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NEW ARENA CUTS DOWN HOME-ICE EDGE

The Buffalo Sabres had their first look at the new home of the Florida Panthers Saturday, and it didn't take long for coach Lindy Ruff to start feeling a little nostalgic for the old place.

The Panthers moved into the National Car Rental Center in a suburb of Miami in the offseason. Ruff was an assistant coach for the Panthers when they played in the Miami Arena, which he figures was more intimidating.

"It was cozy, it was loud. The people were closer. There were only 14,500 people," Ruff said. "With the bigger rinks, everyone is a little farther away. You don't quite recapture the feeling."

The Miami Arena probably had as much noise as any building in the league when the Panthers played there. Ruff thought it was a big help to the expansion team.

"They had a pretty good run in the four years I was down here," he said. "In the first two years, we kind of captured everyone's hearts. Then we went to the Stanley Cup finals (in 1996). Fans love the underdog. It was a big item down here."

The new arena has a couple of features that give it a different personality than some of the other new buildings around the league. Seats at the end of the ice where the Panthers shoot twice are inclined steeper than at the other end. The idea was to create more noise at that end of the building. The new building also has carpeting in the concourses.

However, not everyone in South Florida knows about the new facility. On Saturday morning, Sabre television broadcasters Jim Lorentz and Danny Gare jumped in a taxi in Fort Lauderdale and told the driver to take them to the National Car Rental Center. The vehicle got to the airport before Lorentz and Gare convinced the driver that they wanted to see a hockey practice and not go rent a car.
The Sabres had 12 healthy forwards for Saturday's game, but they weren't the same 12 forwards who played against the New York Rangers on Wednesday in Buffalo. Paul Kruse returned to duty after recovering from a groin pull, but Miroslav Satan missed the game with the flu.

Curtis Brown moved over from center to take Satan's spot on the right side. Wayne Primeau became the center of that line, while Michal Grosek stayed on the left side.

Kruse returned to his usual place on the left wing; his linemates were Derek Plante and Rob Ray. Brian Holzinger stayed with Geoff Sanderson and Matthew Barnaby, while Michael Peca centered for Dixon Ward and Vaclav Varada.
Sabres' general manager Darcy Regier reports no progress on contract talks with Donald Audette and Mike Wilson. . . . Pro golfer Dudley Hart was a visitor to the Sabres' practice on Saturday morning and attended the game Saturday night. Hart, a native of Hamburg, lives in South Florida.

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