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Matvichuk, Numminen and Downey could return Wednesday

by Staff Writer / Dallas Stars

December 15, 2003

By J. Douglas Foster

It's not exactly the Cavalry coming.

But it's somewhat close.

A Stars team that has been playing without three of its top four defensemen for some time now could be injecting nearly 1,800 career games back into its blueline Wednesday as both Richard Matvichuk (knee injury) and Teppo Numminen (fractured foot) said they hope to be in the lineup against Vancouver.

"There's some light at the end of the tunnel," Stars head coach Dave Tippett said. "That's for sure."

They aren't the only ones off the Stars' long list of injured players hoping to be back against the Canucks.

Wing Aaron Downey, out since Nov. 8 after suffering a fractured hip, said he also plans on playing Wednesday as long as everything goes well following an extensive workout Monday.

His plan, he said, is to make an impact quickly.

"I'm ready to play. I've been cleared to go," Downey said. "I'm ready to get back in. Not one time last year did you see anyone taking liberties with our guys, so I'm ready to get back in and let people know I'm on the ice."

What Downey brings, Tippett said, is often more important than what people away from the team realize.

"He's a very good team player and a real character guy," Tippett said. "He cares about the team and he cares about his teammates, and the guys feel the same way about him. He's going to skate hard and forecheck, and he will make teams pay a physical price."

Numminen, out since Nov. 20 after breaking his foot, said he will most likely play Wednesday, and that he is expecting to feel some pain in the foot upon his return.

That is natural and unavoidable. But if it's bearable, he said, he will be back.

"I had a good skate today," Numminen said. "I skated before the team and then the whole practice with the team and it felt better than I thought. We'll just see tonight and tomorrow how sore it gets."

Matvichuk has had the shortest absence of the group as he has missed the last four days with a knee injury.

It was a rather odd one as the pain was in the area between the calf and the back of the knee, caused by a buildup of blood. He said he sustained the injury blocking a shot in San Jose.

Upon his return, he hopes to help the young Stars callups on the blueline who have played a part in the team allowing just one goal in their last two games.

"This team prides itself on defense," Matvichuk said. "Obviously we're not scoring a lot of goals right now, so we'll keep it simple and get the puck out of our end. That's our No. 1 objective."

While those three look to come back Wednesday, two other injured Stars will be out a bit longer.

Defenseman Philippe Boucher (broken orbital bone) skated with the team Monday and has a follow-up exam with an eye specialist scheduled for Tuesday. His return date is still uncertain. Forward Steve Ott (lower back strain) will most likely be out another week, Tippett said.

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*Veteran goaltender Ron Tugnutt missed part of Monday's practice with a sore knee and is questionable for Wednesday. If he can't go, the Stars may be forced to recall Jason Bacashihua from Utah in an emergency goaltender situation.

*Many of the drills in Monday's practice, Tippett said, were designed to help the Stars get more confident offensively and more focused on scoring. They involved a shorter sheet of ice and little defensive help in front of goaltender Marty Turco. "I guarantee you that Turks didn't like anything about today's practice," Tippett said. "Not one thing."

*The Stars and Texas Rangers are continuing their "Hope for the Holidays" collection drive for phone cards and retail gift cards (minimum $5 per card) to help needy children in the area. Rangers players Mark Teixeira and Jeff Zimmerman were on hand at Friday's game to sign autographs and help collect give cards, and more Rangers players will be on hand to do the same from 6:30 to 7:30 at American Airlines Center before the Stars' next game, next Wed., Dec. 17 against Vancouver.

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