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Hot Stafford makes off-ice time sing Power, finesse evident as scoring increases

As the lights flick on, the cameras start recording and the microphones veer toward him, Drew Stafford knows what's coming. Here come questions about hockey.

His eyes immediately glaze over. His nonchalant answers reflect his lack of interest. It's clear he'd rather be anywhere else doing anything else. He just doesn't see the point.

But there is a reason the Buffalo Sabres forward was in demand Thursday. He's scored five goals in the past five games, and they've been dynamic goals at that. He's shown power and finesse, brawn and skill.

It's what people have expected since his rookie tease of two seasons ago, and people want to know if it can continue tonight when the Sabres host the rival Montreal Canadiens in HSBC Arena.

"It makes things easy when the puck's going in and you're winning," Stafford said as the cliches flowed. "I just hope that I keep trying to get chances, get a little bit lucky, keep trying to get some breaks, and hopefully they go in."

The 23-year-old, who's been known to make a mockery of interview situations with facial expressions and deadpan answers, patiently deals with this one. He is, after all, a hockey player, and talking about hockey is sort of expected.

But Stafford strives hard to show he's more than just a hockey player.

"You can't make it your identity," he said. "You can't make it like, 'You're a hockey player. That's all you do. That's all you are in life.' "

Take music, for example. Stafford loves it, as his expressions and body language show when the topic comes up. It's almost as if he merely deals with hockey and thrives on guitars and drums, so it begs another question.

"Do I like music better than hockey?" he responds with a laugh. "Absolutely not. No, no, no. No, no, no, no, no. You need to have something. You need to have something besides hockey.

"When you get to the rink and you get ready, that's when it's time, when you've got to be focused in. You've got to be locked in. That's when it's business. It's business time. You've got to be ready. You've got to be prepared.

"But beyond that, you've got to have fun. You've got to have something else to escape to. Music just happens to be my passion, besides hockey."

He gets both this weekend. Tonight's game against the Habs is huge, with the Sabres putting themselves in position to move toward the top of the Eastern Conference. It's more of the same Saturday, when the Sabres visit Ottawa.

Then comes Sunday. Goaltender Ryan Miller is hosting his third annual "Catwalk for Charity" fashion show, and Stafford is providing a portion of the musical entertainment.

"I'm actually very excited for that," Stafford said. "It's a great time, and it's for a good cause, and guys have fun. I get to play. I'll probably hop on the drums, too, [in addition to the regular guitar playing] so that should be good. I don't get to do that too often. I don't get to do the music thing too often, so it'll be a fun little break."

As has probably become obvious, when Stafford is away from the rink, a break is what he wants. But as long as he keeps up his fine play, he won't be getting it from reporters. He has 31 points in the past 31 games, including 12 goals.

In Calgary, he scored by physically abusing an opponent to get to the net. Against Toronto, he scored by stylistically abusing an opponent to get to the net, shuffling a pass to himself between his legs.

He's playing the best hockey of his three-year career, better than when he surprised everyone with 27 points in 41 games his rookie season.

The drawback is the media notices. The upside is his favorite metal bands notice, too. He's hung out with several of the musicians he grew up listening to -- including Mastodon and Every Time I Die -- a perk of being a player.

"The best part about it is it's a two-way street," Stafford said. "They're big fans of hockey, and I'm huge fans of them. It works out really well. That's one benefit of playing hockey, besides doing something that you love for a living. This is my job, and it's a pretty cool job to have."

It's refreshing to know he realizes it, even if it doesn't always show.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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