By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
Somewhere along the way as part of a career that stretched for 14 years, Jason Pominville became one of the most beloved Buffalo Sabres in history.
The right winger broke in during the 2005-06 season (if you don’t count one game in 2003-04), and quickly became a fixture in the lineup. Pominville was traded to Minnesota in 2013, but came back to Buffalo for an two-year encore in 2017.
He was never a star – one career appearance in an NHL All-Star Game – but he was always a solid contributor. What’s more, Pominville obviously greatly enjoyed Western New York, and the area loved him back.
His playing career is close to over, but he won’t be forgotten any time soon. Pominville took part in a group interview as part of the 2000’s Night by the Sabres. Some editing has been done for the sake of clarity.
Question: You’ll always be remembered for your overtime goal in Game Five that clinched the second-round playoff series against Ottawa in 2006. Not too many overtime goals are scored while a team is short-handed. What do you remember about it?
Jason Pominville: I blacked out. To get thrown out there in overtime with another rookie – me and (Derek) Roy – at the time you didn’t see it that often. It’s great to be able to score a goal of that magnitude. When I take a step back now, I realize what it meant to the team and the organization, and even to myself for my career. It definitely was a proud moment, and one of my highlights.
Question: That season must have been such an unexpected and happy ride.
Pominville: I still get asked about it quite a bit. When you’re playing, you’re in the moment. We were riding the wave in that playoff run. I was young and clueless and having fun, and just going with it. We scored a lot of big goals that year. Danny Briere got one in overtime of Game Six (of the conference finals against Carolina). To me, that’s one of the highlights of my career – overtime, at home, the reaction of the fans not leaving the building was crazy. That’s up there too. When you take a step back, you realize just how much it meant.
Question: Do you look back now at 2006 and think of it as your best chance to win a Stanley Cup?
Pominville: I see it that way. There was still a lot of work to be put into it (if the team had reached the finals). If I were going to pick one of the two years (2006 or 2007), I felt that was the year. Going in, expectations weren’t as high. The group really came together. We had a great time. The city was unbelievable.
Unfortunately, we ran into injuries – and there was nothing we could do about those injuries. Sometimes, a shoulder is something you can battle through. This time, there was no chance that any of them could have been able to play. Teppo Numminen might have given it a shot, and he wasn’t able to. Jay (McKee) was going through a lot. We lost the four top guys (on defense) that play against the other team’s best lines. That might be more than taking away a team’s top two lines offensively. Those guys were that important to the team. We had some guys step in. We still had a lead after two of Game Seven but we weren’t able to win that game.
Question: What made those teams in the middle of the 2000s so special?
Pominville: I think the bonds we had to come together as a team. Everyone was included. Leadership was great. We had (Chris) Drury and Danny (Briere) at the top – two completely different types of players, but both were great in different ways. On a nightly basis, they were really good. Dru would play basically in every situation – penalty-killing, faceoffs, blocked shots. You’re sitting there thinking, “If this guy is doing it, I’ve got to do it.” Then you have Danny, who was more quiet, but every night he found a way to be on board and score a big goal at a key time. Definitely he was a fun guy to play with on a line.
Question: You became an unrestricted free agent last summer, and didn’t sign with another team. What’s your status now?
Pominville: Initially, there were only a few places I would have like to have played in. Buffalo was obviously one of them. (General manager Jason Botterill) was great. He talked to me over the summer, talked to me before training camp. He kept me in the loop on everything. I was able to use the gym. I’m still in good shape. I still work out, still skate.
I think I might be able to be a little less selective (about a contract) now. (Last summer) it wasn’t worth going someplace far away on a one-year deal. I’d have to bring the family, and then I might get traded somewhere at the deadline – and the rest of my family would be stuck somewhere. It just wasn’t worth it. But if an opportunity (to sign with an NHL team) arrives now, I might consider it. There’s not a lot of the season left. Realistically, I’m older and I’ve missed a lot. I’ll still take my time. I still feel good and I’m healthy. We’ll see in time where it leads us.
Question: What’s the reunion with some of your former teammates been like?
Pominville: It’s fun. You get treated great. They’ve done a great job with the alumni. They keep us involved. They always reach out to us. It’s got to be awkward for them to reach out to me at this time, because (retirement) is not official yet. But I’m excited to be part of it. It’s been a lot of fun during the times I’ve been here.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)