Sabres’ Numminen plays first game six months after open heart surgery

BOSTON – Buffalo Sabres defenceman Teppo Numminen played his first game Saturday night since having open-heart surgery 6 1/2 months ago.

Numminen took a regular turn, playing 16 minutes, three seconds in Buffalo’s season-ending 3-0 win over the playoff-bound Boston Bruins. The Sabres were eliminated from post-season contention Thursday night in a 3-1 loss at Montreal.

“I haven’t played for many months, so I was nervous at the start with my timing,” Numminen said after skating 18 shifts in his only game of the season. “As the game went on, I felt more comfortable.”

Thomas Vanek, who scored all three goals, was impressed.

“It didn’t look like he missed a beat,” Vanek said. “He played a good game.”

Numminen, an 18-year NHL veteran and three-time All-Star game participant is in his third season with the Sabres. He was activated from the injury-suspended list and cleared to play on Tuesday.

He had surgery Sept. 20 to repair a faulty heart valve, which was found during a routine checkup a week before he reported to training camp. The team then placed him on their suspended list, meaning he couldn’t collect any of the US$2.6 million in the one-year contract he signed in July.

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Numminen, 39, then filed a grievance with the NHL Players’ Association, claiming the his heart condition was hockey-related. The grievance will be settled between the union and NHL.

He practised lightly with the team in December, but in January doctors decided he shouldn’t practise until mid-March to give his sternum time to heal. He returned to practice on March 21.

But he had some concerns going into Saturday’s game.

“I was worried about my play,” he said. “It was my first game back.”

Numminen has had a heart murmur since childhood and was diagnosed with a dilated aorta in March 2004, forcing him to miss five games with the Dallas Stars. The condition also kept him out of one game and part of another during the 2006 playoffs against Philadelphia.