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Seven by Seven / Seven things you need to know by 7 a.m.

1. A group of students at Mill Middle School in the Williamsville School District will have the pleasure of seeing both their principal and assistant principal take a fully clothed plunge into the school's pool this morning. It's all part of "Rachel's Challenge," a program inspired by the good works of Rachel Scott, one of the students killed in the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colo. The students in teacher Cathy Truesdell's homeroom collected the most nonperishable food items for the Food Bank of Western New York, so they won exclusive rights to watch Assistant Principal Dean Mesi jump into the pool. Principal Mike Calandra also agreed to take the plunge after more than 2,500 nonperishable items were collected.

2. Members of the 82nd Airborne Niagara Frontier Chapter will be out at 1 p.m. today distributing gifts and visiting patients at Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 3495 Bailey Ave. For more than two decades, the 82nd Airborne chapter has visited hospitalized veterans on Christmas Day, showering them with gifts and carols to help make them feel less lonely during the holiday season. This year, the group decided to hold its party two days early.

3. It's another busy and perhaps confusing day on the Erie County finances front. The County Legislature and the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority both meet at 2 p.m. today, the Legislature in its chambers and the control board in the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library auditorium.

4. Are the Buffalo Sabres turning the corner in what has so far been a so-so season? After pummeling the Mighty Ducks in HSBC Arena on Tuesday night, they return to home ice tonight (7, MSG, 550 AM) to see if they can put another victory in their Christmas stockings and get some revenge on the Florida Panthers for last week's loss down in the Sunshine State.

5. The Amherst Theatre in University Plaza has one of its cultural offerings tonight as it continues its innovative series of live and taped performances from Europe's major musical and theatrical venues. At 7 p.m. it's Shakespeare's "Love's Labour's Lost," which was taped at the Globe Theatre in London, where all the Bard's great works originated. Admission is $20.

6. It's a big day in Western New York Federation hockey, with a full slate of games at the Northtowns Center in Amherst. Perennial powers Williamsville North and St. Joe's play at 7 p.m. Also on tap, defending federation small school champion Amherst plays West Seneca East at 7 p.m. and Niagara Wheatfield battles Kenmore East at 9 p.m.

7. We've been telling you all week that you need to get your Christmas packages mailed. If you've waited this long, you are really in trouble. If you want your gifts to be there for Christmas, your only options appear to be UPS or FedEx overnight service. You can't say you weren't warned.

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Mark Gaughan, Allen Wilson and Jerry Sullivan preview Sunday's Patriots-Bills game at video.buffalonews.com.

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