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Sabres don't rule out sale but decline to confirm report billionaire's interest

BUFFALO, N.Y. - In failing to rule out the possibility of the Sabres being sold, minority owner Larry Quinn declined to discuss a report that a Pennsylvania billionaire is interested in purchasing the NHL franchise.

Quinn would only call Terry Pegula "a great guy," noting the two first met when Quinn previously worked for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Quinn spoke by phone to The Associated Press on Tuesday, after The Buffalo News cited unnamed sources in reporting that Pegula has emerged as a serious candidate to buy the Sabres.

Without referring to Pegula, Quinn said he's adopted a policy to not comment because this isn't the first time a report has surfaced about a prospective buyer. Quinn confirmed the Sabres have previously received offers, all of which have been rejected.

"Up until now, nothing's turned out to be solid," Quinn said.

Quinn didn't rule out majority owner Tom Golisano one day selling the team, but said the Sabres are not for sale or actively seeking a buyer.

"I wouldn't sit by the telephone, no," Quinn said. "And I'm not sure where this story is coming from."

Pegula could not be reached for comment. No one answered the phone at his residence in Pennsylvania and a message left on a number listed for Pegula's home in Florida was not returned.

Pegula is the founder and former president of the energy company East Resources Inc., a major player in Pennsylvania's burgeoning natural gas industry that was sold to Royal Dutch Shell PLC for US$4.7 billion earlier this year. He has an estimated worth of $3 billion and was most recently ranked 110th on Forbes magazine's list of wealthiest Americans.

In September, Pegula and his wife Kim made the largest private gift in Penn State history, donating $88 million to fund a new multipurpose arena and help upgrade the men's hockey program. Pegula, 59, is a Penn State graduate.

Later in the day, the Sabres released a formal statement from Quinn regarding the report.

"There have been several inquiries in the past few years regarding this subject," Quinn said. "Our company policy is we do not comment on them because people make inquiries all the time. Some inquiries are serious, some are not, some make the media, and others do not."

Quinn then specifically dismissed a report that Pegula had already signed a $150 million letter of intent to purchase the team, calling the report "simply not true."

Quinn, who is from Buffalo, played a key role in getting Golisano to purchase the Sabres for $92 million out of bankruptcy in April 2003, and ensure their future in the city. Golisano is from nearby Rochester, but has relocated to Florida because he's unhappy with high New York taxes.

Golisano has on several occasions indicated he's open to adding partners or selling a majority stake of the team, so long as the Sabres remain in Buffalo.

Under Golisano, the Sabres have flourished at the box office. They've reached their season-ticket sale limit in each of the past four seasons in becoming one of the NHL's most stable small-market franchises.

In bordering Canada, Buffalo also draws a large amount of fans from southern Ontario.

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