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Buffalo Sabres News » News » Stempniak home free in his return
Stempniak home free in his return
Stempniak home free in his return
Lee Stempniak has the easy life whenever he returns home for a one-night stay with the St. Louis Blues. No need for this guy to worry about facing long autograph lines, posing for pictures or kissing babies. Apparently, he can even slip past Hockey -loving, Hockey -playing neighbors.


It explains what happened Tuesday night after dinner with family and friends at the Buffalo Chop House, where you better believe people recognized his teammate Keith Tkachuk. As the story goes, a parking attendant picked out Stempniak's father, Larry, upon leaving the restaurant.

"You're Mr. Stempniak, right?" the attendant asked. "I played Hockey with your son -- your son Jay."

After a little small talk, the attendant said, "How is your son Lee doing?"

The beauty, of course, is that the attendant could have asked Lee himself considering the Blues winger stood a few feet away. Stempniak, always unassuming, said nothing. The rest of the dinner party looked at him and laughed.

"Lee was standing right there," said Matt English, who coached Stempniak for years and had dinner with him that night. "He didn't even recognize him. He's talking about his brother. I said, 'Gee, Lee, you're pretty popular around here.' But he's so humble."

Well, the fans around here should know him by now. Stempniak had one goal in the third period and set up another Wednesday night in his second career NHL game in Buffalo, a 4-3 Sabres victory in HSBC Arena. He has two goals and seven points in his past four games.

"It was nice to get one, but it's really disappointing in a loss," Stempniak said. "At the time, it felt like a big goal in terms of momentum. It's tough to lose like that. It's heartbreaking."

You can't help but pull for Stempniak, a homegrown player who spent nearly every available hour in West Seneca's town rink as a kid. He played his entire youth career there, had another season with the Buffalo Lightning, worked there sharpening skates and pouring coffee in between practices and games.

His No. 95 was retired and placed above the main doorway, a fitting tribute to a good player, honest and hard-working, who stayed mostly under the radar. Heck, there were years he wasn't even the best player on his youth team.

Stempniak popped in his second goal this season Wednesday to get the Blues within 4-3 and was greeted with a mix of boos and cheers. He assisted on their first goal and for his effort was given applause often reserved for making bogey.

"Maybe at West Seneca I would be recognized, but that's about the extent of it," he said. "It's nice to live your life without people coming up to you all the time. You welcome [the attention], but I'm not searching for it."

Presumably, fans would have been more receptive if they knew his road into the NHL. Stempniak was lightly recruited at St. Francis High while playing for the Buffalo Lightning. He wound up at Dartmouth because they promised he would play right away. He wasn't drafted until he was 20, when the Blues took him in the fifth round in 2003.

But he kept plugging. He spent part of his rookie year in AHL Peoria but was impressive enough in the NHL to earn a full-time spot in St. Louis. He had 27 goals and 52 points in his second season. A prolonged slump snowballed into only 13 goals and 38 points last season.

He has two goals and eight points in 10 games this year. He's in the second season of a three-year contract worth $7.5 million and is set to become an unrestricted free agent after next season.

Might he fulfill a dream and sign with the Sabres? Probably not. But maybe they'll recognize him in his hometown, where he returned Wednesday.

In case you didn't notice.

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com



Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: November 15, 2008

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