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POST-PIKUZINSKI ERA BEGINS FOR BLIZZARD

Ex-Buffalo Blizzard star Rudy Pikuzinski says he lost his job because coach George Fernandez believed Pikuzinski's negative attitude was affecting the play of the slumping National Professional Soccer League team.

Tonight's Marine Midland Arena game against the Wichita Wings (7, Radio 107.7) will be the Blizzard's first since Pikuzinski -- the team's all-time leading scorer -- was released Monday.

Pikuzinski said Fernandez told him "I think you're the cancer of this team" in a private meeting before he cut Pikuzinski before practice at Sportsplex in North Tonawanda.

The 40-year-old forward said he was he was shocked at the move, which came less than 48 hours after he was benched for most of Saturday night's 15-6 loss at home to the Montreal Impact.

It marked the first time Pikuzinski had been a healthy non-starter since he scored five goals in Buffalo's first game on Nov. 6, 1992.

Pikuzinski said Fernandez told him he had been benched because of "my attitude."

"My attitude?" Pikuzinski said. "I just bust my rear end at practice and in games and when I don't see people in games doing the same. . . . I don't understand how you go from being captain to being benched to being waived in three days. That must be a record."

Pikuzinski said Fernandez told him "I've known you for a long time, this is a hard thing to do. . . . It's not Jim's (Jim May, vice president of soccer operations), decision, it's not John's (John Bellanti, owner) decision. It's my decision."

Pikuzinski, a Buffalo native who has been playing pro indoors since 1983, missed only 30 of the Blizzard's 292 regular season games, mostly because of injury or illness. The team went 142-120 (.542) when he played and 9-21 (.310) when he was out of the lineup.

This year's record (4-8 with six losses in the last seven games) marks the worst start in Blizzard history.

Fernandez, who said "I've been a friend of Rudy for many years," said he made the move in the best interests of the team.

"I'm sure he's hurt. Believe me, I'm just as stressed out to make that decision," Fernandez said.

"Obviously this move with Rudy was a big blow to everybody in the community. He's been an icon here for years and for the league, he's one of the greatest ever," Fernandez said.

"I've got to move in a direction that I know the team needs to go. I know I'm going to get criticized . . . But at this time, I really could care less," he said.

"I'm going to do what I feel is best for the team, for the players that I have here and if anybody disagrees, they don't have to come here, they don't have to play here. I'll be more than happy to move them on. But I'm going to do the best I can with this team and move forward," Fernandez said.

"Let it be known, that's just a start. It's not the end result. Let's not put the burden on Rudy," Fernandez said. "There's a lot of things here that need to be turned around."

A Blizzard spokesman said Pikuzinski cleared waivers and was not picked up by any other NPSL team. But Pikuzinski said he has heard from players that other clubs may interested in signing him.

"I don't like idea that they're telling me when my soccer career is over," he said. "I know I still could play this year and would have been very productive . . . I gave 100 percent every practice, every game. I was proud to represent my city and proud to be a Buffalonian. . . . I'd like to thank the fans for their support while I played here. With all the support I have, maybe I'll run for mayor."

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