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Bettman reopens old wound for Sabres fans

DALLAS -- If Gary Bettman had built up any good will among Buffalo Sabres fans over the past eight years, the NHL commissioner obliterated it on Monday.

The Dallas Stars held a 1999 Stanley Cup reunion of sorts at American Airlines Center as part of this week's All-Star Game festivities.

Maybe because the controversial decision to uphold Brett Hull's foot-in-the-crease goal that broke Buffalo's collective heart seemed so devious at the time, Bettman used the occasion to give his blessing all over again -- and open old wounds.

"I want to make it perfectly clear, Brett," Bettman said. "It was a good goal. That's probably not going to make me very popular in Buffalo."

At an All-Star news conference earlier in American Airlines Center, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff declined to relive the past.

"That's a long time ago," Ruff said. "That was a hell of a series. That was fought right to the bitter end. It was a tough ending, but that was two teams that went at it pretty hard. So I've got no hard feelings toward Brett or the way it ended up."

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Sabres center Daniel Briere didn't travel to Dallas with teammates Brian Campbell, Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek. Breire remained in Quebec after Saturday night's loss to the Canadiens because he had his No. 14 retired by his junior team, the Drummondville Voltiguers.

But thrill turned to misery Monday. Briere experienced three flight delays and a cancellation before he escaped Montreal. Once he reached Chicago, his scheduled connection to Dallas was long gone. He didn't leave Chicago until after he was bumped from two overbooked flights.

Briere arrived just in time to take part in a night practice.

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The word "Buffalo" made Washington Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin smile. When a reporter identified himself at Monday's news conference, Ovechkin knew what question was coming.

Ovechkin and Briere, who will skate together Wednesday on a line with Sidney Crosby, have feuded nastily over the past month -- both on and off the ice. Ovechkin on Dec. 2 blasted Briere from behind with a hit many thought warranted a suspension, but there was none. When the Sabres and Capitals met again Dec. 26, Briere speared Ovechkin in the crotch, a maneuver that went undetected by the referees. The All-Stars exchanged harsh words through the media all the while.

"Yeah, just fight in the locker room," Ovechkin said of how he would handle the rift. "No, just shake hands, see how is everything. Go with practice."

Briere eventually spoke to Ovechkin and was smiling when he left the ice Monday night.

"We laughed about it," Briere said. "That was kind of smart for both of us. We just broke the ice and apologized to each other. He said he wasn't going to hold a grudge, and I feel the same way."

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Vanek will skate in the four-on-four YoungStars Game at 6:30 tonight.

Rosters for the SuperSkills competition at 7:30 p.m. were to be finalized this morning. Individual events include hardest shot, accuracy shooting and fastest skater. Team events are puck control relay, shootout round and "in the zone," where three skaters gang up on the goalie.

The YoungStars Game and SuperSkills event will be televised on Versus and CBC.

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Ruff's All-Star assistant, Atlanta Thrashers coach Bob Hartley, wasn't sure how to react. Ruff was asked how seriously he would approach game planning for Wednesday's exhibition, and his dry response seemed to catch Hartley off guard.

"I'm 0-1 in All-Star games, so I'd like to get to .500," said Ruff, who coached the World All-Stars in 1999. "Bob and I have a three-hour meeting scheduled for later to discuss strategy. Bob's got some good ideas I'd like to put to use."

Hartley laughed nervously and sneaked a quick glance to make sure Ruff was smiling, too.

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The NHL and Reebok unveiled the new uniform style to be worn in the All-Star Game and adopted for next season. The stretchy fabrics are more breathable, are more resistant to absorption and offer a greater range of movement than the current style.

Hockey fans are notoriously opinionated when it comes to tinkering with the game's traditions, and St. Louis Blues forward Guerin predicted a positive reaction.

"I think they're great," Guerin said. "They're really cool."

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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