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Hecht hasn't given up on his career

Jochen Hecht turns 35 in June, has an expiring $3.5 million contract and is trying to come back from his third concussion in less than a year.

But he reiterated Monday what he's said in recent weeks -- he's not giving up on his hockey career or on returning to the Buffalo Sabres.

"I would like to play here," Hecht said after cleaning out his locker in First Niagara Center. "My family likes it here, my kids love it here, and it would be great to come back for another year and get this team in the playoffs."

Hecht is the longest-tenured Buffalo skater, with a career that began when he played 49 games in 2002-03 (the same season Ryan Miller first arrived) after being acquired in a trade with Edmonton. He has played 566 games with the Sabres, collecting 133 goals and 331 points.

Since the lockout, Hecht had averaged 72 games and 17 goals a season. But he managed to play just 22 games and score only four goals this year, missing the final 34 games.

"It was a tough season. There's not much to say," a red-eyed Hecht said. "I wanted to help the team to play and wasn't able to."

Hecht suffered a concussion last season and appeared in only one game of the playoffs. He endured another hit during a training camp collision in September with defenseman Shaoane Morrison. That kept him out until late November and forced him to stay off the ice during the team's season-opening trip to Europe, which included a stop in his native Mannheim, Germany.

Hecht played eight games, sat out six with a leg injury, and then played 14 more, including the Jan. 21 game at St. Louis against his old team.

Hecht took a hit in that game from Blues forward T.J. Oshie but didn't really suffer any serious symptoms for three days. On Jan. 24, he pulled himself out of the morning skate prior to a game against the New Jersey Devils in Newark and became distraught in the locker room.

Hecht has always been one of Sabres coach Lindy Ruff's favorite players, but Ruff used the term "mental breakdown" to describe what Hecht was enduring. Hecht confirmed that characterization Tuesday.

"It was hard. In Jersey, I was gone. I cried," he said. "I didn't know what was going to happen. It was tough dealing with it, especially hearing from other guys who went through it. I'm in a good place now. I feel well. I can do my daily routines, play, work out, all that stuff, and I'm working forward to another training camp."

With three concussions in a calendar year, is it realistic that the Sabres -- or, for that matter, any NHL team -- would offer Hecht a contract? He conceded that's an issue.

"I'll have to see about that when the time comes to negotiate," he said. "Teams will talk about that but because I didn't play at the end, it's going to give me a long healing period. I feel great and am looking forward to next year."

Hecht said he understands the long-term risk of concussions but that he has had no symptoms for nearly two months and is confident he would be ready for a training camp this fall. He has been skating with the Sabres for a month and is scheduled to take a neuropsych test this week to get full clearance for hockey work.

Hecht looks fondly on the team's run to the 2006 Eastern Conference finals. It was his goal from behind the goal line in the final seconds of the second period that gave the Sabres a 2-1 lead in Game Seven of that series in Carolina, but Buffalo couldn't hold the lead.

Hecht wants more moments like that here. His son, Philip, will be turning 9 soon, and daughter Victoria is closing in on 7. They've been schooled here, and Western New York is what they know best.

"We have big memories. Buffalo is a big part of our life," Hecht said. "During the summer when we're home [in Germany], the kids are always asking, 'When are we going to our real home?' "