PITTSBURGH, Oct. 3 (UPI) -- As the National Hockey League opened its 85th season Wednesday night, much of the attention was focused on Pittsburgh where the Colorado Avalanche opened defense of their Stanley Cup championship against Mario Lemieux and the Penguins.
Also on tap were provincial ivalries as the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs renewed the "Battle of Ontario" and the Calgary Flames hosted the Edmonton Oilers in the latest "Battle of Alberta.
As for Colorado,Joe Sakic was back and so were Patrick Roy and Rob Blake. But the Avalanche were without perennial all-stars Ray Bourque and Peter Forsberg. Bourque retired last June, two weeks after finally realizing his Stanley Cup dream. While his departure was expected, Forsberg's was not.
Still recovering from an emergency splenectomy, hockey's best two-way player announced last month he was taking a leave of absence. Many teammates do not expect Forsberg to return this season.
That left a formidable void up the middle for Colorado, which was able to dethrone the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Finals without an ailing Forsberg.
Avalanche general manager Pierre Lacroix avoided mass defections by spending some $118 million to re-sign Sakic, Roy and Blake, just hours before they could have become unrestricted free agents. Sakic is the reigning Hart Trophy winner, Roy captured an unprecedented third Conn Smythe Trophy and Blake remained a franchise defenseman.
The Penguins, however, had a major void of their own to fill. Five-time NHL scoring champion Jaromir Jagr was traded during the off-season to the Washington Capitals for prospects Kris Beech, Ross Lupaschuk and Michal Sivek.
NHL continues crackdown
NEW YORK , Oct. 3 (UPI) -- The NHL announced Wednesday it would continue to crack down on penalties this season in an effort to improve the flow of play and further ensure the health of its players.
In a pair of releases issued hours before the start of the season, the NHL specified which penalties will be addressed and how players can prevent some injuries.
With scoring down, the NHL began its strict enforcement of the rules last season and will continue it in 2001-02. Among the infractions to be looked at will be slashing and blows to the head.
After introducing obstruction to the NHL vocabulary, the NHL saw a drastic rise in power plays last season. There were 11,282 man-advantage situations in 2000-01 -- over 2,000 more than the previous season.
Along with slashing and hits to the head, the NHL will crack down on line changes, delay of game and diving while continuing to enforce obstruction.
Seattle soars, Bonds bottled up
By United Press International
The Seattle Mariners took on the Angels at Anaheim Wednesday night, needing just two more victories to tie the New York Yankees' American League record for wins. Seattle had won 112 games with five to play. They need to win them all to eclipse the major league mark set by the 1906 Chicago Cubs.
Barry Bonds meanwhile hoped to take another swing at Mark McGwire's home run record of 70 when the San Francisco again met the Astros in Houston. Bonds was held in check Tuesday night, walking twice and was hit by a pitch to go with a single. He was only one walk shy of Babe Ruth's major league record of 170 set in 1923.
In other American League games, there was one day contest, Texas at Oakland. Night games had Chicago at the New York Yankees, Minnesota at Detroit, Toronto at Baltimore, Boston at Tampa Bay and Cleveland at Kansas City.
The National League also had a single day game, Cincinnati at the Chicago Cubs. Night games had Philadelphia at Atlanta with the Phillies only one game back in their N.L. East dogfight, Montreal at Florida, Pittsburgh at the New York Mets, St. Louis at Milwaukee, Colorado at Arizona and Los Angeles at San Diego.
Bills waive Christie
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y., Oct. 3 (UPI) -- The Buffalo Bills Wednesday waived kicker Steve Christie, one of the final links to the Bills' Super Bowl teams of the 1990s.
Christie, the Bills' all-time leader in points (1,011) and field goals (234), was placed on injured reserve the day before the start of the regular season with a groin injury.
The move to release Christie was expected after he refused an injury settlement, which could have allowed him to re-sign with the team after Week 10. Christie, 33, joined the Bills as a free agent in 1992 after spending two seasons with Tampa Bay. He the was Bills' kicker in Super Bowl losses in January of 1993 and 1994.
Rookie Jack Arians, who replaced Christie prior to the season, has made 5-of-7 field goals this season for the winless Bills (0-3).
Coffey takes a break
BOSTON, Oct. 3 (UPI) -- Paul Coffey, the highest-scoring defenseman in National Hockey League history, announced his retirement after 21 seasons Wednesday.
An eight-time All-Star, Coffey finished his career ranked second all-time among defensemen in goals (396), assists (1,135) and points (1,531). The future Hall of Famer won four Stanley Cups -- with the Edmonton Oilers in 1984, 1985 and 1987 and with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991. He was awarded the Norris Trophy three times as the NHL's top defenseman.
"I was able to play on championship teams both in the NHL and at the international level alongside so many players and I will remember these experiences forever," Coffey said. "My wife and I look forward to raising our children in Toronto, the city where we both grew up."
The 40-year-old Coffey played in a total of 1,409 games with Edmonton, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Detroit, Hartford-Carolina, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston. He appeared in just 18 games last year with the Bruins, collecting four points.
It's President Auerbach again
BOSTON, Oct. 3 (UPI) - Red Auerbach, the legendary NBA coach and executive, took over a second time Wednesay at president of the Boston Celtics.
Already the Celtics' vice-chairman of the board, Auerbach regained the position he held from 1970 to 1997 when he relinquished it to Rick Pitino. The title had been vacant since Pitino stepped down in January.
"Red Auerbach has been the cornerstone of our franchise for over the past five decades and he was the man who developed tradition with the Boston Celtics," team chairman Paul Gaston said.
Auerbach was 938-479 in 20 seasons as coach, 16 of them with Boston. He directed the Celtics to nine titles, including eight in a row from 1959-1966.
Hewitt, Seles advance at Japan Open
TOKYO, Oct. 3 (UPI) -- U.S. Open champion and top-seeded Lleyton Hewitt of Australia continued his hot streak on Wednesday by advancing to the third round of the $870,000 Japan Open hardcourt tennis event with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Marc-Kevin Goellner of Germany.
On the women's side, top seed Monica Seles of the United States reached the third round with an easy 6-2, 6-3 win over Korean qualifier Yoon-Jeong Cho. Seles has reached four finals this season, winning in Oklahoma City and last month in Brazil.
Second seed Sjeng Schalken of the Netherlands began defense of his title with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Christian Vinck of Germany and third-seeded Rainer Schuettler of Germany defeated Sweden's Magnus Larsson, 6-3, 7-5. Schuettler has reached the final in his last two events, claiming the title in Shanghai.
Among the women, third seed and 1998 champion Ai Sugiyama of Japan got past Katarina Srebotnik of Slovenia, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1, sixth-seeded Rita Grande of Italy beat Barbara Schwartz of Austria, 6-4, 6-4, and Bulgarian qualifier Pavlina Nola upended No. 7 Natalie Dechy of France, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5).