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Okposo plays in game for first time since illness

Sabres forward participates in Da Beauty League in Minnesota after missing end of last season

by Jessi Pierce / NHL.com Correspondent

EDINA, Minn. -- Buffalo Sabres forward Kyle Okposo skated in a game at Da Beauty League on Wednesday, his first since missing the end of the regular season because of an undisclosed illness.

Okposo took to the ice at Braemar Ice Arena, 19 miles from his hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota. He missed the final six games of last season for the Sabres after feeling ill before the start of a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 28. The 29-year-old reportedly was hospitalized for less than a week after being admitted to Buffalo General Medical Center on April 2.

 

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"Obviously seeing a teammate go through something like that and struggle to get healthy is tough," Sabres forward Hudson Fasching said. "He's such a good guy and going through a lot with that whole deal, trying to figure out what was wrong.

"I'm just happy he's healthy and happy for him to get back."

Okposo, who did not speak to media, gave a wave when the announcer drew the attention of fans during his first shift in the 4-on-4 game. He smiled before skating the puck down the ice with linemates Stu Bickel and Riley Tufte, and taking a shot that went just wide.

"He's a tremendous player," Fasching said. "He's a guy you want back and a guy you want on your team. I'm excited and happy for him."

Okposo had an assist for Team RBC in a 10-3 loss. New York Islanders forward Brock Nelson also played Wednesday and was glad to see his former teammate on the ice.

"It was pretty scary when that news came out [he was hospitalized], everyone was pretty concerned and wished him the best," Nelson said. "But I've seen him a lot this summer and he seems to be doing well, which is good, and it was good to see him back out there [Wednesday], too.

"Everyone's out there having fun. It was good to see him on the ice again and hopefully this helps him get ready for the fall and we look forward to seeing him out there again."

Minnesota Wild captain Zach Parise, another native of Minnesota (Minneapolis) who plays in Da Beauty League, has kept close ties with Okposo over the years.

"Really good [to see him out there]," Parise said. "I've spent a lot of time with him this summer. It sounded like a pretty scary thing to happen, so for him to be out here and skate, it was great. I'm sure for him mentally it feels good, but for us as friends, it's really good to see."

"I guess this was kind of his return back to the scene and to the public. He didn't play [in Da Beauty League] last year, so I don't think he knew what to expect either, so I think he was pretty surprised with the turnout also."

It was reported by The Associated Press that Okposo had visited the Sabres practice facility in early June. Buffalo general manager Jason Botterill said on June 15 that it was likely Okposo would be on the ice for Sabres training camp in September.

"We've had conversations with him and everything is looking great from Kyle. He physically looks great, mentally looks great," Botterill said at the introductory press conference for new coach Phil Housley. "... From our standpoint, everything will be ready for him at the start of training camp, just like all our other players."

Okposo, who signed a seven-year, $42 million contract with Buffalo on July 1, 2016, had 45 points (19 goals, 26 assists) in 65 games last season. He has 414 points (158 goals, 256 assists) in 594 NHL games for the Islanders and Sabres.

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