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by Kevin Snow / Buffalo Sabres

Ville Leino spent the past two seasons hearing the cheers of Philadelphia Flyers fans. Tomorrow night he’ll find out what it’s like to be the enemy.

The Buffalo Sabres return to Philadelphia on Thursday for the first time since last spring’s loss in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. For Leino, it’ll be his first trip back to the Wells Fargo Center since signing a six-year free agent contract with the Sabres on July 1.

“The first time is always a unique experience,” said Leino today. “I don’t know what it’s going to be like; I’m just going to harness the energy. It’s a great environment to play a hockey game, the fans are loud.

“It’s a lot of fun playing in Philly, whether you’re on the road or the home team. It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s always nice to play in a loud building; it gets you ready. You don’t really have to push yourself too much.”

Leino only played 94 regular season games with the Flyers, after being acquired from Detroit in February 6, 2010. But he quickly became a fan favorite in Philadelphia after tying the NHL rookie playoff record with 21 points in 19 games during the 2010 Playoffs, as the Flyers advanced to Game Six of the Stanley Cup Final before losing in overtime to Chicago.

“There’s a lot of people I know, a lot of feelings, a lot of good memories. We were doing pretty good when I was there so there’s a lot of good memories. I’m sure that it’s going to be a little bit emotional but it’ll be nice to see the people around the rink again.”

It’s some of the faces on the ice that may be a bit unfamiliar to Leino. The Flyers underwent some major reconstruction last summer, jettisoning veterans Mike Richards (to Los Angeles) and Jeff Carter (to Columbus) in a pair of trades that brought back youngsters Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek in return. They also added free agent goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, and Jaromir Jagr returned to the NHL following a three-year stint in the KHL

“Especially Richards, I wasn’t expecting that. But stuff like that happens. They’ve been doing a really good job with the rebuilding and the trades they’ve been doing. It was a little bit of a question mark to start the season but I guess Homer (Flyers GM Paul Holmgren) did a good job again this season.”

Even with the off-season retooling, Leino says that not much has changed with this year’s edition of the Flyers.

“They still play the same way – hit hard, skate hard, try to win a lot of battles. It’s still pretty much a similar team, with the same coaching.”

Unlike some players that have felt the wrath of the fans when returning to a former city, Leino doesn’t expect to hear many catcalls from the notoriously vocal Philadelphia fanbase.

“I was pretty good with fans there so I hope they’ll be good. But who knows, we’ll see tomorrow. It’ll be fun anyways.”

The Sabres practiced at First Niagara Center on Wednesday before the jetting off to the City of Brotherly Love. The brief 40-minute skate featured some revamped lines, most notably Thomas Vanek skating on the right side with Tyler Ennis at center and Nathan Gerbe on left wing.

Head coach Lindy Ruff says he actually likes Vanek on his off-wing because he seems to get a few more scoring opportunities from that side.

“I think he shoots more, he skates more from that side,” Ruff explained. “On the left side he tends to pull up and try to make plays. I think when you see the majority of his goals coming down on the rush, it’s usually Thomas’ big shot coming down the right side. I remember when he came back from injury years ago he played the right, and he had the four-goal game in Ottawa right away. Sometimes it gets him skating just a little bit more.”

There’s a very good chance that Jhonas Enroth will see some action in the next three games. The Sabres are embarking on a tough stretch of three games in four days that concludes with a 12:30 p.m. start on Sunday against Pittsburgh. Ruff said the quick turnaround for Sunday’s game will almost necessitate the need for Enroth to get a start this weekend for the first time since a 6-2 loss in Chicago on January 18. Ryan Miller has started Buffalo’s last 10 games.

Brad Boyes and Robyn Regehr both missed Wednesday’s practice with a “maintenance day” off, but they are expected to be in the lineup tomorrow. Ruff also said that Cody McCormick (upper body) is progressing, but offered nothing further than that. McCormick hasn't played or practiced since being injured against Dallas last Friday.

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