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by Brian Wheeler / Buffalo Sabres
A smile crept across Teppo Numminen's face as he listened to a familiar question being asked. 

Standing in the center of the Buffalo Sabres locker room surrounded by cameras and audio recorders,  Numminen could only laugh at the prospect of, yet again, playing hockey for his homeland in the summer.

"It's kind of funny when you're almost 40 and they're still calling about the World Championships," said Numminen of representing Finland.  "In 20 years, hopefully there's some young players coming up so that they don't have to call me."

Numminen can laugh because he knows the worst is in the past.  The nimble 39 year old - who will turn 40 on July 3 - endured a season of questions and unknown answers only to emerge with hope for the future.

Numminen isn't just thinking about this summer or representing Finland again.  He's thinking about what sweater he'll be wearing during the 2008-09 season, and hoping, that it has something to do with the Buffalo Sabres.

"I really don't know yet but I think I can still play," said Numminen regarding a return to the NHL.

"Buffalo's been my home the last three years and we've really enjoyed ourselves here, so my number one option is to stay."

Numminen missed 81 of 82 games due to open heart surgery and the recovery process this season for the Sabres.  His only appearance came in a seemingly meaningless final contest against Boston.

The game had no impact on the Sabres playoff hopes, but it had a profound effect on Numminen.  It proved that he could release his fears of never skating again.

"The next day I realized how big that game was mentally and physically ... just to know that I'm back, I'm healthy and I can still do it," said Numminen, who played 16:03, fired one shot on net and blocked two shots in Buffalo's 3-0 victory in the TD Banknorth Garden.

"This is what I do and this is what I enjoy.  If you don't have that passion, there is no way you could do it for this long.  I care about the game, like the game and I enjoy myself.  It's still just a fun game for me."

As for the World Championships, which open May 2 in Quebec City, QC and Halifax, NS, Numminen says he'll take some time to mull the decision over.

Two weeks in training camp before another two week tournament isn't an easy thing to do while lugging around three kids.  Remember, Teppo isn't 35 anymore.

It's going to be a tough decision.

But Numminen is glad that it's one he gets to make.
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