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BUSINESS AS USUAL FOR ASSISTANTS ONLY MUCKLER UPSET BY THREE-GAME SET-UP

The Buffalo Sabres have stayed around the .500 mark throughout the 1995 season despite injuries to several key players. So perhaps it's not surprising that the team earned a win without its head coach.

With John Muckler sitting out a three-game suspension, Don Lever and John Tortorella served as co-coaches during Tuesday's game with Quebec. The same arrangement will be in place Thursday for the home game with Ottawa, and on Saturday when Buffalo plays the Islanders in Nassau Coliseum.

"We've been through this before; it was nothing at all," Lever said after the 5-3 victory over Quebec. "I just took over the forwards, and John took over the D (defense).

"It really wasn't much of a change. We've done this before in training camp, and the team really did a pretty good job for us. They came in and played a pretty emotional first period. They held it together for us."

Tortorella added, "The team is prepared. You prepare your team throughout the year. Muck's (Muckler) out of there. It's our job -- Donny and I -- just to keep it going and stay within the team concept. You prepare your team in practice. They know what they have to do."

Speaking after the pregame skate Tuesday morning, Muckler said he was not looking forward to his enforced "vacation."

"It will be tough for myself not being able to be here," he said. "I've never watched a team that I'm the coach of in my living room before. I don't know if it's going to be tougher on me or my family.

"I like the idea that I can come to the pregame skates and be able to analyze the club, and have some direction the next day as to which way we're going."

Aaron Miller couldn't think of a better place to play his first NHL game of the season than Buffalo's Memorial Auditorium.

The St. Francis High School graduate and former Niagara Scenic was recalled by Quebec on Monday, and was in the starting lineup for Tuesday's game.

"I watched a lot of games here as a young kid," the Nordiques' defenseman said. "I was real excited to be called up when they were playing in Buffalo. It's a big thrill for me and my family."

Miller, 23, was drafted by the New York Rangers in the fifth round of the 1989 Entry Draft. He and a draft choice were traded to Quebec in 1991 for Joe Cirella. After four years at the University of Vermont, Miller turned pro in 1993 and has spent most of the past two years with Cornwall of the American Hockey League. He was recalled to the Nordiques for one game last season.

The Sabres' players and their wives will host a carnival, "Face-off for Fun," Sunday from 1 to 7 p.m. at the Aud. The event will raise money for Children's Hospital of Buffalo and the newly formed Sabres Foundation.

The carnival will have a dunk tank, photography booths, and tours of the dressing room. An auction will be held for various items, including Sabre jerseys.

Tickets are on sale at the team's box office at the Aud. They cost $5 before the event, $6 on the day of the carnival. Children under three years old will be admitted free.

The Sabres on Tuesday began their second annual food drive to benefit the Buffalo City Mission. Any fan bringing a non-perishable food item to the Aud during the March 30 or April 4 games will receive a voucher good for discounted tickets to a future game.

Tuesday's three stars were Pat LaFontaine, Dominik Hasek, and Scott Young .... Matthew Barnaby missed the last two periods of Tuesday's game. He was slashed in the shoulder Sunday in Philadelphia, and reinjured it during a fight Tuesday. A doctor will examine him today. Craig Simpson tried out his sore back in the pregame skate but decided he wasn't ready for game action. Defenseman Petr Svoboda was Buffalo's other scratch. He's been playing with a broken jaw, and Lever said he's been struggling lately and needed some rest. . . . Scott Thomas was reassigned to Rochester on Tuesday. He was called up Saturday but did not play in any games. . . . Dale Hawerchuk's groin injury is responding to treatment. The Sabres are hoping he'll be ready to play in about a week.

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