The longer the Flyers' unlikely playoff drive went, the more his competitive spirit tugged on Simon Gagne.
The closer the Flyers got to the Stanley Cup championship round, the more the thoughts of a possible comeback danced in his head.
"We didn't go to the finals and we'll never know what was going to be my decision," Gagne said yesterday, when the Flyers gathered at the Skate Zone in Voorhees for the final time before scattering for the summer. "But I was getting very excited about what was going on. It started to hit me from the inside.
"I did ask my trainer to call the doctor in Colorado to see if I could work out . . . but it didn't happen. In the end, it was the right decision not to play. I think it will pay off for me at the end."
It's always a good sign when a hockey player who missed most of the season with a concussion and two subsequent whiplash injuries allows common sense to prevail.
Even more so when that player is Gagne because, if the Flyers are going to make a stronger run at the Cup next season, there's little doubt they will require the uninterrupted service of their most prolific scorer.
In mid-February, after a battery of tests administered by James Kelly of the University of Colorado's department of neurosurgery, Gagne was advised to hang up his skates for the rest of the season if he didn't want to jeopardize his career.
Gagne, who had 88 goals and 147 points and was the team MVP the previous two seasons, had suffered a concussion from a blow to the head by Florida defenseman Jay Bouwmeester on Oct. 24. In the second game after his Nov. 5 return, Gagne didn't feel right after colliding with Pittsburgh's Gary Roberts. He missed the next 26 games, returning Feb. 10. A month later, he took a hit from Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal, and that's the last time he was seen in a Flyers uniform.
Gagne, 28, saw Keith Primeau's career come to an abbreviated end because of concussions and remembered the problems Eric Lindros had with head injuries, so he heeded the doctor's advice and shut it down.
Now, Gagne said, he is preparing for what he called the most important off-season of his career, optimistic that he will return to his all-star form. The Flyers winger said that he has started his comeback by vigorously riding a stationary bike and that he believes he is free of post-concussion symptoms.
"I'm doing very good right now," he said. "Sometimes you think you're OK, and when you start working out sometimes you feel the symptoms coming back. But not now. I have the whole summer to get back in shape and another four months before I play a game, so I'm very happy with the way things are going right now. I'm very positive everything is going to be OK."
Gagne said the Flyers' emergence in the playoffs has further fueled his motivation to return as a key figure on the team.
"It's not only exciting for next year, but for the future beyond that," he said. "If you look around, we have players who are going to be here for a long, long time."
Gagne has been undergoing prolotherapy to speed the healing process to ligaments in his neck that were injured. Prolotherapy helps regrow tissue responsible for strengthening ligaments and improving elasticity. It's often used for whiplash victims and is administered by injection.
"I had one [on Tuesday] and I'll have another before I go back home next week," he said. "I've had good results with it. The doctor believed my neck was damaged, and this is helping it heal quicker. Without it, they say it can take six months for it to heal."
Gagne suffered a concussion when the 6-foot-4 Bouwmeester drove his shoulder into his head. Under NHL rules, elbows to the head are illegal, but shoulder hits to the head are legal. Gagne had no problem with Bouwmeester's hit, but he would like to see the league legislate against all blows to the head.
"If it's elbow to the head, it's illegal, but if it's shoulder to the face, it's legal," he said. "I think I have a little bit of a problem with that. I mean, it looks like I'm crying because I had the injury, but I hope nobody else on my team has to go through what I did. Hopefully, [the NHL] will take a look at it. Guys are bigger, stronger and faster. I would like to see the league do something.
"It's dangerous to get hit to the head. We all know what can happen."