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.”

Eric Semborski, from Temple club hockey to NHL goalie for a day against Flyers

Eric Semborski, from Temple club hockey to NHL goalie for a day against Flyers

Eric Semborski woke up Saturday and drove to work in Voorhees, New Jersey.

It was just an ordinary morning for the 23-year-old, a Temple graduate with a bachelor’s degree in sports management.

Little did he know, in a couple of hours his world would turn upside down.

Semborski, who works for Snider Hockey and at Flyers Skate Zone running goalie clinics and roller leagues, hadn’t played competitively since suiting up for the Owls’ club team in the spring of 2015.

That was until Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center, where, someway, somehow he was draped in a Chicago Blackhawks jersey and squaring up blazing shots off the sticks of Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith, just to name a few.

Quite the promotion, huh?

“It’s surreal, really,” he said. “I can’t explain it.”

Could anyone?

“I couldn’t imagine the rush,” Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling said.

Incredibly and astonishingly, Semborski turned into an NHL goaltender for a day as Chicago’s second string to Darling, who suffered a 3-1 loss to the Flyers.

How Semborski was found and summoned by the Blackhawks is still somewhat of a mystery, even to the Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, native himself. Once Chicago received word that regular starter Corey Crawford had to suddenly undergo an appendectomy at a Philadelphia hospital, the Blackhawks started scrambling for an emergency backup to Darling.

“I was at work, at the rink in Voorhees just coaching,” Semborski said. “My boss called me and I missed it. I walked off the ice and started talking with someone from the Flyers, he started asking me, ‘Where’d you play hockey, what’s your playing history?’” 

Semborski was confounded.

“I didn’t even know what he was getting at,” he said. “I asked, ‘Why are you asking me this?’ And he said, ‘Oh, Chicago needs a goalie.’ I just lost it. He said, ‘Go home, get your stuff and if they’re going to use you, they’ll call you.’ I left right away.

“I was like, OK, this probably isn’t going to happen, there’s no way.”

Ten minutes later …

“I’m in the truck and I got a call from Chicago,” Semborski said.

Who was it?

“I just know his name’s Tony,” Semborski said. “That’s all I know.”

How the heck did the Chicago Blackhawks, winners of three Stanley Cups since 2010, find a regular, hard-working guy living in Manayunk to be their reserve netminder?

“No idea,” Semborski said, still in awe talking after the game outside the locker rooms. “I think it had something to do with me working with Snider Hockey, working at Voorhees. They asked around and people just threw my name out I guess. I really don’t know how it happened. I’ll have to get to the bottom of that and thank some people. I have no idea who gave them my info, but whoever did, thank you, because it was awesome.”

So Semborski hustled from Voorhees to Manayunk, packed up his gear — including his old Temple mask, sporting the words “Philly Proud” and “Temple Tuff” — and quickly made his way to the Wells Fargo Center. He arrived around 12:30 p.m. before puck drop at 1.

“I hit some traffic on 76 (Schuylkill Expressway), of course,” Semborski said. “I got here as fast as I could in my street clothes. No time to put on a tie.”

Once Semborski signed his amateur tryout, it became real. He walked into the visiting locker room and there were the Blackhawks and his NHL jersey, a makeshift uniform with Crawford’s No. 50.

“It was hanging up when I got in there,” he said. “I guess they took Crawford’s and threw a name on it and made it work.”

Prior to hitting the ice for warmups, Semborski got acquainted with his teammates.

“Dream come true,” he said. “That was so cool, just hanging out with those guys. They made me feel welcomed right away, started joking around.

“When I got there, they put my number on the board and said I’m throwing in $200 for the holiday party. That was pretty good. I told them, ‘You better take credit because that’s all I got.’”

What about his big-money contract?

“No, I should be paying them for this,” Semborski said. “That was awesome.

“I signed some stuff when I came in, I don’t know what it was. I’m happy with a hat and the memories.”

Especially taking the net in warmups.

“I was a bit rusty, but no matter how much I play, I’m not going to be ready for them,” he said. “It was fast and I couldn’t even catch my breath because I was trying to take it all in. That was the best 20 minutes of my life out there skating with them.

“You’re playing against the best guys in the world. I knew I wasn’t going to stop most of them. I was lucky if it hit me.”

As for the game, Semborski didn’t play.

“Well you almost saw it,” Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said, referring to his frustration with a three-goal second period by the Flyers.

“That probably would have been a big mistake,” Semborski said with a laugh.

“That would have been so cool, but I wouldn’t change a thing. The experience was awesome.”

What did Quenneville think?

"That’s part of the process with all of the teams, they have the local amateur guys or sometimes guys who have played pro before," he said. "But with our cap situation, we needed an amateur, so he fit all the criteria and it was a good opportunity for him. ... It’s kind of a cool experience for the kid."

So Semborski sat on the bench, padded and ready. He smiled and watched, supporting his new team.

He, of course, is a Flyers fan, but …

“Not today,” he said with a smile. “Every other day, yeah, but not today.

“When I first got out there, I was like, ‘All right, if [the Flyers] score, don’t stand up. Just relax.’”

Semborski admitted to Chicago breaking his heart in 2010 when it beat the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Final.

“That was one of the hardest things I ever watched,” he said. “But today, that’s all forgotten. I’m a ‘Hawks fan today.”

Afterward, Semborski said his phone was flooded with 70-something text messages and 20-plus phone calls.

“I’m going to have to start calling some people,” he said.

His first will probably be to a special loved one.

“It’s my dad’s birthday,” Semborski said. “So, happy birthday, Dad. Best present ever for you.”

Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny fuel Flyers past Blackhawks for season-high 4th straight win

Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny fuel Flyers past Blackhawks for season-high 4th straight win

BOX SCORE

It’s hard to get overly excited by a goal from a player who had scored just once in his previous 17 games.
 
Maybe there’s something to having Travis Konecny out there on the ice force-feeding Brayden Schenn with pucks.
 
Schenn got bounced off another top line recently by coach Dave Hakstol — just as he was bounced around the lineup under Peter Laviolette and Craig Berube. 
 
You never know where "Schenner" is going to land. 
 
Yet Konecny has taken to heart how he might get Schenn going and unleash all those goals in his stick. 
 
Saturday’s splendid pass to his new centerman that made mincemeat out of Blackhawks defensemen Trevor Van Riemsdyk and Michal Kempny was the decisive blow in the Flyers' 3-1 victory over Chicago (see Instant Replay).
 
That’s now four wins in succession for Hakstol’s club.
 
“I watched a lot of video before the game,” Konecny said. “I know that their defense dives in at you, then backs off and give you some space. When I stopped there, the defenseman did exactly what I thought. It opened up a lane to Schenner.”
 
Schenn took his pass in full stride and flipped it over Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling for what was the Flyers’ third goal on just their fourth shot of the second period.
 
“TK sees the ice pretty well, no doubt about that,” Schenn said. “Small guy who can make plays in tight spaces and you could see on that goal. Give him just a little bit of room and he’ll take advantage of it. Nice pass. A great playmaker.”
 
Hakstol has noticed.
 
“That was a good speed play by both of them,” Hakstol said. “Getting up ice and a good play by TK to get him the puck and then a great finish. 
 
“Brayden didn’t have a whole lot of time or space to get that puck away. But he got it away and put it in the one spot where their goaltender couldn’t get a piece of it.”
 
The only thing Darling expected to get a piece of in this game was the bench. He became an unexpected starter in the morning, as Corey Crawford underwent emergency appendectomy surgery during the game.
 
The second period began with the Flyers trailing, 1-0, but quickly turned around with two goals in 31 seconds from another rookie — defenseman Ivan Provorov (see 10 observations)
 
“Score one goal in a game, that’s a pretty good feeling and then score two in one shift, that’s pretty unbelievable,” the 19-year-old said.
 
Recall Provorov had a very forgettable minus-5 game in October against the 'Hawks at United Center. He fared a tad better in this one.
 
“Keep everything in perspective,” Hakstol said. “From a night like that, he’s a guy who has continued to work at his game. He’s built it. He didn’t do a whole lot different tonight from his last 10 games. It was nice to see a couple pucks go in for him.”
 
Provorov also gave goalie Steve Mason an unwitting assist. Later that period, the 'Hawks thought they had scored on a net scrum.
 
The problem was, Provorov’s glove hand was hiding the puck in the net. Therefore on replay, it was inconclusive since the puck wasn’t visible.
 
“I just have to trust they obviously look at it real closely,” Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “We wanted the goal, but you just have to trust that they are doing everything. They obviously look at is as much as they can, so they know more than I do.”
 
The Flyers did a lot of things right in the opening period and still trailed, 1-0, outshooting the Hawks, 16-6, while outplaying them.  
 
Artemi Panarin scored the lone goal for Chicago at 3:44 during a bizarre sequence in which the Flyers lost a faceoff, cleared the zone, but Duncan Keith sent it back in to Patrick Kane. 
 
Kane threw it down the right boards for Artem Anisimov, who managed to suck all five Flyers to the right side, forcing a collision between Konecny and Michael Del Zotto as Anisimov threw a pass to the opposite circle for Panarin’s one-timer.
 
That was really the last time Mason had to worry about mix-ups or heavy traffic the rest of the game. The Flyers shut things down nicely in the final 10 minutes of the period, too.
 
“When you let an early goal in, the worst thing you can do is get away from your game plan,” Mason said. 
 
“We stuck to ours, which is why we got the result there. Big second period with three goals. Overall, our effort was pretty high.”