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PATTY SAYS PLAYING WAS RIGHT CALL

No vindication, no regrets.

Those are reactions from the Buffalo Sabres and Pat LaFontaine in the wake of the latest concussion suffered by the star center.

Sabres President Larry Quinn refused to offer any "I told you so's" about the team's insistence that LaFontaine was at too great a risk to play this year.

LaFontaine, meanwhile, told The Buffalo News he is as convinced as ever that coming back this season was the right thing to do.

"The bottom line," LaFontaine said, "is anyone taking that hit would have had a mild concussion. I took all the precautions, including the helmet, the mouth guard, the strapping system, and the best doctors in the country. I came back and I played 67 games and the Olympics. I can't regret that. I have no regrets."

LaFontaine has been advised by doctors to sit out the New York Rangers' final 10 games this season as a result of a hit to the head he suffered in a game March 16. It produced the sixth concussion of the former Sabre's career and -- once again -- might mean the end of his NHL playing days.

LaFontaine missed 69 games last year due to the effects of post-concussion syndrome after suffering a Grade III concussion, the most severe level, in an early-season Sabres game. His latest concussion was Grade II.

The Sabres, of course, traded him in September after stating they could not clear him to play and that their medical evidence showed he should retire.

"There's no such thing as vindication or any sense of satisfaction when a player gets hurt," Quinn said Tuesday. "I don't care who it is. When I first heard Pat got hurt, I was driving in my car, and I felt horrible. He's a good guy. I know him well. I like him and his family a lot. I hope he's OK."

LaFontaine seemed optimistic he would be OK. However, he wasn't making any predictions about his future as a player.

"There's no comparison to last year," LaFontaine said. "The headaches subsided early on, and there's just been a measure of fatigue (since)."

LaFontaine said the effects of his latest concussion are exactly what he was told they would be by Dr. James Kelly of Chicago, one of the brain trauma specialists who OK'd his return to the game this year.

"I understood the risks, I understood the territory," LaFontaine said. "He (Kelly) did tell me that if I got hit -- no permanent damage. The only difference for me would be that someone who didn't ever have a concussion would bounce back quicker. My only concern was long-term problems.

"I'm a husband. I'm a father. I don't want long-term problems. I was symptom-free for seven straight months before I made the decision (to come back)."

LaFontaine, 33, had enjoyed a fine season for the Rangers, scoring a team-high 23 goals and producing 62 points in 67 games. For the record, that's more than any Sabre will finish with this season. Miroslav Satan leads Buffalo with 42 points.

LaFontaine is scheduled to be re-evaluated in a month. He said he and his wife, Marybeth, will make a decision about his playing career sometime after that.

"Sure, I've been down this road before, and I think the circumstances are different," he said. "Right now, I'm hurt and I'm going to see and evaluate the results.

"I was effective," LaFontaine stressed. "I was averaging nearly a point a game. Anyone could have had this happen to them. If there's an encouraging thing, it was an awfully hard hit that put me here."

LaFontaine's departure was the last of a series of blows the Sabres' organization suffered before this season.

Quinn declined to draw any link between the Sabres' decision to let him go and LaFontaine's latest setback.

"We have a personal concern for him and hope he does well," Quinn said.

"No one ever said he couldn't play anymore," Quinn said, referring to LaFontaine's talent, not his health. "I knew he could play. I skated with him. His skills are incredible. That was never an issue. The issue was what risk he was at if he played. Everything got murky there."

The Sabres traded LaFontaine for a second-round draft pick this year and a conditional pick in 1999, which reportedly could be as high as a second-rounder.

Quinn said it was too early to comment on where the '99 pick might end up. It's tied to games played and points scored.

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