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STARTING OPENER FOR BLIZZARD IS A KICK FOR NEW GOALKEEPER

Tonight's National Professional Soccer League season opener against the Montreal Impact at Marine Midland Arena (7:30; Empire, 107.7 FM) will mark a major turning point in the career of Bill Andracki, the Buffalo Blizzard's new goalkeeper.

For the first time in three NPSL campaigns, Andracki will be tending the net against a new team instead of for one.

"The last two franchises I've been with (Tampa Bay and Philadelphia) have been first-year expansion franchises, so it's been a bit of a struggle at the beginning of the season," Andracki said Friday after practice at Sportsplex in North Tonawanda.

"As far as the beginning of the season goes, we're way ahead of what I'm used to coming into," he said. "We've got a lot of experience here with Rudy and Randy (Pikuzinski) and Drew (Crawford), and Carlos (coach Carlos Salguero) knows what he's doing, so it should be an easy transition."

This will be the 28-year-old Andracki's sixth NPSL season, but only his second as a full-time starter.

The 6-foot-1 Rutgers graduate broke into the league in 1992-93 as a backup to Cleveland Crunch all-star Otto Orf.

After three seasons (and a 1993-94 championship ring) with the Crunch, the Prince William, Va., native was left unprotected in the NPSL expansion draft and picked up by the Tampa Bay Terror, a club where, Andracki said, "We had a bunch of young guys who were not sure where they were going at any time."

At Tampa Bay, Andracki played in 29 games (27 starts) while compiling a 15.44 points-against average and a 9-18 record. The Terror finished 14-26 for the season.

Next stop was the expansion Philadelphia Kixx, for whom Andracki was expected to be the starter at the beginning of last season. But those plans were sidelined when Andracki suffered facial injuries on Oct. 6 when he dove into a goal post in Seattle while playing for Rochester in the championship game of the outdoor A-League.

The injury kept Andracki out of the Kixx lineup for eight games and by time he was able to play, the Kixx were off to a 7-1 start and rookie keeper Pete Pappas had won the starting job.

"It was tough to fit in there," said Andracki. By time the season ended, he'd played in 23 games (nine starts) while going 2-7 with a 18.53 PAA.

"It's a challenge for me to come in (to Buffalo)," said Andracki, who now lives in Rochester.

"I definitely have something to prove. I've been on four teams in four years so I haven't had a stellar career indoors. So I have something to prove to myself and other people. . . . It's a challenge to me to play well and prove that I can play indoor. Indoor for me has just been a struggle the past four years."

With several key players injured or out for various reasons, Salguero will be forced to send a relatively inexperienced second line out to alternate shifts with the starting line of the Pikuzinskis, Crawford and defenders Jeff Popp and Bobby DiNunzio.

"The second line has two guys who have played before (defenders Yogi McKay and Chris Fox) and the other guys are young," Andracki said. "That's where it's going to be tough for us. But if we can defend well and not give up goals, I think the first line can make up for what the second line lacks."

"I know my job. It's going to be a tough night for me to come in and try stop as many shots from going behind me as possible."

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