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Opener meaningful for Numminen First home game in 17 months

When you're 40 years old, one season starts melding into the next for most players. Sabres defenseman Teppo Numminen said Friday morning he certainly felt that way because he didn't remember too many details of the numerous season openers in his career.

But this one was different. Numminen savored it because it was his first game in HSBC Arena in nearly 17 months.

"It was exciting, an exciting night," Numminen said after playing 24 shifts and 18 1/2 minutes in the Sabres' 2-1 shootout victory over the Montreal Canadiens. "It was great to be out there. That's why I'm here. I'm here to play. That's my goal."

After heart surgery last September, Numminen played just one game last year -- the season finale in Boston. He had not played a game in HSBC Arena since Game Five of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa on May 19, 2007.

"I remember what I was going through last year at this time," he said. "Playing this long you don't really remember opening games but for sure I remember last year. So that makes it a special thing. I feel good. Everything is normal."

Numminen skated as an alternate captain along with Jochen Hecht and saw some time on the penalty-killing unit as well. He's the fourth-oldest player on an opening night roster in the NHL this season. Tampa's Gary Roberts is 42, Toronto backup goaltender Curtis Joseph is 41 and Tampa forward Mark Recchi is also 40, but five months older than Numminen.

Numminen was credited with an assist on Thomas Vanek's first-period goal and was paired defensively with Toni Lydman.

"We had good shifts and bad shifts," Numminen said. "For the first time we played together I think it was a good start."

Coach Lindy Ruff said numerous times during training camp that he had no reservations about using Numminen on a regular basis and held true to his word in the opener.

"He made some nice plays under a lot of pressure," Ruff said. "That pace of the game wasn't easy."

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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