PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Flyers welcomed back 11 former captains for the team’s first game at the Spectrum in 12 years.
Lost amid the pomp and circumstances surrounding the club’s return to its ancestral home – which lies across a parking lot from its current home, the Wachovia Center – was the return of Simon Gagne.
Gagne never played at the Spectrum, but seeing the two-time 40-goal scorer take his first game shifts since last Feb. 10 provided another nice bit of nostalgia for fans of the current team.
After spending the last eight months recovering from concussion-related illnesses, Gagne received positive reviews for his performance in Saturday’s 4-2 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes.
“It was good for the first game in eight months,” he said. “The whole thing started to get easier at the end. My legs were getting tired pretty quick. At the end, I was starting to feel better with the puck and make some plays and get some scoring chances.”
Playing right wing on a line with Mike Richards at center and Daniel Briere at left wing, Gagne seemed to get stronger as the game wore on. He got his first shot late in the second period, had three good scoring chances from the side of the net late in the third, and assisted on Richards’ second shorthanded goal of the game. He also saw time on the power play and the penalty kill.
“We just kept an eye on him there,” Flyers coach John Stevens said. “We didn’t have the luxury of time sheets to know where he was at, but you can get a feel by the way he was coming off and how he was ready to go. I think it’s going to take time … but once he gets his legs under him he’ll be that much better.”
Anything would be better than where Gagne was last season. While the Flyers returned from the abyss to make a surprising run to the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals, the two-time 40-goal scorer was as much a spectator as the fans buying tickets.
Gagne’s season was short-circuited by a hit from Florida’s Jay Bouwmeester on Oct. 24. He sat out most of November and December and tried to come back in January, but he wasn’t the same player. And after being hit from behind by Pittsburgh’s Jordan Staal on Feb. 10, his season came to an end after just 25 games.
“It was tough,” Gagne said of watching his teammates succeed without him. “It was probably the toughest thing in my career. I’ve had injuries in my past, but that was definitely the toughest thing to do. … It was fun to see the team winning and doing well, but you want so much to be out there and play, it kills you from the inside.”
Gagne redesigned his summer workout, concentrating on conditioning and improving his balance and quickness. Part of that came by working with Canadian strongman Hugo Girard, who had Gagne hurdle tires and run 30-yard sprints while carrying bags of sand.
He also underwent a series of anesthetic injections in his neck, head, shoulders, pelvis and back called prolotherapy. The injections contained two kinds of anesthetics and an inflammatory agent. According to Dr. Scott Greenberg, the New Jersey doctor who treated Gagne, the inflammatory agent tells the body there is an area that needs repair. The body then sends white-blood cells that help remove debris from the area and repair damaged tissue, tendons and ligaments.
He also lost 10 pounds he gained while he couldn’t work out due to the headaches and nausea he suffered while recovering from the concussion.
“I had to get back in shape, I had to follow a diet,” Gagne said. “In my workouts I pushed myself a bit harder.”
Gagne was medically cleared at the start of training camp, but he was held out of the Flyers’ first three exhibition games. Gagne said he felt good, but he knew there was only one way to find out just how healthy he really was. The great unknown is how he would respond the first time he took or delivered a hit.
“I was feeling good all summer, but we play hockey, we don’t bike or run,” he said. “Until I was playing that first game it was tough to know.”
He found out on his first shift, just 59 seconds into the game, when he was sent off for roughing.
“I think he was on the end of his shift and got a little tired and forgot what he was doing,” joked Richards.
“Maybe I put the elbow a bit high on that one,” Gagne said. “I was looking to get physical that first shift and that happened. I took a couple (hits) and gave a couple. Everything went well so I’m pretty happy with how I felt.”
Richards said he saw a lot of the old Gagne on Saturday, which was fine by him.
“He plays the game hard,” Richards said. “He’s not going to back away from checks or back away from the physical play. It’s good to see him in there mixing it up.”
Stevens said Gagne won’t play Sunday, when the Flyers and Hurricanes play again in Raleigh, but he’ll be in the lineup for at least two of the Flyers’ final three exhibition games, Wednesday and Friday against Washington and next Saturday against New Jersey.
After all the time he spent away from the game last season, lots of ice time – even if the games don’t really count – is fine by him.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.