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CRAWFORD PICKS UP SCORING SLACK WHILE MILLER'S OUT

Buffalo Blizzard forward Andrew Crawford hopes his new role as team scoring leader doesn't last too long.

As Crawford put it, "The only reason I am (leading scorer) is because Doug (Miller) has been hurt. I'm just keeping the spot warm until he's healthy."

The Blizzard's shortest (5-foot-4) player moved into the top spot last Thursday in Wichita.

Crawford's assist on Carlos Zavala's goal in the second quarter of the 11-10 win boosted his season total to 56 points (on 24 goals and 11 assists). Since then, it climbed to 58 points (25-12).

His 22-game total is slightly ahead of the 55 points (26-4) Miller has collected in just 14 games.

Miller, the National Professional Soccer League's No. 2 scorer last year (194 points in 40 games), underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on Jan. 7 and has missed the last seven games. He also will skip tonight's game at Harrisburg (7:3O, Radio 107.7). He expects to play Saturday against Detroit at Marine Midland Arena (2 p.m.).

"The doctor said he didn't want me sitting on the bus for eight hours (to Harrisburg)," Miller said.

Miller, elected a starter for Team USA, hopes to make the NPSL All-Star Game Tuesday at Edmonton. If he can't, Crawford probably will be his substitute, according to General Manager Mike Ferguson.

"I haven't heard anything about that," Crawford said. "It would certainly be nice, if Doug can't do it, to go in his spot and represent the team and Doug. But it's Doug's first trip and he certainly deserves it and hopefully he'll be ready to go and represent us. He's certainly earned that right."

Crawford, now in his eighth NPSL season and sixth in Buffalo, played in the All-Star Game in Baltimore in 1997. He finished that season as the Blizzard's fourth-leading scorer with 99 points (46-22). He checked in with 72 points (36-14) the next year and 76 points (40-17) last season.

After a slow start this season, he scored at least two points in 10 straight games before the streak ended in Sunday's 8-6 loss at St. Louis.

"I'm getting the ball in a position where I can shoot. In the first half of the year I was maybe not looking to shoot as much," Crawford said.

Last year, Crawford led the NPSL with 22 shoot-out goals (in 35 attempts). Midway through this year, he's 6 for 12 in these one-on-one confrontations with goalkeepers.

"I haven't had as many chances as last year," he said. "You've got to get into a groove and I think I have been lately. I've hit four of my last six. I've missed them more than the goalies have saved them."

Crawford said he thinks Miller's absence (during which the Blizzard went 4-3) may even have improved the team's ability to play together.

"Everybody knows that they've got to try to make up for those points. So there's more of a conscious effort by the team in general to shoot more," he said.

"We're getting experience playing without Randy (Pikuzinski, who missed the last five games with a leg injury), we played without Danny Barber (out injured the first six games), we played without Jim (Hesch, who was used sparingly early on)," Crawford said.

"We played without a lot of players this year and we're under .500 (8-10) but we're in the thick of the race. We're in the fourth (and last playoff) spot right now. Considering all the injuries we've had, we're in pretty good position. When Doug and Randy and everybody comes back healthy, we'll be ready to go."

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