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Pominville seeks U.S. Olympic team berth

by John McGourty
        I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy,
        A Yankee Doodle, do or die;
        A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam,
        Born on the Fourth of July.

Buffalo Sabres right wing Jason Pominville wasn't born on the Fourth of July. However, the Montreal-born player holds dual American and Canadian citizenship and is hoping to play for Team USA in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver next February.

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."

Pominville said this has been a difficult season because of the numerous injuries. Important players like captain Craig Rivet, defenseman Teppo Numminen, Tim
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."


That's more like it -- Through the years, NHL fans have been able to count on two things, at least, from the Montreal Canadiens, good goaltending and powerful power plays. The Canadiens have been blessed with great goalies like Ken Dryden, Jacques Plante and Patrick Roy. Even Jose Theodore won the Hart Trophy a few years ago. The Canadiens topped the NHL in power-play success the past two seasons but have struggled in 2008-09.

Carey Price has done a lot to justify his first-round selection but has stumbled in recent weeks. Coach Guy Carbonneau turned to backup goaltender Jaroslav Halak on Tuesday night against the Vancouver Canucks at the Bell Centre. Halak improved his record to 14-10-1, with a 2.93 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage. He recorded his first shutout of the season, stopping all 34 shots.

Andre Markov scored a power-play goal in the victory, the Canadiens' eighth power-play goal in their last 19 chances, over four games. That helped the Canadiens stay in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, two points behind the Philadelphia Flyers and two points ahead of the New York Rangers. There's no room for comfort, though. They are only four points ahead of the ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes.

Life doesn't get easier for the Habs. They travel to Philadelphia Friday and return home Saturday to face the San Jose Sharks.

Comrie, Campoli fit -- Those who criticized the Ottawa Senators for trading away San Jose's first-round draft pick, with Dean McAmmond, to the New York Islanders for defenseman Chris Campoli and center Mike Comrie forget the job Comrie did for the Senators two years ago in helping them get to the Stanley Cup Final.

The Senators are 13 points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference and a lot of outsiders have thrown in the towel for them. But owner Gene Melnyk, General Manager Bryan Murray and coach Cory Clouston entertain no such thoughts. Ottawa is 6-2-2 in its past 10 games, and several players have revived under Clouston's coaching -- including center Antoine Vermette, who has nine points over the past seven games. Dany Heatley just hit the 30-goal mark again and is playing with more fire. Brian Elliott has done a nice job in net since coming up in midseason. He's 7-4-2 with a .906 save percentage and 2.76 GAA.

Comrie joined the Senators on Jan. 3, 2007, in a deal for Alexei Kaigorodov, and had 13 goals and 21 assists in 41 regular-season games, plus 2 goals and 4 assists in 20 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Comrie fought the after-effects of hip surgery for most of the early part of this season and can use a change of scenery.

"We've scored 141 goals this year, and that's not very good offensively," Murray said. "Mike Comrie has a history of getting points and he's a second-line player, at worst."
"You play this game to be in there, to be the man. It's up to me now, to just go out there and enjoy it." -- Sabres' Patrick Lalime on replacing the injured Ryan Miller

Campoli is seen as an offensive defenseman who can put up points and move the puck out of the defensive zone. There's a chance Filip Kuba could leave via free agency this summer so Campoli is something of an insurance policy.

"We feel that we've acquired a defenseman with some skill and mobility back there, the type of player we've been trying to acquire all year," Murray said.

Although Comrie can also become a free agent this summer, Murray said he believed he'll be open to an offer to stay in Ottawa.

Thanks, I needed that -- Finally, the Boston Bruins hit a rough patch. The team sailed through the first half of the season, posting the best record on New Year's Day but they went 4-4-2 over their past 10 games and were 1-3-1 on their recent road trip, including a 2-0 loss last Saturday to the surging Florida Panthers and a 4-3 loss to the rapidly improving Tampa Bay Lightning the next night.

But they kicked off their current six-game homestand with a convincing 6-1 victory over the Panthers in Boston Tuesday night. Goalie Tim Thomas was impressive in a 24-save performance and big Byron Bitz had two goals to bury the Panthers. Mark Stuart and Aaron Ward provided goal contributions from the defense and Patrice Bergeron had a nice goal.

News and Notes -- Boston's Michael Ryder had a goal against Florida in his return from a seven-game absence after facial surgery to correct sinus problems caused by taking a stick to the face ... Montreal center Tomas Plekanec has five goals in four games since returning from a two-game suspension ... Saku Koivu's two assists Tuesday moved him past Yvan Cournoyer into sixth place all-time among Canadiens with 436 assists ... Vesa Toskala is the latest NHL goalie to need hip surgery, it appears. Toskala has had pain all season but a recent MRI showed no structural damage. The predominant butterfly style appears to rough on the hip joint ... Mark Bell put himself and others through a rough stretch in recent years but he went through the NHL substance-abuse program and was a productive member of the AHL Toronto Marlies this season. GM Brian Burke put him on waivers this week to give him a chance with another NHL club and the New York Rangers picked him up. Bell had more than 20 goals and 45 points in his last two seasons in Chicago while playing in every game. At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, with a scoring touch, Bell could be just what the Rangers need.

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