The Daily Gazette
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Hughes getting close

Center Bobby Hughes, whose rookie season ended Jan. 5 over concerns about a potentially serious neck/back injury that threatened his career, may be back on the bench this week.

Head coach-GM Jeff Daniels said after practice this morning at the former Knickerbocker Arena that Hughes, who doesn't turn 21 until Nov. 11, hasn't been ruled out of dressing for Wednesday night's home game with East Division rival Binghamton.

"We're still debating on that," Daniels said. "I talked to him on the ice and told him I'd talk to him again in the morning. He's confident in his game and he's confident in getting on the ice. If it doesn't happen tomorrow, we're hoping for this weekend."

Hughes was cleared for contact last week and has been skating with the team in practice to get back in playing shape. Daniels has been pleased with his progress.

"He's looked real good," he said. "The last three, four days have been great. He's shown the skill that he has, and I'm excited to get him back in the lineup. At the time time, we're not going to push him, just ease him in until he's feeling comfortable."

In other Rats news:

* Daniel Manzato will get the start in goal against Binghamton, continuing the early-season rotation. Manzato had 34 saves in Albany's lone win, Oct. 17 vs. Worcester in Glens Falls.

"We're going with the same thinking on that," Daniels said. "We don't want either one of our goalies sitting for too long. We want to get both some action, and shortly here we'll decide one way or the other who's going to be the number one guy."

* Defenseman Noah Babin, who sat out Saturday's 3-1 road loss at Bridgeport after being hurt in a second-period fight with Worcester's Jamie McGinn the night before, has practiced this week and is available to play. He and rookies Brett Bellemore and Benn Olson are essentially rotating the sixth spot behind Tim Conboy, Casey Borer, Bryan Rodney, Mark Flood and Brett Carson. Olson made his pro debut in Bridgeport.

"With eight healthy defensemen, I'm going to meet with (assistant coach) Geordie (Kinnear) here and figure out which way we'll go," Daniels said. "Those other guys, obviously, bring some more experience to the lineup."

* Injured forwards Jerome Samson and Joe Jensen remain out and aren't expected back until next weekend.

"Unless some miracle happens over the next couple days, I don't see them playing this weekend," Daniels said. "They're coming along, but I don't count on them playing. We're hoping for next Friday."

Albany plays at Springfield on Friday and hosts Philadelphia on Saturday in a special 1 p.m. start. The Rats will be followed by the annual Governors Cup event featuring Union College and RPI, with games at 5 and 8 p.m.

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