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Noronen agrees to Amerks stint Sabres notebook

Mika Noronen will be the starting goaltender tonight.

For Rochester. In Peoria, Ill.

The Buffalo Sabres' No. 3 goalie, who hasn't played since Dec. 2, has accepted a conditioning assignment and left town Tuesday to join the Rochester Americans. He is expected to play at least two games for the Amerks, who are on a seven-game road trip.

"He's going to play two games for sure, and then we'll see from there," Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier said. "At the end of the day ultimately it is the player's decision to go. We've asked him to go on a couple of other occasions. On this one he's agreed to go.

"I think he realizes it's in his own, above all else . . . there's a lot of interests involved, but certainly I believe more than anything else it's in his own best interest to play."

Noronen said Monday he'd already played in the American Hockey League for three years and didn't want to go back. He also intimated he'd turned down previous assignments because he felt there was little point in getting back into game shape and coming back to Buffalo to sit in the stands again. He did leave an out clause, though.

"I'm going to go down there if it looks like I'm going to stay here and play some games here after I go there, if they ask me to," Noronen said Monday. "But I need some reason to go there."

With the trade deadline in eight days, it appears Noronen may think there's interest somewhere in either him or another Sabres goalie -- a three-man situation that's been in a stalemate all season, and prior.

Regier is just glad Noronen decided to play.

"I am. I think it's an opportunity," Regier said. "It doesn't matter how it relates to his situation and relative to the trade deadline. It affords him an opportunity to get a couple of games in."

Conditioning assignments last a maximum of 14 days. Noronen still counts toward the Sabres' active roster, so no one can be called up to replace him.

***

Adam Mair was back in a familiar place Tuesday -- the Sabres' workout room. For him, it was a relief to be working out, and a relief that things are familiar again.

The forward has been out since suffering a concussion Jan. 12 against Phoenix, an injury that forced him to be hospitalized in Buffalo and again in his hometown of Hamilton, Ont. Tuesday was the first day he'd been cleared to exercise -- players need to be symptom-free for seven days to do so -- and he did some light stationary bicycling.

"It's just going to be day-to-day, continuing evaluation until I'm ready," Mair said. "It's more based upon getting my body ready and seeing if it can handle the workouts and strenuous activity that's needed for hockey."

Mair previously suffered a concussion when he was 19, but the 27-year-old hadn't gone through anything like this.

"There was definitely a good stretch of time where I would describe it as confusion, sort of like an unfamiliarness with your surroundings that should be familiar. Haze is a good word, I guess," Mair said. "But especially the last two weeks have been good. I've felt more myself, and that's how you want to feel. You want to feel like yourself."

***

Ales Kotalik's bronze medal shined at his locker, glimmering in the eyes of passers-by who couldn't help but stop to touch and admire it.

The first of the Sabres' three Olympic medal winners was back at practice, and Kotalik's third-place prize dangled for all to see. Its next stop is his display of memorabilia, which includes pucks commemorating his first professional and NHL goals.

"It would be great if I'd made the team right away, but still when you think about it, it's a great thing that happened to me to be called in and get out with the bronze medal," said Kotalik, who joined the Czech Republic team as an injury replacement during the Turin Games. "In the future I will look back and realize that I was a part of something big."

Kotalik said the travel back to Buffalo wasn't overwhelming, which should be good news to coach Lindy Ruff. He was still waiting for the arrival of Russian winger Maxim Afinogenov and Finnish silver medal-winning defensemen Teppo Numminen and Toni Lydman. All three are expected to play against Atlanta tonight in HSBC Arena.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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