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First cuts will be announced today

Now comes the hard part.

The first of this week's two cuts will be announced today, reducing the number of players in camp at the Ice Sports Forum from 61 to 38 or 39. The original plan was to cut to about 30 after today's practice, but general manager Rick Dudley said enough players have shown enough promise that they deserve a longer look.

At the same time, he said, the team has to get to a manageable number "because we know how hard the decisions will be."

Dudley did not tell the team cuts were imminent.

"If that's what it takes to get a guy motivated, that's not exactly what we're looking for," he said.

The tempo slowed on the fourth day of intrasquad games, but there was much to appreciate.

Right wing Wayne Primeau had three goals in two games. Left wing Fredrik Modin had a goal and three assists, and center Brad Richards had three assists.

Right wing Dmitry Afanasenkov had a goal and an assist. Left wing Alexander Kharitonov had two assists, one on a stunning rush, deke and score by speedster Martin St. Louis.

"Nobody," Dudley said, "played themselves out of a job today."

FORMAT CHANGE: With fewer players, Dudley said, one intrasquad game, instead of four, will be held. There also will be a practice session and off-ice strength and conditioning.

BRAIN TRUSTS: Dudley said he is sure mistakes will be made when picking the final 23-player roster.

"We're not going to be 100 percent," he said. "There are going to be guys who chew up that league (the International Hockey League) and play so well that we say, "We've got to get this guy up here.' "

Of course, he said, tongue firmly in cheek, "If you go 12-0, you don't want to make any changes. We'll worry about that when that happens."

MASKED MAN: Goaltender Dan Cloutier has yet to wear his new molded mask with the image of Thor, the god of thunder, war and strength in Norse mythology, painted on each side. Cloutier said he has stayed with his old helmet because it is more comfortable.

Cloutier said that because the new mask "is right up against your face," it creates more perspiration. He said he eventually will switch to the mask because it offers more protection. He will wear it during practice once the season starts to acclimate himself.

INJURIES: Right wing Stan Drulia (charley horse) returned to practice. Right wing Dan Kesa (left hamstring) and left wing Kyle Freadrich (strained right shoulder) remained sidelined.

LUNCHEON: The Tampa Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring a luncheon at 11:45 a.m. Thursday at the Marriott Waterside. Dudley, Ludzik, Cloutier, Drulia, Vinny Lecavalier, Paul Mara, Petr Svoboda, Marek Posmyk, Todd Warriner, Gordie Dwyer, Ryan Johnson and Mike Johnson are scheduled to attend.

The cost is $55 per person or $550 per table and includes lunch and a ticket to the Oct. 6 regular-season opener against the Islanders at the Ice Palace. Call (813) 276-9432 for reservations.

ODDS AND ENDS: The first fight of camp, though it was more of a wrestling match, was between left wing Mike Kiesman and defenseman Bryan Muir. Goaltender Kevin Weekes said he wears No. 80 because the NHL will not allow him to wear 00. He said 80 looks the most like 00.

_ DAMIAN CRISTODERO

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