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WINGS STILL CLINGING TO HOPES OF RHI PLAYOFF BERTH

Believe it or not, the Buffalo Wings still are entertaining hopes of making the playoffs in Roller Hockey International, but it's essential they win tonight's game against the Ottawa Wheels at Marine Midland Arena.

With eight games left, the last-place Wings (4-12) are seven points behind Ottawa (7-7-1) in the battle for the fourth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot in RHI.

The odds are against Buffalo, but don't tell that to forward Andy Rymsha, one of the new flock of players to join the Wings in the last couple of weeks.

"We're not out of the race," Rymsha insisted. "RHI is a momentum game. Make a couple of changes, bring in a new spark, and maybe things can turn around.

"Back when I was with Portland (1994), we started the season 1-9. Then, we finally decided to play together, and we went something like 10-2. Next thing we knew, we were in the finals."

Portland, of course, ended up losing to the Buffalo Stampede in the RHI championship series that year.

The Wings have a shot because three of their next four games are against Ottawa, and two of them are at the MMA.

The Wings are 2-1 against the Wheels this season. Also, the Wings have two games remaining with the Montreal Roadrunners (6-7-4), a team they are 2-2 against. Buffalo is eight points behind third-place Montreal.

Buffalo will meet the Roadrunners at the Molson Centre in Montreal Saturday night.

"If we want to make anything of this season, we have to do something in the next four games," Wings coach Murray Eaves said Tuesday.

Rymsha is one player the Wings expect some offensive spark from. A 28-year-old veteran of four seasons in RHI, Rymsha began this season ranked 24th on the league's all-time points list with 154 in 62 games. He has added 29 points in 15 games to those totals this season with New Jersey and Buffalo, including two goals and five assists for seven points in two games with the Wings since coming in a trade from the Rockin' Rollers last week.

As much as Rymsha hated to leave a winning situation in New Jersey, he was happy to come to Buffalo.

"My family is in St. Catharines, Ont., and my wife is from Farmington Hills, Mich., so it kind of brought us closer to home," said the former Western Michigan University star. "I left home when I was 16 years old. So if I get home for a weekend in the summer, it's a major accomplishment."

A left wing in ice hockey, Rymsha played last winter for Ajoi in the Swiss League. He played six games with the 1992-93 Quebec Nordiques after coming over in a trade with the St. Louis Blues. Brief as it was, Rymsha says that getting to the NHL was the highlight of his career.

"Numbers-wise, my best years in ice hockey were two years ago when I played with San Francisco (he was 33-27-60) in the 'I' (International Hockey League), but the year that is always going to stick out is my NHL year because you finally accomplished something you worked for your entire life."

Rymsha, who has a degree in secondary education from Western Michigan, left the Nordiques as a free agent in 1993. "I kind of figured I was going to be buried back in the minors," he said. "You can't get upset about it. You just try to make the best of the situation and move on and keep doing something you love to do. It doesn't matter what the city is."

Besides Rymsha, another recent addition to the Wings is Colin Ward, younger brother of Dixon Ward of the Buffalo Sabres. Ward, who also played college hockey at Western Michigan and played for Val Gardena in the Italian League last winter, has a pair of power-play goals in two games for Buffalo. He played RHI for Long Island last season.

Coach Jocelyn Guevremont's Ottawa team played a home game against the Anaheim Bullfrogs of the Western Division Wednesday night. The Wheels ended a two-game losing streak -- which included an 8-5 loss to the Wings at the Corel Centre Monday night -- with an 8-5 victory over the Bullfrogs. After tonight, Ottawa has eight games remaining, four at home.
The Wings are 1-7 at home and have lost their last two at MMA. Ottawa is 3-4 on the road. . . . Only Montreal goalie Alain Morissette (401) has faced more shots than Buffalo goalie Nick Vitucci, who has seen 332. Morissette, however, has played 190 more minutes than Vitucci. That's nearly the equivalent of four 48-minute regulation games. . . . Ottawa's leading scorer is forward Robin Bouchard (17-21-38), who ranks 15th in the league overall. Buffalo's best is ex-Wheel Ken Blum (12-12-24 for Buffalo and 12-13-25 overall). . . . Only Derrick Gauthier, Jason Gladney and Scott Hillman have appeared in all 16 of the Wings' games so far.

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