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October 16, 2019

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HOCKEY:

Wranglers lifted by Primeau’s presence

Wranglers 10/8/09

Special to the Sun / Stephen R. Sylvanie

Las Vegas Wranglers Director of Player Development Keith Primeau offers some advice to Matt Watkins (left), Jeff Hazelwood (middle) and Matt Kang (right) on the bench during a preseason game against the Ontario Reign at the Orleans Arena on Oct. 8.

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Las Vegas head coach Ryan Mougenel (right) talks with Wranglers Director of Player of Director Development Keith Primeau on the bench during a preseason game against the Ontario Reign on Oct. 8.

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Keith Primeau is a coach.

He coaches his youngest sons and their hockey team, helps out with a high school team in Philadelphia and runs hockey camps in Canada and New Jersey.

This week, he was also behind the bench of the Las Vegas Wranglers.

Sure, his official title with the Wranglers is director of player development, but judging by the team's 4-0 victory over Utah Thursday night, its first win against the Grizzlies in four tries, the presence of the former NHL all-star might be rubbing off.

"Coming off the ice, they were saying, 'Let Keith stay! Let Keith stay!'" Wranglers head coach Ryan Mougenel said.

It was Primeau's first visit with the team since the preseason, where he took in some action next to Mougenel, a longtime friend.

"It's a different experience," Primeau said. "Since I retired, I've kind of dove head-first into coaching and I really enjoy it. I like the teaching part of it, and I really enjoy being around here."

Primeau joined the Wranglers in July, three years after retiring from the NHL in 2006.

In his 15-year-career, split mostly between the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers, Primeau tallied 266 goals and 353 assists, while earning 1,541 minutes of time in the penalty box. He was named to the NHL All-Star Team twice in his career, during the 1998-99 and 2003-04 seasons.

In May 2000, the Toronto native scored the game-winning goal in the longest game in modern NHL playoff history, a fifth-overtime wrist shot past Ron Tugnutt and the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

For the past week, he has been shadowing the Wranglers in practice and at games, talking with and teaching the young squad.

"He says a lot of good things," Wranglers center Chris Neiszner said. "His knowledge and pointers help us all the time on offense, defense and special teams. You put him and [Mougenel] together, the brains that make everything work, and you have a pretty good cycle."

In between his other coaching responsibilities, administration work, and scouting for the Wranglers on the East Coast, Primeau hopes to make the trip to Las Vegas once a month.

He noted that once his coaching schedule winds down in February, he expects to make more frequent trips, allowing him to spend longer periods of time with the team.

"It's been fun," he said. "Obviously, the speed and tempo are different, but the game is the same at all levels. You try not to over-coach, just simplify things and eliminate mistakes."

Primeau and Mougenel have been friends for about 20 years, since Mougenel played with Primeau's brother, Wayne, in juniors.

The trio owns and operates the Durham Hockey Institute in Toronto and also has ownership stake in the Whitby Fury, a member of the Ontario Junior Hockey League.

"This just kind of happened," Primeau said of the opportunity with the Wranglers. "We were spending a lot of time together in the summer when he was making player decisions. He was picking my brain and it just came up in conversation that maybe we could give it a try and, to this point, it's worked out good."

The two could be seen sharing strategies and directing players during Thursday night's game, as the shutout win came to a close while they shook hands.

"Keith and I have a special relationship," Mougenel said. "It's been amazing for me as a coach and it's been amazing for the guys, but he's a guy who built his career off of saying the right things and, most importantly, following that up with doing the right things. He makes me a better coach and makes these guys better players."

And while Primeau has enjoyed his time with the team, he said not to tab him as a future professional coach just yet.

"I still haven't decided what I want to do yet," he said. "I am drawn to the teaching part of it though. I feel that I can make a strong impression on the young guys. So whether it's the coaching side or the management side, I'm not 100 percent sure. I guess I'm just keeping my options open for now."

After a week with the team, he thinks the biggest factor in the team's performance this year will be its youth, for good and for bad.

"Their youth is a strong suit but it's also a detriment at times," he said. "But their exuberance, energy and willingness to learn has been really refreshing. They're an attentive group and a great bunch of kids."

Anthony Fenech can be reached at [email protected]

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