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EIGHT GOALS BY MILLER LEAD ROUT

Rudy Pikuzinski was gone, but the Buffalo Blizzard didn't lack for heroes Sunday night.

Led by a club-record eight goals from Doug Miller, the Blizzard battered the Wichita Wings, 24-9, before a crowd of 5,150 at Marine Midland Arena. Andrew Crawford contributed two goals and Danny Barber, Carlos Zavala and Bobby DiNunzio collected multiple assists.

The victory snapped a three-game losing streak and halted a slump that had seen Buffalo (5-8) lose six of seven and fall near the bottom in several of the National Professional Soccer League's statistical categories.

Buffalo's season-high 24 points was more than double the 9.5 points-per game average, second worst in the NPSL, the club lugged into the game.

The victory climaxed a tumultuous week that saw coach George Fernandez cut Pikuzinski, the team's 40-year-old career scoring leader, and sign four new players. All the newcomers -- Steve Butcher, Mike Britton, Matt Albrecht and Tony Mermigas -- played, although none figured directly in any scoring.

Fernandez said that had the Blizzard lost to the Wings (7-7), "I think it would have been very tough to get out of the hole. Heads would have been really down. People would have been really questioning are we as bad as what we've been going through. It would have been tough to get out."

"The boys needed this. It was well deserved," Miller said. "We worked hard. We worked well as a team. We're trying to turn this season around. . . . we needed to come back and get a victory. . . . The boys needed to score a lot of goals and get some confidence."

Miller's eight goals -- which accounted for 14 points -- broke the seven-goal record set by Paul Dougherty at Memorial Auditorium against the Canton Invaders on Feb. 26, 1995. Miller had twice matched Dougherty's record last season, when he was the NPSL's leading goal scorer with 92 in 40 games.

Miller, who was removed from the game after his eighth goal made it 18-7 at 1:08 of the fourth period, came two points shy of the team record of 16 points. That was set in 1997 by Gino DiFlorio on six goals and four assists.

Miller got four goals in each half. Six were two-pointers and two were one-point shootouts against goalkeeper Gary Germaine. Miller took nine shots and connected on all but one, when he missed a shootout attempt late in the second half.

"I was fortunate. Everything I hit went in," said Miller, who had been hampered by a right ankle sprain suffered late in the Dec. 5 game against Baltimore. He had played in two of the three games since then, but scored only once.

"My ankle's feeling OK. . . . I was more relaxed. I decided to go out and have fun," Miller said. "I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to go out and score goals so we could win games."

Barber, who assisted on goals by Miller, Brad Smith and Jim Hesch, attributed the improvement to Fernandez's turning up the heat in practices last week. For the first time since training camp, the team went through two practice sessions per day for several days.

"Practices were much more intense, much more competitive and drill-oriented," Barber said. "We got back to the basics. When you're struggling and things aren't going right, you've got to get back to the beginning and build the foundation again. That's why this is a stepping stone to get us on a little roll."

Buffalo hosts the Cleveland Crunch Wednesday at 7 p.m.

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