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Drury embraces leader's role

Sometimes, it's not so much what Chris Drury says but how he says it. His true emotions often are disguised beneath his soft, measured tones, but if you listen close enough and study his facial expressions, his words will come to life with a quiet intensity and unmistakable edge.

So when Drury said this week he was looking forward to seeing Miroslav Satan on Oct. 5, it didn't mean he wanted to shake his former linemate's hand and take him out to dinner. The subtle sarcasm and accompanying smirk suggested Drury would rather take Satan into a dark alley and show him the true meaning of misconduct.

Drury is comfortable now acknowledging Satan was a nuisance during their one glory-less year together with the Sabres. Personally, the Sabres liked Miro, but professionally they came to despise him. It explains why early in the 2003-04 season Drury begged Lindy Ruff to relieve Satan from his line in exchange for anyone else.

The point of no return was Satan's charade in March 2004, when he pulled out his imaginary phone after scoring a goal against Toronto. His message to Darcy Regier was clear: Make the call, Darcy, trade me. His teammates, most of whom were floored by Satan's antics, also had a message: Miro, don't let the door hit you in the fanny.

"In a team sport, it's so much about character, desire, determination and hard work. You have 20-something guys pulling one way and one or two guys pulling another way, it's a huge distraction," Drury said. "There was too much distraction stuff that took away from our year, you know, with the phone thing. It just got to be too much."

By no means does Satan's act absolve Drury, who failed to meet lofty expectations during his first season with the Sabres. Ruff would be the first to admit he forced Drury into foreign territory. In Colorado, he was a third-line center on a veteran team that won a Stanley Cup in his third season. In Buffalo, he was expected to be a first-line center, a checking-line center, a penalty killer, a leader and, in some ways, a savior.

Funny, but Drury thought he was a disruptive force during his first couple months here. He was a wreck while anticipating the birth of his first child. He was short-tempered, frustrated with his play, frustrated with losing. He smashed three sticks by mid-November and showed up one day with $300, a self-imposed fine for behavior he deemed inappropriate. But at least the guy cared. Isn't that what you want from your leader?

Drury had 18 goals and 53 points in 2003-04, but you knew he was a better player. He needs to play better this season, under new rules, if the Sabres are going anywhere. He was a plus-8, Satan a minus-15, the difference created with effort. Drury is a tireless worker, a respected competitor who cares far more about his team's point total than his own. It's one reason Ruff named him co-captain along with Danny Briere this week.

This is their team. Already, you can sense the Sabres' chemistry changing for the better. Buffalo traded for Drury because he was a clutch player and proven winner, but he hasn't been to the postseason since 2002. Now that Satan is gone, Drury believes there's nothing impeding the progress of an evolving team. He's prepared to embrace the inherent responsibilities that Satan shirked as the highest-paid Sabre.

Drury figures he's a different man than he was two years ago. On May 24, his wife gave birth to their second child, Luke James. Drury believes fatherhood accelerated his maturity away from the rink. We'll see if it translates to a better, more mature player, one who can direct the Sabres into the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

It starts Oct. 5, against Satan and the Islanders. Drury can't wait. It should be, as he said with a smirk, interesting.


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