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Sabres in line for outdoor NHL game Ralph Wilson Stadium would be site of event

If the National Hockey League moves forward with its plans to stage another outdoor hockey game, the Buffalo Sabres appear to be the front-runners to host the event in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

No announcement will be made when the NHL releases its 2007-08 schedule at 2:30 this afternoon, and neither the league nor the Sabres would comment publicly Tuesday.

Yet sources around the NHL have indicated the Sabres would land the game, probably on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day against the Pittsburgh Penguins, if myriad logistical issues can be finalized by the end of the month.

Such an event would give Sabres fans a reason to get excited after a deflating week in which co-captains Daniel Briere and Chris Drury left town and management was cornered into signing top goal scorer Thomas Vanek to the richest contract in Buffalo sports history.

Published reports last month stated the league was interested in offering an outdoor game to be broadcast on NBC.

The Sabres are one of the few teams that generate television ratings in the United States. The Detroit Red Wings and Penguins, led by NHL poster boy Sidney Crosby, are on that list as well, but both teams already have informed the league they couldn't host an outdoor game this season.

"Somewhere down the road we'd be interested, but I don't see it in the plans for the upcoming season," Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland said Tuesday.

The Penguins said they were approached by the NHL to host an outdoor game, but they were too involved with building their new arena to commit themselves to the production.

"We had to decline because all of our focus right now is on the new arena, and an event like an outdoor game is an enormous task in itself," Tom McMillan, Penguins vice president of communications, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

"But we told the league that we would gladly participate as the visitors."

An NBC spokesman did not return messages from The Buffalo News seeking comment.

Ralph Wilson Stadium seats 73,967 for football. Crowd capacity for hockey, with room for additional field seating, could be greater.

Although Western New York's unpredictable early winter weather could pose problems with the ice surface and visibility, particularly if it rains, outdoor hockey games have been successful before -- even an NHL preseason game in Las Vegas.

Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller participated in an outdoor game that set the international record for hockey attendance. He was Michigan State's goalie for the "Cold War" against the University of Michigan in October 2001. The game drew 74,544 fans to Spartan Stadium.

The "Cold War" inspired the NHL to hold the Heritage Classic between the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens in November 2003. Despite minus-18 degree wind chill, 57,167 brave souls watched in Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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