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WARRENER DONE FOR PRESEASON

A second concussion in a 10-month span will shelve Rhett Warrener for the remainder of the preseason, but the Buffalo Sabres defenseman should be cleared before the real games begin Oct. 4.

"It doesn't look like he'll be ready to play another preseason game, but (he'll) be ready for the regular season," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said Monday.

Warrener, hurt in Friday's preseason game against the Ottawa Senators, did not take part in Monday's workout at the Amherst Pepsi Center because he was undergoing a baseline exam to determine the seriousness of the concussion.

"If testing went well he'll be back on the ice (today) either in a contact or a noncontact scenario," Ruff said. "So that really shouldn't put him behind."

Warrener was cross-checked by Senators defenseman Jason Doig with 3:26 left in the first period. Doig was seeking retribution after missing a check and spilling over the boards into the Senators' bench area. Warrener did not return.

Ruff after the game said Warrener "got his bell rung a little bit," but he added the injury wasn't major.

NHL rules are specific when addressing recurring concussions. Warrener also sustained one Nov. 17 against the Minnesota Wild. He has suffered three in his career, including one while playing for the Florida Panthers.

"It's a fact that this concussion comes within a year of his last one," Ruff said. "It's all following guidelines. If you asked him, he'd be out there practicing right now."

The Sabres will use the following lines for tonight's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena: Curtis Brown centering J.P. Dumont and Maxim Afinogenov; Denis Hamel between Taylor Pyatt and Norm Milley; Francois Methot between Darren Van Oene and Eric Boulton; Tim Connolly between Jeremy Adduono and Christian Matte.

The defensive pairings will be Alexei Zhitnik and Rory Fitzpatrick; Jason Woolley and Richard Smehlik; and Brian Campbell and Dmitri Kalinin. Martin Biron will serve as Mika Noronen's backup goaltender.

Ruff indicated Brown will wear the captain's "C" for the night.

Canadian sports network TSN recently reported NHL referees and officials could be traveling with the players and coaches on team charter flights this season. The idea was prompted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., and the report stated the league is in the process of soliciting feedback from its teams.

Sabres enforcer Rob Ray, never on the friendliest of terms with on-ice officials, certainly had an opinion.

"Bull," was the first syllable to his response. "You gotta keep them separate from the players. We got a job to do. They got a job to do. There's no need for them to be that close to us. They can do their job by themselves."

Ray also didn't buy into the NHL's reasoning that it would be safer for the officials to be on charters.

"I think more than anything it's just cost-cutting for the NHL instead of sending them all over," Ray said. "I believe it's going to be safer now (to fly) than it ever has."

The NHL pays for its officials' commercial airfare, while teams are responsible for their own transportation.

The Buffalo Sabres-Oxygen Icebreakers program, which introduces hockey to girls between the ages of 7-12, will hold its first on-ice sessions today. The five-session program is free.

The first three sessions will be held at three area rinks. The fourth will take place at Niagara University (to tour the school's hockey facility and attend the Niagara vs. Minnesota game). The final session will be held Oct. 30 at HSBC Arena and includes tickets for that night's game against the Phoenix Coyotes, as well as playing at the arena and dinner.

For more information, call the program's hotline at 855-4174.

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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