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RAY SUES NHLPA <br> UNION CALLS EX-SABRE RETIRED, WITHHOLDS PAYMENTS

Rob Ray is a man ruled by his convictions. When he feels he has been wronged, rest assured, there will be a fight.

The former Buffalo Sabres enforcer, who said in late October he would consider skating in the National Hockey League as a replacement player, is suing the NHL Players' Association.

He claims the union has wrongfully dropped him from its membership, a decision that denies him monthly lockout compensation and health insurance for him, his wife and 6-month-old daughter.

Ray's attorney, David H. Elibol, filed the lawsuit Tuesday in State Supreme Court in Erie County.

"I wasn't going to let something like this go by because it's just not right," Ray said.

Ray, who finished the 2003-04 season with the Ottawa Senators, described a meeting in Toronto at the end of last season when NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow specifically used the 36-year-old winger as an example as to what extent the union would protect its membership during the lockout.

"When Goodenow was going over everything," Ray said, "I asked some questions about the insurance plan, and he looked right in my eyes and said, 'Rayzor, even guys like you who might never play again will be carried through this whole thing.' "

The NHLPA's intentions apparently changed a month ago. Ray said he received a Nov. 26 letter from the NHLPA informing him he was removed from the union and considered retired.

The letter arrived about four weeks after Ray told an Ottawa newspaper he would consider suiting up if the NHL opted to use replacement players.

"I said what I said, and I'm standing by it because it's what I believe," Ray said. "But I don't know if that's the reason" the NHLPA terminated his membership.

"I got a letter from them to say I was out," Ray continued. "I questioned their response, and they said the community deemed me retired. I said, 'How can you deem someone retired?' and they said, 'That's the decision we made.' "

Ray said the NHLPA indicated he wasn't the only player who was forced into retirement status, but he didn't know who else has been affected.

NHLPA spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon said the union was declining to comment.

Ray estimated he would need to pay $1,100 a month to continue his family's medical and dental insurance.

He also is upset over $20,000 so far in missed lockout compensation. The NHLPA began distributing monthly stipends in November. The first two checks were for $10,000 apiece. Future payments will vary between $5,000 or $10,000.

The NHLPA's guidelines to qualify for lockout pay was that a player be on an NHL roster at the end of the 2003-04 season and have 400 games of NHL experience.

Ray has played in 900 NHL games, including six last season with the Senators. He signed in February and was on their roster when the Toronto Maple Leafs eliminated them in the first round of the playoffs.

"Shortly after Ray's comments were publicized, he was notified that he had been excluded from the list of NHL players entitled to participate in the stipend plan," Elibol said in a statement. "He is clearly eligible, but the NHLPA has cast him aside."

Although Ray is an unrestricted free agent and has hinted his career is over, he never filed retirement paperwork with the NHLPA.

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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