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Isles' draftee has soft spot for Sabres

Playoff fever has reached such epidemic proportions a New York Islander is rooting for the Buffalo Sabres to win the Stanley Cup.

The Sabres will begin their quest for glory when they open their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with the Islanders tonight in HSBC Arena.

East Amherst native Nick Tuzzolino will be rooting hard for the Sabres, clearly unmoved by the fact the Islanders made him a seventh-round draft pick in 2005. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound defenseman has attended two Islanders training camps.

"I've never seen Buffalo react the way it has over hockey, and Buffalo is always the team I want to win," Tuzzolino said.

Beg your pardon? Buffalo always is the team?

"It's always the team I want to win, always," said Tuzzolino, who's in the Islanders system but will become an unrestricted free agent if they don't sign him by June 1. "If I'm ever there [with the Islanders], I'm sure my emotions would change, but from a fan standpoint, I was born and raised here. I've got to go for Buffalo."

Tuzzolino played for the team now known as the Buffalo Junior Sabres and attended Williamsville East for three years before spending his senior season in the United States Hockey League with the Lincoln [Neb.] Stars.

The 21-year-old just finished his third OHL season. He's the little brother of Tony Tuzzolino, who played nine NHL games for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, New York Rangers and Boston Bruins and skated for Italy in the 2006 Olympics.

Nick Tuzzolino admitted to being "very star struck" when he pulled on an Islanders sweater at training camp and skated under former Sabres coach Ted Nolan's watchful eye.

"I remember the [1997] Buffalo-Ottawa series [Nolan's postseason coaching debut] and going crazy when Derek Plante went top glove on Ron Tugnutt to win the game," Tuzzolino said. "I remember it like it was yesterday. So playing for him would be a blessing."

But until then, Tuzzolino's heart will pine for the Sabres to win a Cup.

"I don't think Buffalo has a seen a crowd like what they're going to see this year in the playoffs," Tuzzolino said. "It's going to be intense."

***

Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro didn't make the trip to Buffalo because he is recovering from concussions that have kept him out of the lineup since March 25. Nolan confirmed Wade Dubielewicz would start tonight and all but conceded he would go again Saturday night, suggesting DiPietro wouldn't join his teammates.

***

The Islanders offense will get a boost with the return of winger Richard Zednik, who had returned to Slovakia for two weeks because of a family illness. The trade-deadline acquisition practiced with the team Tuesday for the first time since his departure.

Zednik had one goal and two assists in 10 games with the Islanders, but he has been an effective postseason performer with 16 goals and 10 assists in 43 career games. In 37 regular-season games against the Sabres he has 12 goals and seven assists.

The Washington Capitals traded Zednik to the Islanders for a second-round draft pick one day after sending Dainius Zubrus and reserve defenseman Timo Helbling to the Sabres for Jiri Novotny and a first-round pick.

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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