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Barnaby promises not to change style
Sat. Nov. 21, 1998. By Ken Campbell, Toronto Star Sports Reporter.

BUFFALO - It was only fitting that Matthew Barnaby was forced to wear a yellow sweater during practices during his recent four-game suspension.

``I felt like I was leading the Tour de France,'' Barnaby quipped. ``I was on the bike for about an hour a day. I wasn't playing so I knew I'd have to keep up my conditioning.''

Barnaby certainly didn't look winded last night against the Leafs. Despite a 17-day respite, Barnaby played more than 14 minutes and scored a goal in the Sabres' 4-1 win over the Maple Leafs. That gave Barnaby four points in three games against the Leafs.

Barnaby is a thorn in the side - sometimes even of opposing players. He was up to his old tricks last night, goading the Leafs' Tie Domi into a roughing penalty midway through the third period. Domi wanted to fight Barnaby, but the Sabre declined.

``It would have been pointless for me to fight and essentially lose that fight,'' Barnaby said. ``Why put more bruises on my face?''

The Sabres certainly learned to live without him after Barnaby was sentenced four games for driving his elbow into the head of P.J. Axelsson of the Boston Bruins in a Nov. 3 game. The Sabres, who extended their unbeaten streak to eight games last night, won two of the games and tied the other two.

But there is little doubt that the Sabres play with a bit more swagger when Barnaby is there to back them up. Even though he probably loses as many fights as he wins, Barnaby keeps opponents honest and can often drive them to distraction.

Barnaby watched tapes of the hit on Axelsson a number of times and agrees he should have been suspended, but felt that four games was excessive. So did Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, who doesn't expect Barnaby to change his shift-disturbing ways one iota.

``There's nothing I have to tell him because it was a rare occurrence,'' Ruff said. ``It really wasn't that vicious. I've seen a lot worse and I've done a lot worse'' as a player.

Barnaby said his intention was to hit Axelsson with his shoulder, but admits he might have got his elbow up.

Barnaby lost $34,000 (U.S.) from his $700,000 salary, but more importantly, he had to sit out just when the Sabres and his linemates, Geoff Sanderson and Brian Holzinger, had begun to really come together. Barnaby, who has two goals and six points in 11 games this season, has received one-game suspensions for accumulating game misconducts, but this is his first lengthy suspension.

One reason why Barnaby is missed when he's not in the lineup is that he not only stirs the pot, but he has developed into a decent player.

But Barnaby knows his primary role: agitating, standing up for teammates when necessary and hitting recklessly, even if it means getting his elbow up once in a while.

``If I change the way I play,'' said the 25-year-old, ``I'll be out of this league within a year.''