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Sabres defenceman Numminen returns to Buffalo for rehab after heart surgery @NHL

BUFFALO, N.Y. - Sabres defenceman Teppo Numminen is back in Buffalo to begin the next step of rehabilitation after having open heart surgery last month. He has yet to decide whether to continue playing.

"I feel good, really good. Things are going well. Every day I feel stronger and stronger," Numminen said Thursday after watching the Sabres practice.

Numminen added he's been walking - but not allowed to drive a car - and intends to begin riding a stationary bike soon. He said his ribs are still sore from surgery, and he won't be allowed to have any strenuous hockey-related workouts for at least another six weeks.

The 39-year-old said he'll wait until then to determine whether to return to play for his 19th NHL season.

"I promised myself before surgery that I'm not going to make any decisions before I'm healthy," Numminen said. "You get so emotional. You go through so many thoughts and things during the time, so right now I'm concentrating on getting healthy and then move on."

Numminen left The Cleveland Clinic last week after he had successful surgery to repair a faulty valve. The operation was deemed necessary after he had a routine checkup a week before he prepared to report for training camp.

The Finnish player has had a heart murmur since childhood and was diagnosed with a dilated aorta in March 2004 when he was playing for the Dallas Stars. Numminen missed five games because of the condition before he was cleared to play.

The condition also forced him to miss one game and part of another during a playoff series against Philadelphia in 2006.

Prior to his latest operation, doctors told Numminen he would be able to resume a normal life, including playing in the NHL, once he recovered.

He's played the past two seasons with the Sabres, and Numminen is currently on the team's suspended list so that the US$2.6-million, one-year contract he signed in July does not count against Buffalo's salary cap.

He was happy to at least be back with his teammates as the Sabres prepare to open the regular season hosting the New York Islanders on Friday.

"It's just exciting to see everybody and really appreciate what you have," Numminen said. "It's just happy today to be around the rink and see everybody's faces."

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