Lapointe felled by a feline Pee Wee The Flyer tripped over his cat on Sept. 27, spraining an ankle.

Posted: October 08, 2003

With the Flyers' regular season about to open tomorrow night at the Wachovia Center against the Buffalo Sabres, center Claude Lapointe's status remains uncertain, thanks to his cat.

Lapointe missed the final four preseason games while nursing a badly sprained right ankle, courtesy of Pee Wee, whom he tripped over while going down the steps of his South Jersey home on the morning of Sept. 27. Lapointe was headed to East Rutherford, N.J., for an exhibition game against the Devils.

"I was all dressed up in my suit and I tripped over him," Lapointe said.

It wasn't as if the Burmese cat stuck out a menacing paw. Anyone who has cats knows that they tend to lie down or dart in front of you without notice. Which is what Pee Wee did, sending Lapointe tumbling.

"I felt like an idiot," Lapointe said. "He didn't mean it. I've got three cats."

At the time, Pee Wee was hanging around the house with Baldy.

"I'm sure it was Pee Wee who did it," Lapointe said.

This is a tough break for Lapointe, who already had lost ice time in camp when coach Ken Hitchcock decided to move Mark Recchi to center. That was supposed to be only a camp experiment.

However, when it became obvious that John LeClair wasn't working well on Jeremy Roenick's line but had chemistry with Recchi, the experiment became permanent. And that pushed Lapointe, who was the team's fourth center and a superb penalty killer last season, further down in the lineup.

The injury compounds things, as it has limited Lapointe to just two preseason games.

"He needs more time," Hitchcock said. "These four days are really important for Claude to get back into the swing of things. He's missed a lot of time with the ankle problem. For older players, there is no substitution for game activity or competition."

Lapointe turns 35 this week and says missing time in training camp is worse than missing time once the season begins.

"When you hurt yourself in January, it is one thing because you have been playing a long time and you're in shape," he said. "But training camp is all new. You're trying to get back into shape."

Though he's been practicing this week, Lapointe is still behind in conditioning, particularly skating.

"Yeah, but when you get to my age, you go by experience," Lapointe said. "You just deal with it."

Much the same as having to deal with Recchi taking the last center spot, but with a better set of players (LeClair and Radovan Somik).

"I don't look at it that way," Lapointe said. "If Rex can help the team and center another line, then that is good for him and good for the team. I can only do my job. It's a long season. You never know what can happen or whether it will last. As long as it is good for the team, it doesn't matter to me."

The only thing that Lapointe is concerned about now is being able to put a skate boot on without pain or swelling in his ankle.

"I think I will be ready for Thursday," Lapointe said. "But we'll see."

Loose pucks. Keith Primeau practiced and said his ailing rib injury is getting better. He's questionable for the opener. . . . LeClair, whose small toe on his left foot is bruised, missed practice but is expected to play. . . . Plenty of tickets remained unsold for opener against the Sabres - 1,000 as of yesterday.

Contact staff writer Tim Panaccio at 215-854-2847 or tpanaccio@phillynews.com.

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