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Sabres Notebook: NHL fines Hall, backs Sabres' position on Okposo hit

The Sabres thought they should have had a five-minute power play in the first period Tuesday night. The NHL apparently agrees with them.

New Jersey forward Taylor Hall has been fined $5,000, the maximum allowed under the CBA, for his boarding penalty against Sabres winger Kyle Okposo during the Devils' 3-1 win in KeyBank Center.

Hall was only given a minor penalty on the play, perhaps in part because Okposo immediately hopped to his feet and was uninjured.

"I wasn't expecting it at all. I absolutely thought it deserved to be a major," Okposo said after practice Wednesday. "I was in a vulnerable position and didn't know a hit was coming. You're 5 feet from the boards and that is a hit that is five (minutes) every time."

Hall told NHL.com after Tuesday's game he felt that Okposo turned at the last second prior to the hit.

“I just kind of went in and thought it’d be shoulder-on-shoulder but I hit him in the back," Hall said. "Def a 2-min minor, would’ve been iffy if they called it five. It’s a quick game.”

Sabres coach Phil Housley disagreed with that view, saying the fact Hall came directly from behind should have made the hit a major penalty and a game misconduct.

"The thing that was concerning to me is the distance that it come from and that he's looking at the player's numbers when he's going for the puck," Housley said. "Kyle, who is a very strong player, got up right away and that was part of the ruling of the referee. But it's good to see the NHL came forward and recognized it and fined Taylor Hall. I know that's not part of his game but it's still a hit that should have been a five-minute major."

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There were about 3,000 children on hand for practice Wednesday as part of the NHLPA's Future Goals program that uses hockey to relate to school subjects like math and science.

At one point early in practice, Housley stopped the workout and sternly addressed his team for a few seconds about its execution.

"I would have liked to have seen a better start," Housley said. "I think with all the kids there it was hard for them to hear me but that's one of the reasons why I had to stop practice because I was looking for some more speed. I think from that point it got a lot better, our execution got better. I really liked our battle drills at the end there. We need more of that moving forward. I shouldn't have to address our team today and give them that reaction. We should have been better ready to play."

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Wednesday was Bell Let's Talk day in Canada, with the Canadian telecommunications giant donating five cents for every social media interaction, including the Twitter hashtag #BellLetsTalk, to mental health programs in Canada.

Wednesday morning before practice, Sabres center Jack Eichel tweeted out a simple message of "Speak up and reach out" with a four-leaf clover and the hashtag.

"Knowing people that have went through [mental illness] and we've lost a lot of players from our league. It's a serious disease, a serious problem," Eichel said. "Obviously, whenever you're able to spread awareness and do something for a good cause, it's nice.

"If you're having problems, if you're down on yourself or down about something, it's important to reach out to somebody and just talk. You never know what it can do for somebody. You never know what somebody is really going through until you talk to them."

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Former Sabres defenseman Mike Weber was hired as an assistant coach Wednesday by the Windsor Spitfires, his former Ontario Hockey League junior team. Weber, 30, finished his career this year playing in Sweden when knee injuries prevented him from playing. He is likely headed for knee replacement surgery.

Weber, the Sabres' second-round pick in 2006, played four seasons for Windsor from 2003-2007. He played 341 games for Buffalo until being traded to Washington at the deadline in 2016. He finished his NHL career with 10 games for the Caps that season and two more in the playoffs.

Weber spent last year as the captain of the American Hockey League's Iowa Wild in the Minnesota chain before playing 10 games this year for Frolunda in the Swedish League.

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Housley was surprised when reporters passed on the news to him that former Nashville Predators captain Mike Fisher, who retired after last season, announced Wednesday he's re-signing with the team for the rest of the season. Housley was an assistant with the Preds last season, when Fisher helped the team to the Stanley Cup final.

"That's pretty surprising. It's going to be tough. He's been out of the game for a long time but good for him," Housley said. "Maybe he's still got the fire in him."

In a news conference Wednesday, Fisher confirmed the return is for this season only to take one more crack at the Stanley Cup. The 37-year-old, who is married to music star Carrie Underwood, has played 1,088 NHL games with Ottawa and Nashville. He lost in the Cup final with the Senators in 2007 to Anaheim and with the Predators last year to Pittsburgh.

Housley said Fisher, along with former defenseman Shea Weber, were the most respected leaders for the Predators in the four seasons he was an assistant to Peter Laviolette.

"He represented the Nashville Predators in a classy way and his compete level, not only in practice and in games, he was one of the fiercest competitors I've seen in the battle," Housley said. "I know other teams respected that."

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The Sabres have announced a February partnership with the Bald for Bucks initiative and Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center to raise funds to support research and patient-care programs.

As part of the effort, the Sabres and Bald for Bucks will be releasing limited-edition T-shirts. Donors who contribute $50 or more will receive the T-shirt and have the chance to win autographed merchandise, tickets to future Sabres games and meet-and-greet opportunities.

Donations can be made online at Sabres.com/BaldForBucks or at KeyBank Center during Thursday's game against Florida as well as home games on Feb. 8 (New York Islanders), 17 (Los Angeles) and 25 (Boston). All money raised will stay in Western New York for research projects and cancer patient support.

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