Keith Primeau is one of those athletes that one watches when they want to learn about the nuances of sport. Tall and sinewy like a forward in basketball, it’s plain to see that Primeau will do almost anything if it means that his hockey team will win one more game. Whether it’s his off-ice preparation spent with hours on the stationary bike in the team’s training room, or with lap after monotonous lap up and down the bleacher steps in the Wachovia Center after a game, count on Primeau doing the work.
Don’t exclude the team-bonding grunt work, either. As the Flyers’ captain, Primeau takes on the responsibility of helping a new teammate find a place to stay and showing him around his new town. He also organizes the team parties, gauges the team’s mood and acts as an intermediary with the coaches and team brass, and has the thankless task of being front and center for the press every day.
“I learned a long time ago that my job is not just to perform on the ice,” Primeau said in an interview a few years ago. “So much more goes into your professional being as a hockey player. Media relations, public relations – I accept this. If I can deflect some of the attention away from the younger guys and allow them to play, I’ll do that.”
The same goes for the intangibles on the ice, as well. In that regard, Primeau is one of those players whose true worth is not seen in the every day box scores. Maybe he’ll block a goalie’s view by positioning himself just so in the slot so that Simon Gagne can blast one. Maybe he can deliver a check that pries the puck loose in the offensive zone to set up a goal.
Or maybe he can sense that the team needs a pick-me-up and gets into a fight.
One instance of Primeau picking a fight that stands out more so than any other was the little tête-à-tête with the Devils’ Randy McKay in Game 2 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals. During the second period where New Jersey was skating circles around the Flyers and were on the verge of taking a 2-0 lead in the series, Primeau took the bumping with McKay as an invitation to do something. So before the crowd at the First Union Center (that’s what the building was called back then) knew what happened, Primeau dropped his gloves, rolled up his sleeves, checked to make sure his helmet was fastened and called McKay out.
It wasn’t important whether or not Primeau beat McKay. The message was loud and clear.
“I thought our team needed a spark,” Primeau said at the time.
But that scrap came barely a week after Primeau suffered a concussion in a game in Pittsburgh. Though he was carted off the ice on a stretcher and rushed to the hospital after taking a big hit from Pittsburgh’s Bob Boughner, Primeau missed just one game and envisioned his wife sitting in the stands with her head in her hands as he brawled with McKay.
“I realize it may not have been the best thing to do,” Primeau said before telling me that he had three prior concussions that he knew of before the one in Pittsburgh. “I’m a father and a husband, but at the same time I’m a hockey player… “
Maybe that’s why Primeau has merely decided to put his career on hold six years and at least three head injuries later. He is a hockey player. In fact, Primeau still had not decided whether he was going to shut it down for the season just a day before his emotional press conference last Tuesday.
Primeau says he is sitting out with the hope of prolonging his career, which is a great. It’s hard not to root for a man like Primeau. But when he admitted that he still had post-concussion symptoms from the head injury he suffered last Oct. 25, maybe the writing is on the wall. In fact just the term concussion softens what the affliction really is – medical people call them traumatic brain injuries.
Needless to say, multiple brain injuries could result in the most of dire circumstances.
Still, we hope that Primeau can recover in time for training camp next September, and we hope to see him back out there on the ice real soon.
But not at the expense of being a father and a husband.