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Preseason arrives at last

For those who thought the National Hockey League's offseason flew by too quickly, consider this:

The Buffalo Sabres are playing the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight.

The Sabres at 7:30 p.m. will open their preseason schedule in the Air Canada Centre, and for coach Lindy Ruff, an opportunity to stand behind his players hasn't come a moment too soon.

"It has come quick, which is a good thing to get right back at it," Ruff said after Sunday afternoon's intrasquad scrimmage in HSBC Arena.

Ruff said he intends to use goalies Ryan Miller and Martin Biron right away. Biron will start tonight, with Adam Berkhoel backing him up. Miller likely will start Tuesday night's game against the Blue Jackets in Columbus' Nationwide Arena.

All four forward prospects Ruff routinely mentions as the top candidates to make the team -- Jiri Novotny, Daniel Paille, Michael Ryan and Chris Thorburn -- will dress tonight.

"From a standpoint we got guys battling for positions, we're going to give them a good look," Ruff said. "At defense, we're going to give some young guys a look the first few games."

The lines penciled in for tonight were Daniel Briere centering wingers Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville; Novotny between Paille and Mark Mancari; Derek Roy between Ryan and Adam Mair; and Paul Gaustad flanked by Andrew Peters and Thorburn.

The listed defense pairs were Dmitri Kalinin with Toni Lydman, Brian Campbell with Jaroslav Spacek and Nathan Paetsch with Andrej Sekera.

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The Sabres will hold their game-day skate at 9:30 a.m. in HSBC Arena and bus to Toronto this afternoon. Players not participating in tonight's game will practice at about 11:15 a.m. All training camp workouts are open to the public and free.

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Among the handful of unsigned free agents trying out are two Italians: goalie Thomas Tragust and defenseman Michele Strazzabosco.

They're in camp after catching the attention of goalie coach Jim Corsi, an assistant with the Italian Olympic team, and scout Jon Christiano, an assistant at the World Championships.

"They merited the invitation," Corsi said. "They don't have the pedigree because they're not Swedish or they're not Finnish, but they had great records with their own clubs and started making great steps forward at the international level.

"The idea was to expose them to another level with the idea we needed a fifth goalie and wanted to make sure we have enough defensemen."

Tragust is only 21 and will return to his junior team, the Texas Tornado of the North American Hockey League.

Strazzabosco, 30, has played eight pro seasons in his homeland. He has size at 6-foot-4, 216 pounds. Corsi said he drew interest from the Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks.

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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