Flyers' Primeau retires because of lingering concussion
VOORHEES, N.J. -- With even the most mundane skating drills causing him headaches and fuzziness, Keith Primeau decided it was time to stop playing hockey.
Trying every available option to return from concussions that robbed him of years of his career, Primeau was told by Flyers trainer Jim McCrossin he could continue to skate with a minor league affiliate or practice with a white jersey with a red cross so he couldn't be hit, like a training camp quarterback.
But McCrossin saved his most distressing news for last: He told Primeau last week he would never clear the former Flyers captain to play. McCrossin couldn't live with the consequences if Primeau took one more blow to the head.
Primeau knew he could not go on.
"It was the first real time I'd been in touch with reality the last few months," Primeau said Thursday at the team's practice facility. "I didn't want to become a distraction again."
Primeau retired Thursday, ending a 15-year NHL career after failing to receive clearance to play because of lingering effects from a concussion. The 34-year-old Primeau had been trying to return from an Oct. 25 concussion after a hit from Montreal's Alexander Perezhogin. It was the most severe in a series of head injuries Primeau endured during his career.
"This decision will allow me to live a normal life and hopefully, with time, few reminders of my injuries," Primeau said.
Later Thursday, the Flyers announced that Peter Forsberg would take over as the 15th captain in team history.
When Primeau left Philadelphia for the summer, he felt he was strong enough to try a comeback, even after missing the final 73 games last season. But when he fell ill only two days into his workouts, he knew that a return would be difficult.
Still, he returned to skate with the Flyers in August, trying to push himself one last time, much like he did when he fought through previous concussions and thrived in the 2004 playoffs when he helped lead them within a victory of the Stanley Cup finals.
The image of being the same player he was during that postseason run when he led the Flyers in playoff goals (nine) and points (16) was never out of his cluttered mind.
"I just really looked forward to getting back on the ice and playing," he said.
Primeau experienced problems with balance and vision when he tearfully announced in late February he would not play again the rest of the year. But he surprised the Flyers when he practiced with them shortly before the playoffs, giving hope that the 34-year-old star might return.
Instead, Primeau could not skate away on his own terms.
"I'm sorry I couldn't overcome this injury and dragged this out as long as I did," Primeau said. "I did it all with the best of intentions and with the thought of returning home and playing in front of 20,000 screaming fans."
Primeau, who had two years and more than $6 million remaining on his contract, missed 21 games because of a concussion sustained against the Rangers in the 2003-04 season. He also had at least two head injuries during the 2004 playoffs, in the Eastern Conference semifinals against Toronto and in the conference finals against Tampa Bay.
Knowing the outcome of playing with a head injury, Primeau says now he would done things differently. But he was a hockey player, and hockey players play through the knocks, especially in the postseason.
"I think a career of concussions has a cumulative effect," Primeau said.
But Primeau had to gut it out. He was the captain. General manager Bobby Clarke, who wore the "C" with the Flyers, said Primeau was one of the great captains in team history.
Chosen in the first round by Detroit in the 1990 draft, Primeau spent six seasons with the Red Wings and three more with Hartford/Carolina. After missing the first half of the 1999-00 season with the Hurricanes because of a contract dispute, Primeau was traded to the Flyers.
He finished with 266 goals and 619 points, and played in two All-Star games.
"He's always going to feel like he didn't get to finish on his own terms," coach Ken Hitchcock said.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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