Chayse Primeau can’t help but smile when he tells the story. While playing for the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints, Primeau had just decommitted from Canisius after a coaching change at the school. A few days later, he was talking to then-Omaha assistant coach Peter Mannino and the rest of the Omaha staff.
Omaha was one of a handful of schools Primeau was interested in, but he wanted to visit the campus and check out the facilities first. That was the issue.
“I tried to get a visit and my flight got canceled,” Primeau said. “I tried to get a visit the next weekend and my flight got canceled again because of snow. So, I’m thinking maybe it’s not meant to be at first. But we played in Cedar Rapids on a Saturday and my parents were there, so we drove through the night and got into Omaha really late.
“I went on my visit though, and fell in love with it here. Obviously, the rest is history.”
Four years, 116 games, a Second-Team All-NCHC selection and an NCAA Tournament appearance later, Primeau’s time in Omaha is likely in the rearview mirror. Although the 6-foot-3 center technically has one more year of eligibility left, he’s already started exploring his options at the professional level.
For someone who grew up just outside of Philadelphia, it’s been quite the change of scenery spending the past six years in the Midwest. First in Lincoln, where he spent parts of two seasons playing for the Lincoln Stars, then the 2017-18 season in Dubuque, Iowa, before joining the Mavericks in the fall of 2018.
“It’s crazy to think about how much and how fast my life has changed out here,” Primeau said. “I remember it like it was yesterday, but my dad made a joke that I was going to find a girl out here and love it here. And sure enough, dad, you were right. People say it all the time, and it’s cliche, but Omaha really is my second home now. This place means everything to me.
“I really can’t put into words how many special people and special memories I made during my four years here. I really wouldn’t change anything.”
But those memories within the sport of hockey started well before Primeau stepped foot on the ice in Omaha. While his father, Keith, was playing for the Philadelphia Flyers, Chayse was more invested in the shinny hockey games in the Wachovia Center (since renamed to Wells Fargo Center) hallways.
He and his dad laugh about it now. But looking back, Primeau might not be where he is today had that mini stick not ended up in his hands.
“He didn’t spend much time watching me play because he was in the bowels of the arena playing mini-sticks,” quipped Keith Primeau, Chayse’s father and a 15-year NHL forward. “My wife would have to keep track of the four of them (Chayse, his two brothers: Cayden and Corey, and his sister, Kylie) running around in different directions. She probably saw more of those games than the ones out on the ice.”
Every time Chayse has put a jersey on in his hockey career, there’s been that Primeau name on his back — one that hockey fans often associate with Keith. When Chayse was playing youth hockey, especially as a teen and into the USHL, he occasionally heard the chirps. He also knew the comparisons and expectations were out there, but he never let them affect him.
If anything, Primeau said he used it as motivation to represent his family in his own way.
But at the same time, that last name is something that always has and always will follow him in the sport. Keith played in 909 games in the NHL and racked up 619 points. Chayse’s uncle, Wayne, also had a 15-year career with seven teams. His brother Cayden is currently a goaltender for Laval, the AHL affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens, and has started nine games for Montreal this season. His cousin, Mason, is also currently with the Henderson Silver Knights, the AHL affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights.
As Primeau has watched some of his Omaha teammates sign professional deals over the past two weeks, he now hopes to find himself as one of the next to follow. He’s also hoping to become the next in his family, too.
Even with the Primeau family’s hockey genes, Chayse said he’s never felt forced to follow in those footsteps.
“My dad never really pushed me to get into hockey,” he said. “But once I had a stick in my hand, I fell in love with it, and he’s always supported it. The one thing people always say is everyone has a different path, and he’s encouraged me to create my own.”
From Keith’s standpoint, that’s been something he’s tried to do with all of his children.
“One, I wanted them to earn their own way, and two, I wanted them to make their own way,” Keith said. “I never pushed hockey on them and I tried to stay as little involved in their decisions and process as much as I could.
“Sure, I wanted to be there to guide them, but I also wanted them to create their own identity. At the end of the day, Chayse is a different type of player than I was, and I think that’s a good thing.”
The Primeau family can all joke about it now, but Chayse has come a long way from his early days on the ice. When he first started on the ice, his nickname was ‘crazy legs.’
“He was all over the place, and he only knew one speed, so we called him crazy legs,” Keith said. “He did the same when he started skiing too. I was always afraid he was going to go flying into something because he learned how to skate fast before he learned how to stop.”
Fast forward to the final weekend of the regular season and those ‘crazy legs’ were flying around the Baxter Arena ice. In an emotional 4-1 win over North Dakota, Primeau netted a pair of goals on senior night with his parents in the stands.
During the postgame press conference, Primeau said “you can’t script it any better” and struggled to put how special the win was into words. Even with some time to reflect on it, Primeau still got choked up when asked about that win and what the last four years have meant.
“This place is just so special,” Primeau said. “Especially the way that the fans have been the last four years, and the people here. I mean, you come into the locker room every day and we’ve had such a great group here. Plus, (Paul Jerrard) tells us it’s better than some of the NHL (facilities), so you really soak it in.
“The last week (of the regular season), I was trying to soak it in a lot and staying out after practice. Before the Saturday (North Dakota) game, I was just sitting on the bench trying to look up in the rafters. Look around the seats and just really soak it in. Because in the back of my head, I knew it probably could be my last game at Baxter.”
Primeau said it’s been a long journey to this point, but it hasn’t been a perfect one either. During his freshman season, Primeau broke his foot and missed time. As a sophomore, he started to hit his stride towards the end of the season, only to have the postseason cut short by COVID-19. Like all athletes, the pandemic limited that summer as well.
However, he responded with a career-year last season, putting up a career-high nine goals and 23 points in 26 games. Primeau had options to turn pro at the end of the season, yet he decided to return to Omaha for his senior year.
“I wasn’t really happy with the way last season ended,” Primeau said. “Once you make it to the (NCAA) Tournament once and you get a taste in your mouth, you really want to go back. That was our saying the last month (of this season) too. We knew after Miami we had our work cut out for us and we had a bitter taste in our mouth.”
As the Mavericks’ season came to an end in Kalamazoo, Primeau’s time in an Omaha sweater likely did the same. But as he reflects on his senior year, between the injuries and illness, and the rollercoaster that was Omaha’s 2021-22 season, Primeau has had his fair share of curveballs thrown at him.
“There’s two words I’d use to describe this season: challenging and adversity,” Primeau said. “I got hit by the shot against Miami and missed almost a month. I came back and I thought I played one of my better weekends at Western Michigan (in December), but then we had a two-week break for Christmas. Then I thought I had a good St. Lawrence weekend, and we got shut down for COVID.
“I didn’t feel good for about a month after that and didn’t feel like myself out there. I finally felt back to normal going into the Denver series and had one of my better weeks of practice this season, and then I came down with the flu. So I’ve had some tough luck, but I tried to stick with it and I thought I finished strong.”
While back home during that Christmas break, Primeau and a friend attended a game between the Flyers and Ottawa Senators. It’s stuck with him since. On the ice for Ottawa was Jacob Bernard-Docker, a defenseman Primeau faced at North Dakota multiple times. Former Minnesota Duluth forward Jackson Cates was also on the ice for Philadelphia.
As Primeau tells the story, he mentions a picture from last season where Bernard-Docker is next to him on the ice. It’s a subtle reminder that Primeau’s dream isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
“It’s obviously a dream for any hockey player and knowing that you’re kind of close, it’s surreal,” Primeau said. “There’s a lot of work to be done and I know nothing is guaranteed, but I’m excited to see what the future holds.”
Speaking of Primeau pulling out his phone, that’s something he does after every game.
“Whether I have a good game or I have a bad game, I instantly look at my phone to see what my dad says,” Chayse said. “I call him immediately as soon as I leave the rink when he’s not at the game and he’s the first person I call. It’s funny though, because we have a family group chat and right away I know if he thinks I had a good game or bad one.
“My mom always says ‘good game’ after every game and then if my dad thinks I played well, he’ll say good game or whatever. But if there’s nothing, I’m like, oh no. I didn’t play well. Also, when I call him, if the first thing he asks is how do you think you played? That’s when I know he didn’t think I played very well.”
It’s turned into a running joke in those Primeau family group chats, but it’s something Chayse said he wouldn’t want any other way. Although he’s still not entirely sure what the future holds, Primeau said he’s excited for what’s next in his hockey journey.
But make no mistake, wherever that journey takes him, Keith won’t be running around the bowels of the arena with a mini stick in his hand.
“He means everything to me and he’s always been in my corner,” Primeau said of his dad. “He’s taught me so much about hockey and life, and it’s huge having people like him in your corner. You can never have too many people, but it means more when it’s your family.”