It may be tough to stay positive if you’re calling form Fargo, North Dakota, but former NHLer Keith Primeau is having a good day.
Hosting a fantasy camp presented by the Hockey Hall of Fame and Shoot For the Cure, Primeau called in to Dean Blundell and Co. on Sportsnet The Fan 590 Friday to reflect back on his NHL career and history with concussions.
His excuse for being in Fargo was that he was watching his two sons — Chayse and Cayden — play for the Lincoln Stars of the ECHL.
“I actually feel really good, thanks,” said Primeau. “My last concussion, which forced me to retire, was back in 2005. It did take me upwards of seven years before I did start to feel better but I’m in a good space now, enjoying retirement and family life.
“I have concerns about what my future holds. I don’t dwell on it but I know that I damaged my brain and that’s probably the biggest reason I donated my brain to science. I don’t live by “what-ifs” but I’m certainly aware of my history.”
Primeau scored 619 points in 909 career NHL games, racking up 1541 penalty minutes in the process. He last played for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2005-06 when he suited up for just nine games before retiring.
“There were days when I would sit in my office with the lights out and cry because I wasn’t sure what the endgame would be,” said Primeau. “I was trying a lot of treatments and therapies, a whole spectrum of medical advances, and I wasn’t getting better. That really scared me. I can appreciate what some guys who haven’t had the success I’ve had have had to deal with.”
The Toronto native was drafted in 1990 third overall by the Detroit Red Wings whom he played with until 1996. He then played in Hartford in 1996-97 before the move to Carolina until he began his tenure with the Flyers in 1999-00.
“What I have is four documented concussions dating back to 1997 but that doesn’t tell the whole story,” said Primeau. “I started playing hockey at five years old and I remember, playing minor hockey as a kid, getting hit in the head, being told I’d had my bell rung and to get back out there and not knowing anything different — and neither did my parents or coaches.
“I always had to play through it. When we did start to understand and document and recognize that this was very real, it was still in the players’ hands and so [the injuries] were not managed properly.”
A problem with some professional sports teams is the self-interest of team doctors, as opposed to objective ones, that may not always put the health of the player ahead of the well-being of the team.
“No, I don’t [blame team doctors] because from what I recall, I was allowed to have input [into going back to play],” said Primeau. “Should I have had input? No. Did either side know any better? Probably not. I hold no ill will and I’ll always feel fortunate I was able to to play in the National Hockey League for 15 years.”
Since Primeau’s retirement, the conversations around head injuries have dramatically changed — not entirely — but still to a degree where Primeau’s time in the NHL seems like a bygone era.
“I used to think of a [big hit] as a great play, like ‘Oh, he got him. He crushed him,'” he said. “Now, I cringe. Now I know what the ramifications are and it’s a scary proposition.”