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Nichol plays on after 17 others cut

Slash.

The Lightning announced its first cuts Wednesday, reducing the number of players in training camp at the Ice Sports Forum to 43 by reassigning or releasing 17.

There were no major surprises, though former Sabres property Scott Nichol, who came into camp as a tryout, has survived.

"I wanted to come in and show them what I can do," said the 25-year-old forward with five NHL games of experience. "If I can help out and provide a little spark, I would be more than happy to oblige."

Eleven players were moved to Tampa Bay's minor-league affiliate, the Detroit Vipers, including right wing Dale Rominski, who played three games for the Lightning last season.

Left wing Mike Kiesman and right wing Maxim Potapov, who were invited to camp after strong rookie tournaments in Hull, Quebec, were invited to Vipers camp.

Three players were returned to juniors, including two 2000 draft picks: defenseman Aaron Gionet, a sixth-round choice; and goaltender Alexander Polukeyev, an eighth-round selection. Also sent to juniors was defenseman Brett Scheffelmaier, a 1999 third-round choice.

Forwards Tony Iob and Sean O'Brien were released.

Sticking around, for a while at least, are right wing Nikita Alexeev, this year's first-round draft choice; left wing Alexander Kharitonov, this year's third-round choice; center Thomas Ziegler, this year's ninth-round choice; and Fedor Fedorov, a 1999 sixth-round choice.

And Nichol.

"That doesn't surprise me at all," general manager Rick Dudley said. "He's got character, speed and he's a hard-working kid with a decent amount of skill. He's going to do whatever we ask him to. He's exactly what we're all about."

Dudley said more cuts are likely by the weekend.

FIRST GAME: Coach Steve Ludzik said 19-year-old Evgeny Konstantinov, a 1999 third-round draft choice, will start in goal against the Hurricanes in the Lightning's first preseason game Saturday at TECO Arena in Estero. Dan Cloutier and Kevin Weekes will split the final four games.

WELCOME BACK: Right wing Dan Kesa celebrated his return to practice after missing two days with a strained left hamstring by scoring two tap-in goals in an intrasquad game.

Alexeev also scored for the black team, which won 3-1. Todd Warriner scored for the red.

INJURIES: Weekes missed practice with the flu, and left wing Kyle Freadrich remained sidelined with a strained shoulder. Center Brad Richards suffered a left thigh contusion but should not miss any time. Defenseman Sergey Gusev (right knee) skated for 45 minutes, and head medical trainer Dave Boyer said he could be ready for Monday's practice. Left wing Gordie Dwyer (left knee) said he will be back at practice by the end of the week.

TV TIME: Seventy-one of the Lightning's 80 games will be televised, including the Feb. 17 game against the Rangers on ESPN2.

Fifty games will be on Sunshine Network. Twenty will be on the Lightning Hockey Network, which will be on different channels depending on your cable system. Check local listings.

_ DAMIAN CRISTODERO

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