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VARADA CIRCLES DEC. 26 ON CALENDAR

Vaclav Varada is looking forward to Christmastime. It's the season for giving, and the rugged Buffalo Sabres winger wouldn't mind delivering a little special something to a former teammate.

"Something's coming up on the 26th of December," Varada said, noting the next time the Sabres play the Montreal Canadiens. The HSBC Arena game will mark the first opportunity for Varada to face Doug Gilmour again. Dec. 26 also happens to be Boxing Day.

Varada and Gilmour were involved in a pair of controversial hits during the Sabres' 5-2 loss in HSBC on Friday. Varada collided with Canadiens goalie Jose Theodore near the blue line, and Gilmour retaliated with an intentional knee-to-knee hit on Varada. They received game misconduct penalties and one-game suspensions.

Varada spoke about the incidents for the first time Monday, his words alternating between anger and temperance.

"He's the hero now," Varada said of the former Sabres forward. "He always has something to say, and I just played right into his cards.

"When he was here I thought he was the greatest guy on our team. That's probably what they feel in the Montreal locker room right now, that he's a great team guy. That's why he did what he did."

Varada knocked out Theodore as the goalie bolted from his crease to break up a potential two-on-one rush. As Theodore dove for the puck in front of the Montreal bench, Varada clipped him.

"I don't know if Varada's (play) warranted (a suspension)," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "I didn't think there was vicious intent. You got a goaltender that's screaming out by the blue line, you're looking for a collision.

"I thought there was some intent going the other way (from Gilmour), deliberate intent to hurt a player."

Said Varada: "I feel bad for Theodore and what happened to him. I really had no intention of hurting him."

Varada, who was limping Monday yet could play in tonight's game against the Phoenix Coyotes, was further aggravated by Gilmour's weekend comments. Gilmour basically stated headhunting was Varada's modus operandi.

Gilmour, a likely Hall of Famer, has been sniping at the Sabres ever since he left after the 2000-01 season. He has accused Sabres management of misusing him at left wing, falsely announcing his retirement and sabotaging his wish to sign with the Ottawa Senators. He claimed Sabres winger J.P. Dumont intentionally injured Canadiens goalie Jeff Hackett Oct. 20, although Hackett himself refuted that.

"For him to say bad things about us, it's disappointing," Varada said. "I thought we were friends, but he mentioned me like I was the dirtiest guy ever.

"I didn't have time to think about it when I was going for the puck, but he had a long way to get to me and for him going after my knees, jeopardizing my career . . . He wouldn't lose much. He's almost done. But I would maybe have lost all my playing (career), and I would be done."
Ruff doesn't expect the NHL to punish winger Maxim Afinogenov for shoving linesman Angelo D'Amico on Friday. Afinogenov slipped and fell as D'Amico was trying to guide him into the penalty box for roughing. Once Afinogenov righted himself, he shoved D'Amico, drawing an additional 10-minute misconduct.

"The fact (Afinogenov) played the next game and we haven't heard anything, I don't think there's anything there," Ruff said of a possible fine or suspension.

BUFFALO SABRES
Who's hot: RW J.P. Dumont is on a three-game point streak with a goal and two assists.
Record last 5: 2-3
Power play: 7 of 62 (11.3%)
Penalty killing: 9 of 48 (81.3%)
Injuries: D Dmitri Kalinin (thumb), D Richard Smehlik (groin), LW Vaclav Varada (knee), D Rhett Warrener (groin)
Fast fact: Sabres rank third in Eastern Conference in shots taken (343) and second in shots blocked (162).
PHOENIX COYOTES
Who's hot: Each of C Daniel Briere's team-leading five goals have come on the power play, ranking him second in the league.
Record last 5: 2-2-1
Power play: 9 of 54 (16.7%)
Penalty killing: 7 of 55 (87.3%)
Injuries: LW Ladislav Nagy (knee), RW Landon Wilson (ankle)
Fast fact: The Coyotes have allowed the fewest goals (23) in the Western Conference.
e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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