Jason Pominville
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WHAT THE SABRES NEEDED – A FEEL GOOD FINALE By Andrew Kulyk and Peter Farrell

Pominville goal a Signature moment

 

In the days leading to last Thursday’s home season finale against Ottawa, things were starting to get ugly. The team had lost eight straight games and many in horrible fashion – back to back road losses to bottom feeding teams Ottawa and New Jersey, in what was looking like a race to the bottom. Then last Sunday’s disastrous shutout at home against Columbus. The team looked listless and unfocused throughout and exited the ice to a rain of boos and jeers each of the first two periods. By the time the game was mercifully over, a 4-0 final, most of the fans had left.

So what was left in the tank, other than growing calls for Coach Phil Housley’s head?

It was fan appreciation night, and the Sabres, late to the game of promotional giveaway but at least they finally got there, were offering a Jack Eichel bobblehead to all those in attendance. Social media was full of commentary and suggestions that ticket fans just pick up their bobblehead at the turnstile, then turn around and go home. Anyone who pursued that strategy (and the arena looked to be about full so doubtful) missed out on what was one of the more entertaining evenings in what has been a dismal and disappointing season.

It started with the honoring of a fan and season ticket holder named Ann Sienkewicz. At the age of 95, this spry lady has been going to hockey games in Buffalo since she was a young girl. She attended games of the AHL Buffalo Bisons starting in 1947 and has been a long time season ticket holder. Sienkiewicz was honored at center ice and, accompanied by honor guards Jason Pominville and Kyle Okposo, proceeded to drop a puck for a ceremonial faceoff.

To have a Sabres front office even acknowledge the existence of a predecessor hockey franchise and scrape upon a bit of nostalgia and history was out of character. This is an organization that has largely dismantled historical memorabilia that was in place throughout the KeyBank Center, rarely if ever references the Buffalo Bisons as a long time successful franchise, and let’s not even go there for now that the NBA Buffalo Braves have been eviscerated from any mention, when the placement of a banner in the rafters is long, long overdue.

But the organization did more, much, much more, to try and make the evening special for their patrons. The players, feeding off the energy and importance of going out on some sort of high, turned out one of their better performances of this end of the season.

On the promotional side, there was a lot to be offered… a pizza race up two sections, jerseys off the backs of players, a $49,000 payout on the 50-50 draw, prizes galore, a scrolling of names of all the season ticket holders on the HD video board, major rollback of concession prices for certain items. And of course a nifty bobblehead. All these little touches to make the fans feel loved and wanted.

Even the awful and execrable game night host DJ Milk, with his tiresome racket, was somewhat tolerable. The hope from this corner is that we have seen and heard the last of him. Eeeeyyyy! Eeeeyyyy!

The Sabres turned out a 5-2 win. Victor Olofsson had his first multi-point game, has shown flashes of brilliance and talent after turning out a career season in AHL Rochester, leaving many to wonder why wasn’t his skills brought up to Buffalo in January when a playoff berth was still on the line. Jack Eichel hit the 80 point mark with his 3 point performance, making him the first player to hit that mark for the Sabres since 2007-08.

And then there was – The Moment.

“You could tell at the beginning of the game that the boys were dialed in,” said Sabres Jason Pominville, playing in what might well be his last game at home in a Sabres uniform. Many were pulling for Pominville to get that goal which would place him in 10th place in franchise history in terms of goals scored.

Sabres coach Phil Housley specifically slotted Pominville on the top line for the evening, and placed in the starting lineup, offering a pregame introduction.

The Sabres were up 4-2 and in seeming control of the game, when Pominville took the puck up the right slot late in the third period. A quick wrist shot, that sailed inside the right post and behind Senator’s goaltender Joey Daccord. Goal!

The cheers were loud, Roof raising loud.

But then they got even louder. The announcement of Pominville’s goal was made just as the game headed into the game’s final media timeout and the ice crew entered the ice to do touch-ups. The fans, most of whom were still in the building, offered a standing ovation, which went on. And on. And on.

At one point goaltender Carter Hutton stepped off the ice and suggested that Pominville skate out alone for a curtain call. He obliged, saluting the fans with the stick, applauding and turning the love right back at his supporters. The ovation just got louder and more prolonged.

There were for sure a few moist eyes in the arena. Who could forget one of the franchise’s signature goals, a young Jason Pominville, scoring in overtime, shorthanded, against these same Ottawa Senators in the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs to end that series? That goal prompted one of Rick Jeanneret’s most famous goal calls “These guys are good. Scary good!”

Pominville’s contributions as a Buffalo Sabre cannot be stated enough. None of that was lost on those in attendance at Thursday’s game, and the exultation of all that cheering was no more than a fan base with so much pent up energy, just waiting to expend that love and noise on a winning program.

The Buffalo Sabres have so much to fix this offseason. The coach. Half the team and maybe more. The marketing and retention of season ticket holders. Arena infrastructure issues.

But for one night. This night. It was a feel-good moment. Something that the Sabres fan base deserves and hoping that many more such nights are in store come 2019-2020.

 

 

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