Captain's visit buoys Flyers' spirits

Posted: February 09, 2012

Just three days after he turned down an invitation to watch the Super Bowl with his teammates because he was battling headaches, defenseman Chris Pronger showed up at the Flyers' practice facility in Voorhees on Wednesday sporting facial hair.

"Maybe he's growing his playoff beard already," left winger Scott Hartnell quipped.

It was the first time Pronger, a future Hall of Famer whose career is in jeopardy because of post-concussion syndrome, had been with his teammates since a Christmas party about six weeks ago.

Pronger, who declined a request to speak with the media, isn't expected to return for this year's playoffs. In fact, no one knows whether he will ever play again.

But his 90-minute visit in the locker room before Wednesday's practice lifted the spirits of his teammates.

"It was nice to see Chris," center Danny Briere said. "We all know and understand he's been having a hard time, and we all would if we were in his situation. It's tough to be away from the game that long. We're all competitors. We want to be out there.

"He seemed happy. Not lots of joy, [because] I'm sure he'd rather be dressing with us," Briere added.

"Just seeing him around the locker room gives us a little bit of encouragement," rookie winger Matt Read said. "He's still part of our team, and we know he's our captain. It's good to see his face once in a while, come in and say a few words. It means a lot to all of us."

Hartnell, who leads the Flyers with 25 goals, said Pronger "looked a little down. [I'm] not going to lie. But to see him at the rink was good. We haven't seen him in a long while. For him to be here might lift his spirits as well."

Pronger, 37, hasn't played since Nov. 19 in Winnipeg. The Flyers have not named a temporary captain. Instead, Claude Giroux usually has joined Briere and Kimmo Timonen as alternate captains.

"I know the city loves to have their captains, but in the room it doesn't matter who has the C or not," Briere said. "It's not something that is needed. It's a team, and you need everyone to chip in, leadership-wise. He's still our captain."

"It was good for me to see him . . . that there is a Chris Pronger still in this world," Hartnell said with a smile. "I hadn't seen him for a month and a half. I chatted with him a little bit but didn't want to ask how he was doing. You get from our trainers that he'd had two good days and three bad ones, so I just tried to see what's up and just talk to him."

With Pronger, the Flyers were 8-3-2. Without him, they are 22-13-5.

"I think, obviously, it's a big void to fill, and give credit to our young guys" and veteran defensemen Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Andrej Meszaros, and Matt Carle, Hartnell said.

Carle was Pronger's defensive partner.

"I think maybe people thought Chris Pronger made him the player he was, playing with him for a couple of years," Hartnell said of Carle. "Well, he's excelling without him as well."

Carle said he and Pronger "kind of caught up a little bit. I think he was more concerned with what was going on with the team and how we've been doing playing with [goalie Ilya Bryzgalov] and how our D corps has been rotating. I think he's more concerned with us than he is with himself."

Hartnell, who said Pronger was too ill to attend a Super Bowl party at his Old City residence Sunday, was asked whether there was anything the players can do to lift Pronger out of his funk.

"I think that's a side effect of a concussion," he said. "You do get down on yourself. You're like, 'Why can't I get back with the boys?' Even when people retire, I'm sure they go through a little state of depression just not being around the guys. You try to joke with him and try to have some fun - not to make him feel bad, but you say, 'We're missing you.' "

Read said Pronger walked around the locker room and "made sure he connected with everybody."

Added Read: "He's missed a lot on and off the ice. We just hope he's going to be healthy someday, 100 percent; if it's not in hockey, just [in] his family life."


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com or @BroadStBull on Twitter.

 

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