A Primeau messenger

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 4:31 PM ET


 When Ken Hitchcock first took over the Philadelphia Flyers, Keith Primeau wouldn't talk to him.

 Management had been making public pronouncements about its new coach, saying that the revolving door had just been padlocked.

 Hitchcock, the hierarchy explained, was in place for four years and if there were problems this time, it would be the players who got shipped out, not the coach.

 It had been Primeau who, a few months earlier, had made some public pronouncements of his own, saying, in essence, that coach Bill Barber was not up to the job.

 As a result, Barber was fired, Hitchcock came in.

 Primeau, feeling somewhat guilty about his actions, and not sure of his status in the new regime, went through a week of training camp without talking to Hitchcock. He'd walk past the open door to Hitchcock's office, see Hitchcock sitting, and kept going.

 Hitchcock has been accused of many transgressions, but being uncommunicative isn't one of them. Hitchcock will talk to a cement post if he can't find any life forms to chat with. Heck, he'll even talk to the media.

 So after a week of this silent treatment, he'd had enough. He grabbed Primeau, took him out for lunch, and cleared the air.

 He told Primeau that he had talked to a number of people (no surprise there) and that as a result of these conversations, he had come to the conclusion that Primeau had to be the team captain.

 Then he spelled out what he wanted from Primeau. Effort. Leadership. Communication (of course). Co-operation in the remolding of the team. In short, all the things that the best hockey captains provide.

 Primeau welcomed the offer. He's a proud man who just naturally gravitates toward responsibilities. He felt, as did many others on the team, that with a couple of refinements, a Stanley Cup run was a genuine possibility.

 One of those refinements was an upgrade in goal and Primeau, not a man for dodging questions, says that thanks to Robert Esche, he has confidence in the team's goaltending for the first time.

 This is a team with a decimated defence and an aging offence. But Primeau is relentlessly leading that Cup quest.

 His phenomenal Game 5 against the Maple Leafs turned that series around. Two spectacular performances in this series have been the key to the Flyers' two wins -- and for that matter, he was outstanding in their two losses to Tampa as well.

 He has accepted the Hitchcock message and he makes sure it is taken to heart by the team.

 Said Hitchcock: "It's easy for me to talk and say, 'Okay, we need to do this.' But if I leave the room and it's not being sold within the room, I have no impact on what happens on the ice because I'm selling to somebody who's not buying."

 Primeau sells the message in the room.

 Then he goes out and delivers on the ice, not only with his offence, but also with his defence and his thundering bodychecks that are forcing the Lightning into mistakes.

 "If you're going to win," Hitchcock said, "someone has to say, 'Follow me.' He gave up his presence as a top scoring player and now he's a leader."

 Hitchcock then rhymed off the names of a few others who followed a similar pattern: Steve Yzerman, Mike Modano, Derian Hatcher and Mark Messier, Stanley Cup winners all.

 After Saturday's Philadelphia victory, Hitchcock said, "There are certain stages during a critical series where your captain has to step up. And he stepped up. Again."

 No problem, said Primeau. "Every time I came off the ice, I looked around to Hitch and wanted to go back out again. I felt I could have played 60 minutes."

 That's about the only thing he hasn't done for this team.


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