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NHL'S NEWEST TEAM OPENS FOR BUSINESS

The scene pointed to anything but hockey: palm trees, 90-degree heat, guys showing up for work in shorts, T-shirts and sandals.

So it began for the Atlanta Thrashers, who held their first practice Sunday in the land of Mickey Mouse.

"When I was young, I always wanted to play somewhere that was nice and hot," said goalie Norm Maracle, who played with the Detroit Red Wings last season. "My dream has come true."

But don't get the impression this is a summer vacation. The NHL's newest team had only six days of practice before its first exhibition game, Saturday night against the Nashville Predators.

Eighteen-year-old center Patrik Stefan, the top overall pick in the NHL entry draft, blended in with the crowd just two days after agreeing to a contract that could pay him excess of $10 million the next three years.

"Patrik didn't stand out today," coach Curt Fraser said. "But as he gets a little more confidence, he will start to stand out."

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