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SABRES MAKE STRONG SHOWING DURING NHL'S SHOWCASE OF SKILLS

Daren Puppa went one-on-one with Wayne Gretzky Saturday.

He got a draw.

Pierre Turgeon, Dave Andreychuk and Phil Housley, completing the Sabres' four-man contingent, also acquitted themselves well as the National Hockey League held its first-ever all-star skills competition Saturday at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena.

Although none of the Sabres walked away with a first prize, Puppa was especially effective. The first time all-star was the dominant goaltender in leading the Wales Conference to a victory in the Rapid Fire skills competition, one of only two events in which the Wales Conference players bested the Campbell Conference.

Puppa was nearly unbeatable in the rapid fire drill in which a player lines up and shoots four pucks within six seconds at the goalie in the nets.

Puppa was also a shade better than starter Patrick Roy (Montreal) in a drill in which each player went in for two breakaway shots.

Puppa was sharp against Gretzky, stopping The Great One on his first offering and then just missing Gretzky's backhander on the second try.

Andreychuk finished runner-up to Ray Bourque in a contest that pits a shooter against four stationary targets in the net. Andreychuk broke three of the four targets with seven shots. Bourque hit four of seven.

Turgeon was at his best in the breakaway drills, going two for two against Calgary Flames goaltender Mike Vernon. Housley was involved in several speed skating and puck-handling drills, and did well in all of them, but his team fell behind after Paul Coffey failed to complete the course.

Puppa, who made it obvious he was excited just to be at the All-Star Game.

"It's something you dream about, but I never in my wildest dreams thought it would happen," he said. "Once you get to this level (the NHL) though, you start to think, heck, somebody has to go, why not me.

Puppa said he was excited just being in the room with what is widely considered the best hockey talent in the world.

His thoughts were echoed by Turgeon, who said he was looking forward to the game. "I think I'm playing with Dave (Andreychuk and Rick Tocchet (Philadelphia Flyers)," he said. "I think it's fun for a lot of guys, but it's different for me. This is a thrill being my first time."

Turgeon surely would win the hard-luck media star in the skills competition. He followed Mario Lemieux in on Vernon, but Lemieux made both his shots and the SportsChannel America cameras chose to stay on the Lemieux celebration and missed both of Turgeon's scoring efforts.

Caps help transport Sabres

The four Sabres arrived here via overnight transport provided by the Washington Capitals. The Caps chartered out of Buffalo immediately after Friday's 6-3 victory at Memorial Auditorium but stopped in Pittsburgh to allow their lone all-star representative, Kevin Hatcher, a chance to deplane. The Buffalo contingent got off here as well.

Gare finds own legends

Former Sabres Danny Gare, Lee Fogolin, Donny Edwards and Eddie Shack participated in the Heroes of Hockey game before the skills competition. Former Sabres coach and General Manager Scott Bowman coached the Wales Conference entry.

Gare showed that a player can be as big a fan as anyone else, scurrying around the locker room collecting autographs on his program book.

"Some of these guys are stars and some of them are like legends to me," Gare said. "People tell me they grew up watching me, but I grew up watching some of these guys and it's an honor for me just to be in here with them.

Among the legends were Stan Mikita, Maurice "Rocket" Richard, Andy Bathgate, Ted Lindsay, Alex Delvecchio, Red Kelly and Johnny Bucyk.

Play Friday, travel Saturday

All but eight teams and 14 of the all-star participants had games Friday night.

New York Islanders center Pat LaFontaine and Winnipeg center Tomas Steen came the farthest, bolting their teams in Winnipeg and traveling all day Saturday to get here. Along with all four Sabres, Calgary's Joe Mullen, Al MacInnis, Joe Nieuwendyk and Mike Vernon played Friday night. Chicago's Steve Larmer, a late replacement for the injured Denis Savard also played as did Hartford's Ron Francis, Washington's Hatcher and Vancouver's Kirk MacLean.

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