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WNY Olympic guide, A to almost Z / From athletes to coaches, with ties weak to strong, region well represented in Turin

Friday's opening ceremonies for the 2006 Winter Olympics will unite athletes and fans from around the world in Turin, Italy. Western New York has its own melting pot of sorts competing in the Games in various sports.

Figure skater Kimmie Meissner's parents were born and raised here, and she will be among the Americans to watch in the coming weeks. Jochen Hecht is passing through for a few years, but he'll be suiting up for Germany.

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>Maxim Afinogenov

Sport: men's hockey.

Bio: The Sabres winger is among the most exciting players in the National Hockey League. He's appearing in his second Olympics for Russia. In 2002, he scored the game-winning goal against Dominik Hasek to beat the Czech Republic and had four points in six games. Afinogenov is fourth among Sabres scorers this season with 12 goals and 35 points.

Outlook: Afinogenov is among the fastest players on a team loaded with speedsters. The Russians are expected to reach the medal round and have a good chance to win the gold.

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>Jim Corsi

Sport: men's hockey.

Bio: Corsi has been the Sabres' goaltending coach for the past eight seasons and is serving in the same capacity with Team Italy. As a player, he represented Italy in the 1984 Winter Olympics and was a member of its national team several times in the World Championships.

Outlook: Corsi could have his prized student, Dominik Hasek, in net and the Italians would still be a long shot to medal.

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>Chris Drury

Sport: men's hockey.

Bio: The Sabres captain has won a Stanley Cup, an NCAA title and a Little League World Series but has never won an Olympic gold medal. He captured the silver with the U.S. team in 2002 in Salt Lake City. He's leading the Sabres in scoring with 17 goals and 41 points.

Outlook: Drury wants the one title he hasn't earned, but it's going to be difficult in Turin. Many believe the Americans are behind Canada and Russia, for starters.

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>Brian Gionta

Sport: men's hockey.

Bio: It will mark the first Olympic experience for the Rochester native, who spent two years playing for the Niagara Scenics before they became the Buffalo Lightning and now the Junior Sabres. Gionta is having a terrific year with 31 goals and 53 points for the New Jersey Devils.

Outlook: He became a dominant player under the new rules and will be looking for new jewelry in Turin. It's going to be difficult.

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>Jochen Hecht

Sport: men's hockey.

Bio: The veteran winger is playing his third season for the Sabres and is appearing in his second Olympics. He represented Germany in 2002 in Salt Lake City, recording one goal and one assist in four games. He's sixth in scoring with Buffalo (14-15-29).

Outlook: The Germans have just seven NHL players on the roster and are not expected to be in the medal round. Their success could depend on how well Olaf Kolzig plays in net.

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>Kim Insalaco

Sport: women's hockey.

Bio: The Greece, N.Y., native is appearing in her first Winter Games at age 25. She's a forward who played for Brown University before making the U.S. women's team. She was cut from the Olympic team in 2001 but returned after refining her skills in a women's league in Toronto.

Outlook: The United States was looking for newcomers to make up the difference with archrival Canada. The Yanks are expected to be in the gold medal game.

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>Kimmie Meissner

Sport: women's figure skating.

Bio: Both parents grew up in Western New York, and grandparents from both sides of her family still reside here. Her father, Paul, graduated from St. Joe's. Her mother, Judy, graduated from Sacred Heart. Kimmie grew up in Maryland and attends Fallston High, just outside Baltimore. She won the U.S. Junior Championship in 2003.

Outlook: At 16, she appears to be a long shot to win a medal considering she'll be competing against Americans Sasha Cohen and Michelle Kwan and several other international stars. Sarah Hughes was in a similar position four years ago when she won the gold at age 16.

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>Travis Mayer

Sport: men's moguls.

Bio: He grew up in Orchard Park before moving to Steamboat Springs, Colo., at age 15. He won the silver medal at Salt Lake City in 2002 and was ranked No. 1 in the world last year after winning a World Cup event in Lake Placid. He'll enter the Games ranked among the top 10. His family owns Mayer Bros., based in West Seneca.

Outlook: Football star Jeremy Bloom is the favorite among Americans, but anything can happen in moguls, as Mayer proved four years ago. He has the talent to win gold, but everything must snap into place.

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>Steve Mesler

Sport: men's four-man bobsled.

Bio: The City Honors High graduate grew up on the West Side before accepting a track scholarship to the University of Florida. He served as an alternate on the 2002 U.S. bobsled team in Salt Lake City. He's now a pusher on USA-1, which includes renowned driver Todd Hays.

Outlook: Many expect USA-1 to win a medal. It might take a career-best performance for them to capture gold.

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>Margot Page

Sport: women's hockey.

Bio: Page took a leave of absence as coach of Niagara University to serve as an assistant coach with Canada's national team. She was the first coach at Niagara. As a player, she won three gold medals with Canada in the world championships.

Outlook: Many view Canada as the gold medal favorite.

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>Erik Schlopy

Sport: men's alpine skiing.

Bio: The former Hamburg resident started his career at Kissing Bridge and is competing in his third Winter Olympics. He finished 14th in the slalom at Salt Lake City and 34th in the giant slalom in the 1994 Lillehammer Games. He's a former roommate of downhill star Bode Miller. Schlopy has won seven U.S. slalom and giant slalom titles. This summer he married broadcaster and former Olympic swimmer Summer Sanders, and she is expecting their first child in April.

Outlook: Schlopy has never won a World Cup event, and chances are slim he's going to win here. Finishing in the top five would be a major accomplishment.

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>Tony Tuzzolino

Sport: men's hockey, Team Italy.

Bio: Tuzzolino grew up in East Amherst, graduated from Williamsville East and earned a scholarship to Michigan State. He had a brief NHL career before playing in Europe. He spent this season with Cortina SG of the Italian Hockey League and will be among several American-born players representing the Italian Olympic team.

Outlook: Tuzzolino is there mostly for the experience. Italy has virtually no chance to win a medal. Reaching the medal round will be difficult enough.

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>Jillian Vogtli

Sport: women's moguls.

Bio: Vogtli grew up in Ellicottville near Holiday Valley Ski Resort. She led Ellicottville High to the state Class D soccer title in 1990 and played at Brockport State. She has since moved to Park City, Utah, where she trains. She finished 18th in the 2002 Olympics on her home course. She won her first World Cup title last year in Japan and has two top five finishes in World Cup competition this year.

Outlook: Vogtli doesn't figure to medal, but that can quickly change if she lands a difficult jump called the Cork Seven. She's convinced the trick can vault her to gold.

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>Lindsay Wall

Sport: women's hockey.

Bio: The defenseman is a native of Churchville, which is about 20 miles southwest of Rochester. At age 16, she was the youngest player for Team USA's team that won a silver medal in Salt Lake City.

Outlook: It always seems to come down to the United States and Canada for the championship in women's international play, and this year should be no different.

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

And it seems there's everybody in between. Men and women, athletes and coaches, this region will be well represented on the international stage. First or last, they will enjoy the experience of a lifetime.

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