“I was a little confused,” Primeau said. “Because I have a hard time understanding that I deserve it. I appreciate it and I’m honoured, and that makes me nervous and anxious. I’m just humbled by it.”
He knows he’ll probably get a little misty-eyed Monday when the Flyers honour him with a video montage of his career highlights as well as gifts from the club. He’ll be asked to say a few words and be joined for the on-ice presentation by his wife Lisa and children Corey, Kylie, Chayse and Cayden.
“I’m trying to prepare myself not to be emotional,” said Primeau. “I don’t know if that’ll happen, if I’ll be able to control it. There would be nowhere else I’d want to be recognized than in Philadelphia in front of Flyers fans. Because for me it’s really been the best stop on my tour and I really feel as though I have a connection with the people of Philadelphia.”
Primeau felt early on after coming over to Philadelphia from Carolina in January 2000 what Flyers fans appreciated – an honest effort.
“And that was the way I tried to play,” he said. “I never was the leading scorer, I never was the playmaker – I really never led in any particular category – but always tried to play with the kind of passion and emotion that the people of Philadelphia would expect. I think that’s why there’s a fondness because I tried to play the way these people expect.”
Former Flyers GM Bob Clarke, who acquired Primeau, says there’s a another reason why Flyer fans embraced Primeau.
“Like fans everywhere, Philadelphia fans have a love of a hard-working player, but here in Philly they also have a bit of a love affair with a guy who has a nasty streak in him, too. And Keith had that,” Clarke said. “I always considered that a strong asset for a player to have that.”
Clarke should know, he also had that mean streak and is the most beloved player in Flyers history. Primeau had another common thread to Clarke – leadership.
“The biggest thing for me is that he really did a great job at getting other players to play,” former Flyers head coach Ken Hitchcock, now coaching Columbus, said of Primeau. “He cut through to the chase, whether it was discussions in the locker-room about what the coach was saying or how other players were being played, how players viewed themselves, etc.
“He was able to get the players to just focus on competing and playing, which I think is what all good leaders do,” added Hitchcock. “Sometimes it was with flowers, sometimes it was with an arm around the shoulder and sometimes it was with sandpaper. But he got through to the team to follow his lead to make sacrifices and compete.”
The 15-year NHLer announced his retirement last September after he decided he wasn’t fully recovered from a serious concussion he suffered in October 2005. His loss was a crippling blow to the Flyers.
“It was an irreplaceable part of our club,” said Clarke.
But Primeau, 35, doesn’t regret his decision.
“I’m at peace with it,” he said. “Probably because I still have some lingering symptoms. I guess if he was feeling better and felt 100 per cent there would probably be some second-guessing and uncertainty but I really came to the realization last summer that I wouldn’t be able to continue playing because of the lingering symptoms. …
“A year removed now, I accept the finality of it.”
Primeau now works the occasional post-game show for Comcast in Philadelphia but isn’t sure what he will pursue as his new career. Like many former players in recent years, a front-office job or coaching job might interest him.
“I personally haven’t solicited anything or discussed it with anybody,” he said. “I think in due course I’d love to be involved in some capacity. When that time is I’m not sure. Right now I’m just enjoying coaching my kids and being around the family more than in the past.”
Primeau, Detroit’s third overall pick in the 1990 NHL entry draft, had 619 points (266-353) and 1,541 penalty minutes in 909 career regular-season games with Detroit, Hartford, Carolina and Philadelphia.