POMINVILLE SEEKS U.S. OLYMPIC TEAM BERTH
Friday, 02.27.2009 / 9:57 AM / Features
|Jason Pominville (Photo: Bill Wippert)|
Pominville's dad, Jean Marie, was a minor-league goalie who met Jason's mom, Deborah, while playing for the Green Bay Bobcats of the old United States Hockey League in 1977-78. He would never have been playing in Green Bay if his original team, the Copper-Country Chiefs of Calumet, Mich., hadn't gone belly-up.
"I know," Pominville said. "He played for Green Bay and Milwaukee in the old IHL. They decided to move to Montreal, and that's where I was born and live now.
"We used to go to Green Bay a lot to visit my grandparents, Ken and Sue Van Lanen, when I was growing up. We'd go for a week in the summer and then again at Christmas. I got to see the Green Bay Packers open training camp and then see a game in December.
"I'm eligible to play for Team USA because my mother is American and I have dual citizenship. I never participated in any of the Canadian or American Under-17, Under-18 or World Junior teams. The U.S. Olympic team found out I was eligible to play for them and asked me to go with them to the World Championships last May in Halifax.
"I never had to make a decision whether to go with one country or the other. It was the United States who asked me to play for them. It was a fun tournament; my first time competing in an international tournament. We had great guys on the team and we were coached by John Tortorella and Mike Sullivan. I really enjoyed myself.
"As much as I would have liked to be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I still wanted to play hockey and I definitely enjoyed myself."
You can't fault Pominville for wanting to see more of the United States and the world. He's pretty much had the grand tour of his native Quebec. He was born and raised in the Montreal suburb of Repentigny and played in a league in suburban Laval. There was a reshuffling of leagues and Pominville found himself assigned to a Midget team in Cap-de-la-Madeline, a St. Lawrence River town about halfway to Quebec City, known less for hockey than the stone chapel, built in 1720, that was the first Roman Catholic Church in Canada.
Then he was drafted by the Shawinigan Cataractes, the only QMJHL team still in its original location. He played there with Pascal Dupuis, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Radim Vrbata, Zbynek Michalek and Alexandre Burrows. Pominville was the team's second-leading scoring player in his final season, with 57 goals and 121 points.
"We had a good group of guys and it was a fun city to play hockey, the building was pretty loud," Pominville recalled. "I still have friends that I played with there and keep in touch with. The team changed names, but it's still the oldest QMJHL franchise and they just moved into a new building at Christmas."
Pominville enjoys playing in Buffalo and with the Sabres. He's part of a core group of players in their mid-20s who came up around the same time and have had some, but not enough success. They missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year but finished first in the Northeast Division and Eastern Conference in the regular season two years ago before losing in the conference final to the Ottawa Senators. They lost the conference final to the Carolina Hurricanes the year before.
"We got a taste of it a few years back, but last year we were on the outside looking in," Pominville said. "We want to be back in the playoff picture and have been for most of this season. It's such a thrill to compete for the Stanley Cup.
"This city is all about hockey and everybody is pulling in the same direction on this team. Hopefully, we're learning from our mistakes last year and that will make us a better team down the stretch."
|Jason Pominville (Photo: Bill Wippert)|
Connolly, Paul Gaustad, Jochen Hecht, Andrej Sekera, Maxim Afinogenov, Henrik Tallinder and Patrick Kaleta all have missed a significant number of games.
Many of those players have returned, but top scorer Thomas Vanek is still out with a jaw injury and goalie Ryan Miller is sideline indefinitely with a high ankle sprain sustained last Saturday.
The Sabres just keep fighting, making you wonder what this season would have been like without the injuries.
"We just have had to deal with a lot of different injuries. We had three top defensemen out of the lineup at one time," Pominville said. "We've got great goaltending here and a lot of depth in the system. We try to see injuries as an opportunity for other guys to come in and fill a bigger role, try to help the team in different ways.
"Up front, we've had problems with injuries too, especially losing Connolly and Gaustad and now Vanek is out. We are still finding ways to win games, which is usually a sign of a pretty good team."
Pominville has a new assignment. He's been placed on a line with center Clarke MacArthur and left wing Jochen Hecht, who has struggled this season after averaging more than 20 goals and 49 points the past three seasons. A little more offense from Hecht would ease the pain of losing Vanek. Hecht has a goal and an assist and is minus-1 over the past four games.
"We made the change in Toronto and we've had a lot of scoring opportunities," Pominville said. "We scored a goal that got disallowed and we could have had a few more. We played together last year and had good chemistry. Having success would help balance out the lines between the scorers and the defensive forwards. Mostly, we need to get everybody back on track.
"Jochen hasn't been playing bad. He's doing the little things, and he kills penalties and plays on the power play. He's a natural winger who's been playing center, and that's not an easy switch for him. One thing, he finds ways to win faceoffs. He's the first forward back into our defensive zone. He does a lot of the dirty work and things that go unnoticed -- that's why he's enjoyable to play with."