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Sabres D Numminen's heart checks out, timing for return uncertain

BUFFALO, N.Y. - Teppo Numminen's surgically repaired heart is pumping fine, the Buffalo Sabres defenceman's latest medical checkup showed.

It's his stamina that still isn't there yet, leaving Numminen unable to predict Thursday when he might be ready to play.

"I don't know. Still on the same schedule, day by day, week by week," said Numminen, catching his breath after a 90-minute practice. "But things are getting closer. We're moving in the right direction. ... They checked things out and things are like they should be."

Numminen was back at practice a day after a checkup at The Cleveland Clinic, where doctors repaired a faulty heart valve in September. The open-heart surgery was required after a problem was discovered during a routine checkup before the 39-year-old was preparing to report to training camp for his 19th NHL season, and third with Buffalo.

The Sabres, who play host to Ottawa on Friday, might be without forward Maxim Afinogenov, who left practice after straining his groin. Forward Drew Stafford, however, could be cleared to return after missing three games with a concussion as the Sabres try to snap a four-game winless skid (0-2-2).

Numminen had been among Buffalo's steadiest defenceman and was the team's assistant captain last season.

He's not yet been cleared for contact, but has been working out with the team since Dec. 13.

Numminen said the key is getting his strength back after he was not allowed to do any strenuous activity for the first two months after surgery.

"Every week you feel the difference," Numminen said, noting he's at about 60 per cent. "I can't even compare myself to where I was two weeks ago. Things have been going so well."

Numminen discounted an NBC report - broadcast Tuesday during the Winter Classic outdoor game between Buffalo and Pittsburgh - that he's 10 days away.

"Ten days? Wow," Numminen said. "No, I don't think so."

Coach Lindy Ruff also didn't offer a timetable.

"He's making progress, which you would expect," Ruff said. "I don't want to put numbers on it, but he's come a long way in the last four weeks."

The Finnish player has had a heart murmur since childhood and was diagnosed with a dilated aorta in March 2004 when he was playing for the Dallas Stars. Numminen missed five games because of the condition before he was cleared to play.

The condition also forced him to miss one game and part of another during a playoff series against Philadelphia in 2006.

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