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Afinogenov has bigger goals than bronze // buffalonews.com
By TIM GRAHAM
ATLANTA - Maxim Afinogenov brought his Olympic bronze medal to practice Monday because he knew his teammates would ask to see it.
Mostly, though, the Buffalo Sabres' sleek right wing kept the medal tucked away in his jacket pocket. He also kept it in perspective.
"It's just bronze," Afinogenov said nonchalantly of Russia's third-place finish in Salt Lake City. "It's very good, but I'm only 22 years old, and I'm looking forward to playing in NHL Stanley Cups and maybe more Olympics. There's a long way to go for me."
The same can be said for the Sabres, who have a lot of ground to cover over a short period if they want to make the playoffs. The Sabres will play their first post-Olympic game tonight against the Atlanta Thrashers in Philips Arena (7:30, Empire, 107.7 FM).
The Sabres, with 25 games over the next 47 days, must displace three teams to climb into the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff slot. They enter tonight's game 23-26-7-1, seven points behind the eighth-place New York Rangers.
Afinogenov will be an integral factor in Buffalo's postseason push.
He has been one of the team's most electrifying players so far, already recording a career-high 18 goals, one behind Miroslav Satan's team lead. Afinogenov tied for Russian team scoring honors with two goals and two assists in Salt Lake City.
"He's a guy that, when he's on, he can pretty much score on any shift," Buffalo captain Stu Barnes said. "He's going to be counted on big-time down the stretch."
Afinogenov's Olympic experience should further buoy his rising value. He played alongside Russian greats such as Sergei Fedorov, Pavel Bure, Alexei Kovalev, Alexei Yashin and Nikolai Khabibulin and fellow rising stars like Ilya Kovalchuk and Sergei Samsonov.
And Afinogenov more than held his own.
"I think he realizes the level of play that was there, playing the best from every country in the world," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "And I thought, at times, he was one of (Russia's) better players."
Added Barnes: "It's going to be huge for his confidence. He's obviously a great kid and wants to be a good hockey player, and to perform like that it's going to pay off long-term."
Afinogenov scored the only goal in Russia's victory over the Czech Republic. He scored the colossal goal against former Sabres netminder Dominik Hasek, and it eliminated the defending gold medalists from the tournament.
"To score against Dom and the Czech team is very good because it's . . . against the champions," Afinogenov said. "You know, the last time in Nagano the Russians lost, 1-0, to them. We got the win. It's like revenge."
But, as Afinogenov noted, a bronze medal isn't his life's dream. He returned to Buffalo Sunday night even though he wasn't required to join his pro teammates until right before tonight's game.
Sabres defenseman Richard Smehlik - on the ice when Afinogenov essentially eliminated his Czech Republic squad - didn't have to resurface until tonight either. Yet both were on the HSBC Arena ice Monday.
"The fact that Rich and Max are back and practicing show they care about the team and where we're at," Ruff said.
Aside from Afinogenov, Smehlik and Satan, who played two games for Slovakia, the Sabres are coming off a 12-day break. They have been itching to get back into the playoff hunt.
"Five days into the break I was anxious to get the skates back on and
get back onto the ice," Buffalo goalie Martin Biron said. "It's going to
be a tight situation in the standings. I'm going to get myself ready to
say, "Game in, game out I'm going to be a force out there. I'm going to
make a difference.' I want everybody in here to be doing the same thing.
If that happens we'll be in good shape."
Страничка Максима Афиногенова
на сайте "Звёзды с Востока"
23 сентября. Максим Афиногенов: "Почувствовал российский
хоккей" // "Спорт-Экспресс"
13 марта. Максим Афиногенов: "Обмена пока не требую"
5 января. Максим Афиногенов:"Теперь есть повод позвать
земляков в ресторан" - "Спорт-Экспресс"
23 сентября. Максим Афиногенов: "Почувствовал российский хоккей" // "Спорт-Экспресс"
13 марта. Максим Афиногенов: "Обмена пока не требую" - Спорт-Экспресс
5 января. Максим Афиногенов:"Теперь есть повод позвать земляков в ресторан" - "Спорт-Экспресс"