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All-Star Notebook: Big season, big weekend for Okposo

LOS ANGELES -- The team lead in goals and points and his first All-Star appearance. Things have gone well for Kyle Okposo in his first year with the Buffalo Sabres, and the highest-paid free agent in franchise history is thrilled with his new employer.

"It's been awesome. I can't say enough good things about the Sabres organization, the way they've treated me and my family," Okposo said Saturday at All-Star Media Day. "We just had the parents trip and you thank the Pegulas for putting that on and it's been fantastic, everything that I hoped for.

"I didn't hear any bad things about Buffalo before I signed. Everybody said once you're there you'll love it and it's definitely lived up to that standard. I love living there, I really do. It's a great place to raise a family. People are so passionate about their teams, the Sabres and the Bills. That's awesome to see. They're respectful and polite and that's awesome."

Okposo has 15 goals and 16 assists over his first 47 games and said he'd like to be producing even more. But he said a new team, new coach and playing system and new teammates have all been adjustments. With 34 games left in a season that resumes Tuesday in Montreal, the Sabres are seven points out of the playoffs but holding games in hand over multiple teams.

"We're on the outside looking in and we have a tough road ahead," Okposo said. "We probably have to win seven out of 10 the next three segments to try to cement a chance to get in. That's not an easy thing to do in this league."

Still, the Sabres got a booster shot of confidence from their three straight overtime wins last week that Okposo said can stay with them.

"It gives you belief that we can win games. That's something that is contagious," he said. "It's tough to bottle up. When you get it, you've got to keep it."

Just like the day he signed in July, Okposo said he's thrilled at the thought of the Sabres becoming a playoff team and perennial contender on behalf of their fans and former players.

"A thing that struck me the most about the organization is how their alumni are around, how well they treat them, that there's a room dedicated to them in the rink," he said. "It seems like guys are around all the time and that's awesome to see. It's a really tight-knit family."

Okposo helped the Atlantic Division win Saturday's skills completion. The Atlantic chose to play the Metropolitan in Sunday's second semifinal, leaving the Central and Pacific in the opener.  Okposo flamed out in one-timers as part of the skills relay, failing to score in the allotted 30 seconds while shooting from a sharp angle.
But he went 4 for 6 in the accuracy shooting, finishing in 15.97 seconds to beat former teammate and defending champion John Tavares of the New York Islanders. During the shootout competition, Okposo shot wide against San Jose's Martin Jones.


The NHL announced that centennial ambassador Wayne Gretzky will replace Columbus coach John Tortorella as the Metropolitan Division boss for Sunday's game (3:30, NBC). That means  No. 99 will be the coach for a team featuring Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.

Tortorella pulled out because of a family emergency and missed Thursday's game in Nashville so he wouldn't face the NHL's mandatory one-game suspension during Tuesday's showdown in New York aginst the Rangers. He revealed Friday to the Columbus Dispatch that a 10-year-old pit bull beloved by his son, an Army Ranger overseas, is gravely ill and needed his care.


The format of Sunday's game will remain the same one as introduced last year in Nashville, with the league staging a 3-on-3 tournament. Teams will play 20-minute semifinal games based on divisions. The semifinal winners advance to the championship, with the winning team splitting $1 million. Matchups were to be determined by the results of Saturday's skills competition.

"There's going to be a lot of dangerous guys on the ice but it's going to be awesome playing against this caliber of player with all that open ice, all that skill," Okposo said. "I watched last year's a little bit and it just looked awesome and that guys were working hard but having fun."


Patrick Kane (Mike Harrington/Buffalo News).

Chicago Blackhawks star and South Buffalo native Patrick Kane had a huge night Friday while being named to the NHL100 list for the game's greatest players. After the ceremony, he was thrilled to meet legends Mario Lemieux and Phil Esposito for the first time. His biggest wow moment, however, was renewing acquaintances with Sabres legend Gilbert Perreault.

"That was my dad's favorite player growing up," Kane said. "I kind of felt a little uncomfortable so I had to go find him and ask him for a picture for my dad. We both got in the picture and we talked to him 5-10 minutes.

"When you think about Gilbert Perreault, that's kind of player who my dad, when I was younger kid, wanted me to play that type of style, bringing the puck up the ice and getting the fans out of the seats. My dad was ecstatic to meet him and get a picture."

As for being named to the NHL100, Kane said, "It’s special. It’s pretty surreal, pretty unbelievable. ... The whole night, the whole experience, the whole couple of hours is something you’ll never forget."


In the wake of the inconclusive rulings that marred the Sabres' loss at Dallas Thursday night, Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league is continuing to study the technology to help determine if pucks have entered the net.

"We have lots and lots of cameras and we spare no expense," Bettman said when asked about the situation by The News during his annual All-Star briefing. "Having said that, we are seeking the best technology that we have scalable to make it even possible -- and I'm not saying tomorrow -- but we're looking at things that will enable us to to know exactly where the puck is. And whether or not it crossed the line, so we won't even have to see it."

That is the issue in the Sabres' plays. An apparent second-period goal was wiped out by the puck being under Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen and the potential tying goal with 11 seconds left was kicked out of the net by Lehtonen after the puck hung on his pad.

"You will be able to know it was there, the technology will tell you," Bettman said. "That would be aspirational, something that we're working on. But it isn't ready for prime time. Because anything we install better work, and it better work right."



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