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Connolly starts slow comeback

Injuries just seem to hit Tim Connolly twice as hard. This latest one is further proof.

The Buffalo Sabres center knew he had yet to play this season because of a hairline fracture of a vertebra in his back. But when he visited the doctor this week for a checkup, he learned he actually had two broken bones. Injuries are never easy with Connolly.

The center did have a good Tuesday morning, however. He skated for the first time since Oct. 10, practicing with his teammates as they prepared for their meeting with Boston in HSBC Arena.

"It was just a real light skate, to get out there to get used to the ice and get my hands going a little bit," he said. "It was a fairly easy skate, and I've just got to take it slow to get back into things."

There is no timetable for Connolly to make his season debut. Tuesday's skate was his first physical activity in 11 days. Coach Lindy Ruff said Connolly will not dress until he is fully healthy. There were times last season when the center would play without being able to practice, but that scenario will not be repeated.

"When we put him back in, it'll be full go," Ruff said. "It won't be a just-play scenario or take a day off here or there. We're going to get him healthy and get him back."

Connolly still feels pain in his back, which was injured on his first shift during the Sabres' preseason game against Montreal on Sept. 23. He had the puck and tried to spin away from an onrushing forechecker, but as he turned he got either an elbow or a butt end in his back.

"I came to find out [Monday] there were two fractures," Connolly said. "One's 100 percent healed, one's about 90 percent healed. I can't do any further damage to it, so I'm just going to go out, take it day by day and see how it goes."

Though fractured vertebrae sound severe, Connolly said the bones are not connected to his spine.

"You've just got to wait just like if you break your wrist or something like that," he said. "You've just got to wait in time until it heals and the bone starts forming around it. Hopefully, we're at that point now where I can start doing a little bit more and more each day."

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Booing referees is a longtime sporting pastime, but one of Tuesday's officials had a cheering section. Chris Ciamaga, a 31-year-old Buffalo native, worked his first regular-season game in his hometown. The St. Francis High and Buffalo State graduate was hired as a full-time ref two summers ago.

Ciamaga wasn't the only one making a homecoming. Sabres Hall of Famer Craig Ramsay and former defenseman Doug Houda are assistant coaches for the Bruins. Bob Essensa is Boston's goaltending coach. Longtime television analyst Jim Lorentz also attended the game.

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The dressing room was full of professional athletes, but most of the attention Tuesday morning went toward a stuffed pigeon.

The Sabres' equipment staff recently bought the bird, placed the team logo on the wings, and it is being awarded to the player most deserving of a "trophy." Defenseman Jaroslav Spacek said its origins date back to his first season with the Sabres. He was asked to play poker and said he'd take money from the "pigeons."

"It has to fly behind the plane on the road," Spacek said with a smile. "It's got to come find us."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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