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Star winger Simon Gagne hopeful for possible return come early January

Hockey poolies rejoice. At least those with Simon Gagne.

The star Philadelphia Flyers winger could be back in the lineup in the New Year after missing nearly two months with a serious concussion. "It's still too early to pick a date for when will be my first game," Gagne told The Canadian Press on Thursday. "But the way I feel right now, I'm sure it's getting closer to go back and play. It's getting close.

"We're talking after New Year's right now but you never know. If I feel good enough maybe I'll play before that."

January still seems a more logical target because of the Christmas break.

"I want four to five practices in a row before I go back and play," said Gagne. "I don't want to come out of the Christmas break and only have one practice before I go back and play. I'll make sure I'm 100 per cent before I come back."

For the first time in a long time, Gagne finds himself in great spirits. He's been skating with the team for the last week and a half and on Wednesday and Thursday the red cross was taken off his jersey. He was cleared for contact, a telltale sign that he was closer to recovery.

"It's getting better," Gagne said. "The last two days have been the best days since the injury. ... It's real positive right now with how I feel. It's fun to feel like that."

Gagne has missed 22 of the last 24 games with the injury, which he sustained in an Oct. 24 game at Florida.

"It was the first shift of the game," recalled Gagne. "I was going to go change but I had a pass and I decided to skate pass the red line and dump it in. Just before I dumped it in Jay Bouwmeester came across and just finished his check.

"It wasn't a big hit but he's taller than me, so his shoulder and arm came right into my face. Most of the hit was right to the jaw."

Gagne has had concussions before in his career but only minor ones, the kind that require only a week off. He returned for games Nov. 5 against the New York Rangers and Nov. 7 against Pittsburgh.

"I thought it was the same as my previous ones," said Gagne. "I felt pretty good. I said, 'I want to play, I feel good enough.' But it was not the right thing to do. After two games I didn't feel very good."

He's missed the next 18 games since, wanting to make sure he fully recovered. It's been hard.

"Very, very frustrating," said Gagne. "You need to go through something like that to understand it. It's not fun, there's lots of ups and downs. Early in the injury you have two or three days where everything feels good and you think you're going in the right direction but right after that you get headaches for another two days. So you get down again.

"But on the other side of it, I learned from it. You want to make sure you come back 100 per cent. And that's what I'm doing. It's been almost two months and when I come back I'll be 100 per cent and symptom-free."

The two-time 40-goal scorer will be a major addition to a Flyers team that's had its ups and downs this season. His teammates are happy to have him back in practice and they haven't drilled him through the boards even though he's been cleared for contact.

"I'm sure guys are still taking it easy on me right now but at least in your mind you know it might happen, you might go in the corner and get hit," said Gagne. "It's good to put yourself in those situations. It's helping a bit mentally."



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