© Photo courtesy of Elite Prospects website
Reggie Primeau passes away at 77
Reggie Primeau might have been small in stature, but he was a giant as a human being.
“If everybody lived life the way he did and treated people the way he did the world would be a lot better place,” said an emotional Manny Primeau when reflecting on the passing of his uncle. “He was just an amazing, amazing person.”
Reggie Primeau died on Wednesday at the age of 77 after a very lengthy battle with diabetes. The former star hockey and baseball player from Prince Albert passed away at his adopted home in Fort Wayne, Ind., where he resided since first arriving there in 1961 as a semi-professional hockey player.
“He was an incredibly remarkable man,” said Janice Neimanis, a niece of Reggie’s who admitted she was “born too late” to watch him play hockey, but had countless memories of her uncle as a human being. “He never let anything stop him. He’s a hero. He’s my hero.”
Primeau was born in Prince Albert on Aug. 13, 1936, and when he was 18 years old he made the line-up of the Saskatchewan Amateur Junior Hockey League’s Prince Albert Mintos.
The smooth-skating centreman played three years with the Mintos and during the 1955-56 season he scored 51 goals and set up 41 others. One of his teammates during his final year with the Mintos was Richard “Chick” Balon and he regards Primeau as a mentor, both in Prince Albert and in Fort Wayne where they played two years together with the International Hockey League’s Komets.
“He was a really smart hockey player,” recalls Balon. “He was small, but he made up for it with his smartness. During my first year with the Mintos we were playing Regina in the playoffs and the coach put me on a line with Reggie. He said to me don’t worry about anything; just go up and down your wing and I will get you the puck.”
“In my first year in Fort Wayne, I didn’t know anybody there and he took me under his wing,” added Balon. “He took real good care of me and without his help it would have been a lot tougher.”
When his junior career was finished Primeau turned professional and he spent the next five years playing with a number of different teams including Saskatoon with the Quakers, the Troy Bruins, Trois Rivieres, Greensboro, Milwaukee and Portland.
In 1961 he joined the Komets and immediately found a place he could call home. Primeau played eight years with Fort Wayne and helped that franchise win two Turner Cup championships. When he retired in 1969 he had amassed 288 goals and 483 assists as a professional including 222 goals and 595 points with Fort Wayne.
The Komets honoured Primeau years later when he was made a charter member of their hall of fame and had his No. 12 retired to hang from the rafters of the Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne.
Primeau, who is also enshrined in the Prince Albert Sports Hall of Fame, remained close to his beloved Komets in subsequent years, but it was his battle with diabetes that dominated the final years of his life.
In 1998 Primeau needed a kidney transplant and two years later he had a leg removed as the disease continued to ravage his body. That didn’t stop him from continuing his love for hockey, however, as he finally found a prosthetic leg that would allow him to skate and in a report in the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, Primeau took to the ice with the new limb and refused to come off after almost 90 minutes of skating laps around the rink.
While hockey was the sport that made Primeau a living he was also an exceptional shortstop on the baseball diamond.
Bordie Adams remembers playing with Primeau with the Bohs and Elks teams from years ago and said he was an amazing hitter and fielder.
“He was the happiest guy you would ever meet,” says Adams. “He was just a fantastic person and was so dedicated to hockey and ball.”
His sense of humour and contagious laugh were also fondly remembered by those close to him with Manny Primeau stating “If he teased you then you knew he liked you and you were in his good books.”
He apparently teased a lot of people because recollections of Reggie Primeau are plentiful.
Primeau is survived by his wife Sonja and his children Pam, Rich and Greg. Funeral services will be held on Saturday in Fort Wayne with his niece Janice and nephew Manny heading to Fort Wayne to be with the family.