime playoff win

Mario Lemieux returns to form in first game back

Top Flyers-Penguins moments