BUFFALO – Once the initial shock of getting traded to the Minnesota Wild in April started wearing off, former Sabres captain Jason Pominville said he “really took a step back” and began examining his new gig.
Pominville was leaving a team beginning a rebuilding process for the upstart Wild, a club constructed to win the Stanley Cup immediately.
The Wild had just signed stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to huge twin contracts. Many believed Pominville’s surprising acquisition could help transform the team into a Western Conference power.
“For my career, it might be the best thing to go to somewhere where the teams are heading in completely different directions,” Pominville said Monday before scoring the winner in the Wild’s 2-1 win, his first-ever game as an opponent inside the First Niagara Center. “Obviously … they want to win and they want to win now.”
Pominville has settled in nicely with the Wild after 11 seasons in Buffalo’s organization. The winger recently signed a five-year, $28 million extension.
“I think I was able to turn the page pretty quick, to be honest with you,” Pominville said. “The hardest part for me was the family, just having to move everyone there. That was the toughest part. But the playing hockey was just different guys, different people around me. But that was the easy part.”
Still, Monday was an emotional day for the 30-year-old. The Sabres selected Pominville 55th overall in 2001, and he grew up with them, developing into arguably their best all-around player and a franchise cornerstone.
His series-clinching overtime goal as a rookie in the 2006 Eastern Conference semifinal is one of the top moments in franchise history.
“Just walking in, there’s so many, so many good memories,” Pominville said. “The back-to-back conference finals (in 2006 and 2007) is just something I’ll never, never forget. Whatever it was, 10, 15,000 people outside. It was just phenomenal. Just great memories, for sure.”
He added: “I don’t hold anything against the organization or anything like that. I’m just happy to be where I’m at.”
The Sabres never acknowledged Pominville’s presence, although they mentioned journeyman Kevin Porter’s 200th NHL game on the scoreboard. But when Pominville’s name was announced in the starting lineup, fans gave him a warm ovation.
Pominville never expected to leave. Sabres general manager Darcy Regier told him two days before the April 3 trade deadline he had no offers and wasn’t shopping him.
“I was a little bit shocked,” Pominville said. “With the conversation I had with him, I didn’t really think it would lead up to this.”
Pominville was later asked to submit his no-trade list.
Then, on deadline day, he turned on the NHL Network and saw “Pominville trade bait No. 1.”
“So I was like, ‘Oh, there might really be something going on today,’” he said.
Pominville departed in a hurry, never saying goodbye to a lot of friends.
“I didn’t really have a chance to see anyone,” Pominville said. “So it was good to be back and talk to a few guys today.”
Sabres co-captain Thomas Vanek said it wouldn’t be a huge deal facing his friend.
“I’ve been here for a while,” Vanek said. “I’ve seen a lot of teammates leave.”
Sabres defenseman Henrik Tallinder said he “almost kept walking the corridor to this locker room” when he played here with New Jersey in 2010.
“But you definitely have an extra push in yourself playing in your old building you played in for so many years,” he said.
Pominville skated on line with Mikael Granlund and Dany Heatley, an old rival from Ottawa.
“Sitting on the bench this morning, (Heatley) said, ‘We had quite a few battles in this arena,’” Pominville said.
With Tallinder (upper body) back from a four-game absence, the Sabres sent Alexander Sulzer to Rochester to create room on the 23-man roster.
Sulzer played one game, Saturday’s 2-1 loss in Chicago.
Meanwhile, defenseman Mike Weber, a healthy scratch Saturday, returned. Rookie Rasmus Ristolainen sat for the first time.
Porter replaced tough guy John Scott up front.
Weber skated beside Jamie McBain. Tallinder was back beside Tyler Myers.
Sabres winger Patrick Kaleta has hearing in-person hearing today in New York for his illegal check to Columbus’ Jack Johnson’s head Thursday. The NHL suspended Kaleta on Friday.