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Early part of schedule offers bonding opportunity

The first long road trip of the NHL season is usually considered a quality team-building journey. The new group of teammates gets to know each other well off the ice, a process that is supposed to breed familiarity on it.

By the time the Sabres finally settle in Buffalo for 2011-12, they should know everyone on the team and their mothers.

The Sabres already knew they were starting the schedule with two games in Europe. When the full schedule was released Thursday, they learned six of their first seven games will be played away from Buffalo.

The Sabres will open against Anaheim in Finland on Oct. 7 and face Los Angeles in Germany on Oct. 8. After hosting the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 14 in the home opener in HSBC Arena, the Sabres hit the road again for games against Pittsburgh, Montreal, Florida and Tampa Bay.

Once the Sabres settle in, they'll get a steady run of weekend games. Buffalo will host 12 games on Friday nights, eight on Saturdays and another on a Sunday afternoon, a 12:30 p.m. game Feb. 19 against the Penguins.

The matinee is part of a busy February at the foot of Washington Street. The Sabres will have two four-game homestands during the month, part of 13 games in 29 days (because of the leap year). February ends with the Sabres heading west. They'll play four games in six nights from Feb. 29 to March 5, with stops in Anaheim, San Jose, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

The Sabres will play Canada's newest team four times. They host Winnipeg on Nov. 8 and Jan. 7. They visit Manitoba on Jan. 19 as part of a seasonlong seven-game road swing that also takes them to see the New York Islanders, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Montreal Canadiens. The final game is preceded by the All-Star Game, held Jan. 28-29 in Ottawa.

The extended road trips obviously lead to long homestands. Two five-game runs tie for the longest, Oct. 25 to Nov. 4 and Dec. 7-16. The Sabres' home finale will be April 3 against Toronto, and they end the regular-season schedule April 5 in Philadelphia and April 7 in Boston against the Stanley Cup champion.

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The first round of the 2011 NHL entry draft will be held tonight in St. Paul, Minn., and Ryan Nugent-Hawkins is expected to be the first player selected.

The 18-year-old center led Red Deer and the Western Hockey League with 75 assists while finishing fourth overall in points with 106. Edmonton entered today with the No. 1 pick, though trade talk could lead to a different team going first. Whichever club it is, Nugent-Hawkins hopes it picks him.

"I'd love that opportunity," he said at a prospects luncheon. "I've kind of thought about that quite a bit, and I'd love that pressure on me. It's definitely not bad pressure to have. I always feel like I play better under pressure, so I feel like it'd be a great opportunity for me."

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The town of Strathroy, Ont., isn't very big, with a population of just under 20,000. It's no surprise, then, that prospect Nathan Beaulieu has a Brian Campbell story.

Beaulieu, the fifth-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting, shares the same small hometown as the former Sabres All-Star. Beaulieu said his father was Campbell's youth coach.

"Brian Campbell is a real good guy," said the offensive defenseman, who had back-to-back seasons of 12 goals and 33 assists for Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. "I skate with him a little bit in the summer. He's a good guy to talk to, very easy-going. He's done a lot for the community of Strathroy.

"I can say I try to model my game a little bit after him."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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