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Improving Gagne seeks larger role in second year
by Les Bowen, Philadelphia Daily News --- September, 2000

Suddenly, the ice looked crowded.

The Flyers got several of their injured regulars back for yesterday's practice. One reason youngsters such as centerman Petr Hubacek and winger Justin Williams have been able to steal so much of the preseason spotlight is that fans have seen comparatively little of Simon Gagne (groin), Daymond Langkow (neck strain) or Jody Hull (shoulder). They all were back in harness, as was defenseman Eric Desjardins (groin).

John LeClair (hip flexor), Keith Primeau (back) and Rick Tocchet (knee) returned last week.

In fact, an injury list that briefly reached double digits now is down to Chris Therien (back) and Gino Odjick (headaches), with Odjick contending he's just about ready to go again. Unless someone else gets hurt, Therien might be the only incumbent Flyer not ready for the Oct. 5 start of the regular season.

That's assuming the condition of Gagne, who figures to be a big part of the team's offense in the post-Eric Lindros era, continues to improve. Though he took part in the full practice yesterday, Gagne said he still has some pain, or at least stiffness, and won't be totally reassured until he gets through today's workout without feeling any worse.

"I feel a little bit of pain, not that much. . .We'll know more [today]," Gagne said. "It was great to get back with the guys, skating, today."

Flyers coach Craig Ramsay said Gagne probably will not play tomorrow, in the team's next-to-last preseason game, at home against New Jersey. Gagne, who seemed to be the best player on the ice the first few days of drills, until he pulled his groin, then would have only one shot at getting in an exhibition game, Saturday at Washington.

After a summer of hard work, adding 7 pounds to his now 6-foot, 192-pound frame, this is not the kickoff Gagne had in mind for his second NHL season, at age 20.

"[Getting hurt] was a bad feeling. . .I feel like I'm a little bit more important to the team than I was last season," said Gagne, who came on strong down the stretch of his rookie season and finished with 20 goals. "I'm on the second line with 'Lanker' [Langkow] and Mark Recchi. I hope I'll get to play with those guys. . .I feel like I have to do something more. Last year I was a rookie, I was not as important as, like, Recchi or LeClair. This year, I think I have to do something."

Ramsay hasn't made a big deal of Gagne's absence, but the coach certainly seems keenly interested in his recovery.

"If he's pain-free, we're in good shape," Ramsay said. "You never know with muscle pulls, it could tighten up again and he might miss some more time. He did look good, and that's the big step forward.

"He's a guy that's played in all of the situations. He's a very valuable tool, Simon. You can sense from him that he wants to step up, wants to be a more important part of what we do as a team."