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Sabres' Leino has a day to remember

by Risto Pakarinen

HELSINKI -- For most of this week, the main story at the Compuware NHL Premiere in Finland's capital had been Teemu Selanne, the Finnish Flash's return to his native Finland, together with his Anaheim Ducks and his Finnish teammates Saku Koivu and Toni Lydman. A few days later, along came another Finn, Ville Leino, whose Buffalo Sabres wanted to challenge the Ducks.

On Friday, it was Leino who got to leave his old home arena as a winner, as the Sabres downed the Ducks 4-1. What made it even sweeter for the 28-year-old center was the goal he scored in his first regular-season game as a Sabre.

"I've been lucky to score in my first game with every team I've played with," he said.

"Scoring goals always boosts your confidence, and gives you energy, so it was good start, and something to build on tomorrow," he added.

Finns weren't the only ones who were pleased with Leino's performance.

"Ville played very well. He was sound in our own end and he scored a big goal for us. He made a heck of a play, there picking the puck off his skate and with a quick release scoring the a goal," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.

Returning to Finland created special circumstances around Leino's first regular-season game as a Sabre. He hosted a team dinner, played in front of friends and family and was asked to give numerous interviews.

"I was nervous before the game, and all day, basically," he said. "The media attention has been quite something here, it's nothing like that in Buffalo. It was awesome to play here, and it was a huge win for us."

Selanne and Koivu had to settle for simply a memorable week.

"The game didn't go the way we expected, we made some unnecessary mistakes and couldn't really play as well as we should have. They scored on their chances, we didn't," Selanne said

"It wasn't just any old week here, and maybe there was a little too much going on, but all in all, this was a fantastic experience. The crowd was outstanding," he added.

Ducks coach Randy Carlyle had the Finns' line as his opening lineup, which gave the crowd a chance to welcome their heroes.

"While we prepared for tonight's game like we normally do, this whole week has been an unusual week for Teemu and me," Koivu said. "There were a lot of things going on but we had a lot of fun. It's been really exciting and special for us, and we'll remember this for the rest of our lives."

Except maybe the loss.

"The Sabres were the better team tonight, but we'll get a new chance to win (on Saturday)," Selanne said. The Ducks flew to Stockholm, Sweden, immediately after the game, to prepare themselves for Saturday's game against the New York Rangers, a 3-2 overtime loser to Los Angeles in Friday's other Premiere game.

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