It was a chilly winter day in Buffalo. I was in the driver’s seat of my dad’s 2002 red Dodge pickup truck as it rumbled down Newhouse Road in Clarence Center. My sister was riding shotgun. We were on our way to a classy Italian restaurant called Faletta’s and were as excited as we could be.
She had gotten a call the week before telling her she won a drawing to have dinner with Buffalo Sabres winger Jason Pominville. She was also allowed to bring one guest. For her, choosing her guest was a no-brainer: Her older brother who was absolutely crazy about Sabres hockey.
As it were, there were five other contest winners and their guests. Still, sitting down at dinner with someone, who, at the time, seemed larger than you, was going to be great. We were the first ones there. The folks running the contest led us to the bar area, where Pominville was seated (he was sipping on either a gin and tonic or just a glass of water with lime, hard to tell).
It was that moment when I realized this was just a regular guy blessed with extraordinary hockey skill. He was wearing a quarter-zip sweater and dark jeans. He extended his hand, introduced himself, and we chatted for a bit (I was still nervous as could be, though).
Eventually, the other winners showed up, and we were taken to our table. The people running the contest (Dave and Adam’s Card World) were picking up the check so nothing was off limits. We ordered some appetizers and everyone began chatting like it was a bunch of old friends catching up. I’ll never forget Pominville leaning over to me and offering me a bite of his stuffed mushrooms. I hate mushrooms and politely declined.
Obviously, we got to asking about different things from his career, the OT goal against Ottawa, the Winter Classic, and that good stuff. When the Winter Classic did come up, I think it was me who mentioned something like, “I just hate that it had to be Crosby that scored the goal in the shootout.” A few people chuckled in agreement.
Pominville though, with a dead serious look on his face, looks up and says, “You guys know the NHL gave Millsy money to throw that shootout, right?”
The table fell silent. I think someone even dropped their fork just as all of our jaws collectively hit the ground. Then, he started laughing. “Just kidding you guys,” he said with a smile on his face.
He is one of the most genuine players I’ve ever had the opportunity to meet. Never once did he have that, “oh my God, I can’t believe I have to be here,” look. He was even passing around his iPhone to show us pictures of his new baby boy. He genuinely took interest in who we were and didn't need to check his watch every 15-minutes to see what time this dinner would end.
That dinner forever left an impression on me. I know that, generally speaking, hockey players are often considered the most humble of the professional athletes, but I have definitely heard my share of horror stories about them. I could tell that he was a genuinely nice guy. He quickly became one of my favorite players. His jersey still hangs on my bedroom wall.
So that brings us to last night. It has been about three years since that dinner and only 7 months since Pominville left. He took to the ice of the First Niagara Center in a different colored sweater for the first time ever.
When I heard that there was no sort of recognition for him at the game I was not happy. I didn’t want some elaborate 20-minute pregame ceremony. Just show the guy’s overtime goal against Ottawa on the jumbotron and say “we would like to welcome back Jason Pominville!” Let the fans cheer, because we know most of them would have, and get on with the game.
Especially with that embarrassing 16-minute lighting delay at the start of the second period, it’s not like it was impossible as that would have been a perfect spot to do it.
They recognized Dainius Zubrus’ 1000th game for Pete’s sake! He played like, 25 games for the organization.
I’m not expecting Robyn Regehr, Jordan Leopold, and Brad Boyes recognition night. But the fact that they couldn’t even give 10-20 seconds to a player who gave them 10 seasons, scored arguably the biggest goal in team history, and served as captain is disappointing. If we want to be Hockey Heaven, we need to be a destination. We want players to say, “If I give this organization 10 years of my career, they are going to recognize that hard work.”
What the organization said is “Pominville who?” and that’s just plain wrong. That being said, I’m glad he got the game winning goal. The goal itself was classic Pominville. The goal made a statement…If the Sabres were going to try to forget #29, he was going to make them remember.
So I’ll say, thank you Jason Pomiville. No matter where you end up, you’ll always have a fan in me.