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Sabres vote down balancing act

Had one more club voted for a proposal to revamp the NHL's unbalanced schedule, it would have passed with the required two-thirds majority.

The Buffalo Sabres were one of the 11 to vote against one proposal and one of the 12 to vote against a slightly different one in Tuesday morning's NHL Board of Governors meeting at the Hyatt Regency.

For at least one more season, teams will face their division rivals eight times and play 10 teams from the other conference once.

"From Buffalo's standpoint, obviously, things have worked very well for us post-CBA," Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier said. "So we're certainly not complaining."

Most front offices wanted some form of change so teams could play each other every season. In the current interconference rotation, teams visit one division every three years. Because of the cycle, Pittsburgh Penguins teen phenom Sidney Crosby is in his second NHL season but won't visit Edmonton, Calgary or Vancouver until 2007-08.

Prior to the lockout, everybody met, with interconference divisions alternating home and away every season.

Debate among the board was said to be passionate, with advocates for change criticizing their opponents for being selfish and not thinking of the league's welfare.

"The schedule is kind of personal, market-specific, rivalry-specific," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "It gets emotional."

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Sabres goalie Ryan Miller locked down victory for the East in Tuesday night's NHL SuperSkills competition in American Airlines Center. Miller made a glove save on West sniper Teemu Selanne in the one-on-one shootout to give the East a 15-11 triumph.

"I knew we needed a save to get the win there," Miller said. "Making a glove save to end it is a good way to walk out of here with a smile on our faces."

In the individual events: West forward Andy McDonald won the fastest skater competition, making a lap in 14.03 seconds; East defenseman Zdeno Chara had the hardest shot at 100.4 mph and East forwards Eric Staal and Marian Hossa each hit four of five attempts to win shot accuracy.

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Brian Campbell competed in the fastest skater event, but there was no way Campbell could match the velocity he reached earlier in the day during a promotional event at Texas Motor Speedway.

Campbell said he pushed his NASCAR-style ride to 165 mph to lead the group. Also taking turns were Sharks winger Jonathan Cheechoo, Chicago Blackhawks winger Martin Havlat and Atlanta Thrashers winger Marian Hossa.

"My heart was pounding and I was a little nervous, but I managed," Campbell said. "I cannot imagine 43 cars out there at one time."

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Sabres winger Thomas Vanek said he had "a fun few days" in Dallas, but the YoungStars Game he was tabbed to play in was a disappointment.

The four-on-four exhibition contained all the intensity of an optional morning skate. The game consisted of three 10-minute periods with a running clock.

"It was OK," Vanek shrugged after skating eight shifts and notching two assists in a 9-8 Eastern Conference victory. "It was good to meet some of the guys, but I think the game, if they do it again, maybe they should make it a little longer. You go out there and play two shifts a period.

"The most important thing is that the fans enjoy it, and it sounded like they did. But, obviously, the reason to be here was to play hockey. I wanted to do more than that."

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New Jersey Devils forward Zach Parise earned YoungStars MVP honors with two goals and four assists. Boston Bruins forward Phil Kessel also had a big game with a hat trick and one assist.

The biggest disappointment was Pittsburgh Penguins wunderkind Evgeni Malkin, who many felt deserved to play in tonight's All-Star Game. He was the lone player not to register a point.

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St. Louis Blues winger Lee Stempniak might have made a classic newbie mistake. The West Seneca native, who had two assists in the YoungStars Game, said he wouldn't be gathering memorabilia from his All-Star week experience.

Veteran players often express regret toward the end of their careers they didn't hang onto souvenirs from when they were younger, choosing to refrain from approaching the legends in their midst for fear of breaching the code of coolness.
But Monday night Stempniak found himself in the presence of hockey icons such as Gordie Howe, Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey.

"You see these guys and think about how long they played and how well they played," Stempniak said. "You don't really picture yourself playing in the same league that they did. For me, I'm thrilled [Blues teammate and Western Conference All-Star] Billy Guerin knows my name."

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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