Plane crash hits home for Sabres

TERRY KOSHAN

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

Teppo Numminen had gone to bed on Thursday night when the sound of an airplane caught his ear.

"I heard the plane coming," the Buffalo Sabres defenceman told the Buffalo News following the Sabres' morning skate prior to their game last night against the San Jose Sharks.

"I thought it sounded really weird, really close to us. Then I heard a little poof afterward and I was thinking: 'That doesn't sound good, doesn't sound right.' So I looked out my window and I saw the red sky and I knew something was wrong."

Numminen and several other Sabres live in or near Clarence Center, a suburb of Buffalo that was hit by tragedy on Thursday evening when Continental Flight 3407 plummeted out of the sky and crashed into a house, killing all 49 people on the plane and one man on the ground.

Sabres defenceman Jaroslav Spacek noted the bad weather when he was driving home for dinner earlier in the night, and when he heard sirens at around 10:30, figured a car accident had occurred. He looked out the window and realized he was not right.

"I saw the flames," Spacek said. "It was scary. I turned the news on and I saw the plane crash and I was like, 'Wow.'

Because some of the Sabres lived close to crash site, worried relatives began sending text messages. Spacek and Toni Lydman received messages from the Czech Republic and Finland respectively and assured relatives they were okay. Area schools were closed, so some of the Sabres with children had to explain to them why.

Backup goalie Patrick Lalime was among those who called 911.

"We saw a big ball of fire not even a mile down the road," Lalime said. "We called 911 to make sure. They already knew what happened. It's like a bad dream. You see all the cops everywhere."

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, whose house is a few miles away from where the plane went down, has experienced first-hand personal tragedy that resulted from a crash. Ruff's brother, Brent Ruff, was one of four members of the Swift Current Broncos killed when the team's bus crashed in 1986.

Ruff was emotional when he spoke to reporters, the Buffalo News reported. Ruff said he watched news coverage of the crash until 1:30 in the morning.

"It's an incredibly sad day for our city and we've talked about it that this is going to reach and touch a lot of people," Ruff said. "It's an area where we live. Everybody is going to know somebody that is touched by this. First and foremost, it's all about the families of the people that were lost and all our feelings go out to them first."

PANTHERS HUNTING

Playoff fever has hit in south Florida.

And with it, there's a potential Catch-22 for Panthers general manager Jacques Martin. What should he do with defenceman Jay Bouwmeester?

A virtual shoo-in to patrol Canada's blue line at the Olympics next winter in Vancouver for the second time, Bouwmeester is unlikely to return to the Panthers this summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Will Martin trade his best defenceman in the thick of a playoff race for fear of losing him for nothing on July 1? One bonus is that Martin presumably would get a nice package for Bouwmeester at the March 4 deadline. Still, it would be a tough sell to fans. The club is attempting to lure them to home games with a promotion that promises them a shot at playoff tickets if they buy a four-game package in the remainder of the season. The Panthers have not made the playoffs since 2000. If they don't again, those fans would get four free ducats for a game next season.

"We want this market to be excited about this team," first-year coach Peter DeBoer said. "These guys have worked awful hard to put ourselves in a position that we're challenging for a playoff spot. We want people in the seats."

SCUTTLEBUTT

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames have been sniffing around Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Rostislav Klesla. But Klesla keeps getting hurt, and his latest injury, a separated shoulder, will keep him out until around the trade deadline. Klesla has played in just 23 games, thanks to various injuries ... The Boston Bruins are expected to make a run at Colorado Avalanche defenceman Jordan Leopold ... The Sabres want to re-sign Tim Connolly, who usually is injured, to a big discount rather than lose him to free agency this summer. If Connolly balks, he could be on the trade table ... Any hope the pitiful New York Islanders had of trading Doug Weight likely died when Weight suffered a sprained knee this week, an injury that will keep him out for six weeks. Islanders defenceman Brendan Witt could be moved.

ICE CHIPS

Yet another good example from the Detroit Red Wings: Owners Mike and Marian Ilitch sent a version of the 2008 Stanley Cup rings to living players who won Cups with Detroit prior to 1997. "You'd have to be a weightlifter to wear this thing," Alex Delvecchio said ... The oldest and youngest members of the Minnesota Wild blew out birthday candles on Thursday. Owen Nolan turned 37, and Colton Gillies, 20. When Gillies was a year old, Nolan was racking up 110 points with Cornwall of the OHL and was about to become the first pick overall in the 1990 entry draft by the Quebec Nordiques.

TERRY.KOSHAN@SUNMEDIA.CA


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