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Black expects minipack allotment to sell out

The Buffalo Sabres are finalizing their ticket sales for the 2011-12 season and it appears you're going to have to act fast.

The team announced last month that it had a 99 percent renewal rate on season tickets and was capping sales at 15,200. President Ted Black said Wednesday the team anticipates being sold out of its allotment of 3,500 minipacks in the next couple of weeks.

Black also announced that single-game sales will begin on Sept. 17 and added this caveat --"We anticipate those will be sold out well before the start of the season."

In other news from the team:

*The $6 million locker room renovation continues to move forward although it will probably be ongoing right through training camp.

"We are on schedule but it's probably a good year to be opening in Europe because we have a little bit of a buffer," Black said. "The preseason will begin with the guys using ancillary locker rooms."

*The Sabres will not hold their annual "Puck Drop" festivities to mark the start of training camp because of the arena renovations and a pay-per-view wrestling card scheduled in the arena for Sept. 18. They are expected to hold an open night practice and have special activities during a preseason game.

*The NHL's 2011-12 national broadcast schedule is likely to be announced today, and Black said all 82 Sabres games will be televised, including both season-opening contests in Europe.

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Newly-signed defenseman Christian Ehrhoff said he didn't even know about the Sabres' season-opening trip to his native Germany when he agreed to his contract but said he expects to handle dozens of ticket requests for the team's exhibition game Oct. 4 against Adler Mannheim and its regular-season game Oct. 8 in Berlin against the Los Angeles Kings.

"It's another bonus," he said.

Ehrhoff said Mannheim is about a 2 1/2 -hour drive from his home in Moers and Berlin is about six hours away.

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On a far more serious note, Ehrhoff said he was shocked to learn of the death of former Canucks teammate Rick Rypien on Monday. The Vancouver tough guy, who had signed to play this year in Winnipeg, was found dead in his Alberta home.

No cause of death has been released and no foul play is suspected. Rypien took multiple leaves of absence to deal with personal issues in the past, including depression.

"It was very shocking and sad and my thoughts are with his family," Ehrhoff said. "He'll be greatly missed. He was a great teammate and great guy and it's really sad to get news like that. He was a great guy to be around, very gentle and caring teammate."

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General Manager Darcy Regier was headed to suburban Toronto on Wednesday to attend the league's annual research and development camp, where prospects play games using proposed changes in NHL rules.

Some rules to be observed include serving all 2 minutes of a penalty regardless of how many goals are scored, eliminating the goaltender's trapezoid, changes to offside and icing and overtime that includes four minutes of four-on-four play followed by three minutes of three-on-three to cut down on shootouts.

"You get a sense because you see players are playing it out but you have to do a little more 'imagineering,' " Regier said. "The unknown when you're trying this stuff is when the coaches get a hold of it. Whatever you think you're seeing there, and then the coaches get it and you've got a different rule. You get unintended consequences that affect other areas. You have to think very carefully the ramifications."

One rule that should get plenty of attention is hybrid icing, whereby officials can blow a play dead without the puck being touched if they rule the defending team has a clear path to getting to the puck first when it crosses the goal line. In theory, races to the boards and the resulting injuries from collisions would drop.

"That probably has more legs because we have real examples of it [in the United States Hockey League]," Regier said. "That icing I think works pretty well."

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Regier said the Sabres have had some discussions with winger Mike Grier, who still has some interest in continuing his career, but that they would not sign him at this time because of salary cap issues.

The GM said the team is in the process of hiring five to eight more scouts, including areas like Sweden and Finland, and should finalize its assistant coaches for the Rochester Americans early next week.

The American Hockey League schedule will be released today. The Amerks have previously announced their home opener would be Thursday, Oct. 13.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com