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by Erin Pollina / Buffalo Sabres
Teppo Numminen (photo: Getty Images)
After a five-month offseason, the Buffalo Sabres were back on the ice today at HSBC Arena for the first day of training camp.

And although all were glad to return to the rink, perhaps no one was as excited as veteran defenseman Teppo Numminen.

“I’ve been waiting for this,” Numminen said. “I feel good, I feel strong… I feel healthy.”

The seasoned blueliner was forced to sit out all but one game last season after undergoing corrective heart surgery on a faulty valve in September 2007. Team doctors discovered the problem while conducting physicals.

Being the third procedure Numminen has had to endure since 2004 he recuperated throughout the year, cleared to play only for the final game of the regular season against the Boston Bruins.

“You realize maybe a week or two later how big it was to get that game in,” Numminen said. “Just being back there, playing in the league and just doing the things that you’ve been doing for such a long time… It felt normal, it felt comfortable. It was just a great feeling.

“You realize how much you missed the game.”

This time around, no complications were found at training camp as Numminen reported for on-ice testing. The blueliner also stated that “everything looked fine” when he saw doctors at the Cleveland Clinic earlier in the week.

“It was great to see a smile on his face in the game he played last year,” Head Coach Lindy Ruff said of Numminen. “It was even nicer to see him grinding it out [today], with his heart rate as high as he did.”

The smiles continued as he fielded questions from the media, particularly when asked if he could sustain the longevity of Red Wings’ defenseman Chris Chelios – who enters his 22nd season in the NHL at 46 years old.

“No,” Numminen laughed. “I’ve been playing one year at a time since I was 33 years old. So no way, that’s unbelievable.”

Although at 40 years old, the Finn has undoubtedly accumulated some experience himself. He currently holds the NHL record for most games played by a European with 1,315 career games. In that span he has scored 115 goals and 505 assists.

“You have to be focused year-round… try to look for new ways to keep up with the young players and change up the game,” Numminen said as his key to success. “You have to be a thinker, you have to realize what’s around you… and study the game the whole time.

“It kind of silly and stupid to say but you always think you can play better. I don’t know if I should say that now being 40 years old but that’s the way you have to look at things and I think those are the small things that you have to keep in your mind.”

Also looking to make a return for the Buffalo Sabres is center Tim Connolly.

After battling through an injury-plagued season in 2007-08, Connolly finally succumbed to the pain late in March and underwent surgery to repair a bone spur in his hip.

“Timmy is ready to go,” Ruff said. “Timmy tested out. I’ve looked at his numbers. He’s made some real big strides. I don’t feel that he’s at 100 percent, but he’s a lot further ahead than he has been in the past. He feels good.

“I’m happy with where he is at. I think he’s going to continue to progress and I think he’s another guy that training camp and preseason are very important for him.”

Connolly finished with 40 points (7+33) through 48 games last season.

The captaincy for 2008-09 for now remains a mystery. Ruff said the team has not yet come to a decision, but will continue to look at options.

“We’ve talked about [co-captaincy]. We’ve talked about the rotation,” Ruff said. “The players have…really bought into that rotation process. They’ve liked it. On the outside it seems like something that isn’t really welcome, but on the inside it’s something that the players, in talking to the key guys, have really liked. They’ve liked the responsibility or the initiative to have a good month to become the captain… we’re going to weigh things through camp and have a discussion on where we want to be.”

Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano and Managing Partner Larry Quinn will address the media at noon tomorrow at HSBC Arena during “Puck Drop 2008” to discuss the upcoming season. The press conference will be streamed LIVE, exclusively at

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