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Pominville reaches 1,000 games thanks to all-around dedication

Those who know Pominville well share details on what's made him a great pro

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Kim Pominville drove to the airport, searching for the words to console her husband. 

It was Nov. 4, 2005, and Jason Pominville had just played his second NHL game in Buffalo against the Montreal Canadiens. The Sabres were set to play in Montreal the following night. It was going to be Jason's first game in his hometown. 

"He was so excited," Kim recalled. "It was going to be his first game playing in front of all of his friends, all of his family. So, I dropped him at the airport and then I left. We were staying at the hotel, so I went back and then he calls me."

She needed to go back and pick him up. He was being sent down to Rochester. With a heavy heart, she wondered what she could possibly say when she arrived.

"He just got in the car and was like, 'Well, I guess it's going to be for another time. I'll just keep working hard and then someday I'll make it,'" she said. "I was like, 'All right.' And we started talking, and it was OK. He's always been positive and never gave up."

Jason Pominville did make it. He played his third NHL game and scored his first goal in Washington that same month, on Nov. 27, three days shy of his 23rd birthday. He played his first game in Montreal four days later and notched two assists.

Thirteen years later, Pominville has played 999 NHL regular-season games. He'll make it 1,000 when he dresses against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night, becoming the 328th player to accomplish the feat and the 11th to do it in a Sabres uniform. 

Ask those who know him, and they'll tell you the accomplishment is a testament to legendary discipline, a natural sense for the game and a genuine good nature toward his teammates and others. 

"He's never let anything make him think he can take it for granted, that that was it and he could just go easy," Kim said. "He's just kept working and working."

Andrew Peters was Pominville's roommate during the 2002-03 season, his rookie year in Rochester. Peters, then in his third AHL season, recalls meeting a quiet, methodical young man who ate steak and rice before every game. He wondered if their personalities would mesh. 

"I will say this, and I would say this to him," Peters said. "Living with him, when we were sitting on the couch playing PlayStation, making our own teams, I would never have bet in a million years that he would play a thousand games in the NHL. And I don't mean that disrespectfully. 

"Think about it - 1,000 games. You know how many great players have played who didn't play a thousand games? And then on top of it, 700-plus points? I mean, we're talking about some sneaky impressive stats. Phenomenal career, but consistent. Consistent from juniors, to minors, to the NHL. Consistent the whole way through."

Peters calls Pominville the most detailed and routine-oriented individual he's met. Kim Pominville can back that up. 

She has known Pominville since they were 18 years old. They've been married since 2008. She asserts that his discipline knows no leniency. 

That means no cheat meals. No skipping his nighttime stretches to watch a movie. No taking a few days off from the gym on vacation.

"It's his work ethic and his love of the game," she said. "He is such a role model. He makes sure he stays hydrated all the time. He makes sure he sleeps good. He goes to bed early. He eats good. He doesn't get a cheat meal, he just eats good all the time. He stretches every night. He'll never take a day off."

"We all joke as athletes that our body is a temple," Peters said. "But he literally treats his body like a temple."

Pominville's attention to detail has translated to extreme durability. He played 335 consecutive games for the Sabres from 2006 to 2010. He had another streak of 231 games from 2013 to 2016 with the Minnesota Wild.

Peters marveled as he perused Pominville's stat page, counting the number of 82-game seasons the 35-year-old has under his belt. 

One … two … three … 

"Eight full seasons!" he said. "Playing 82 games in a whole year is huge. You're talking to a guy who played 58, his most in one year. Eighty-two games? That's a lot of games, man. I remember talking to Jamie Langenbrunner on the bus about playing 82 games and how hard that is. That's a goal for guys. Pommer did that eight times."

Only six players in NHL history have done it more, according to hockeyreference.com. Five others have matched Pominville's total of eight. Henrik Sedin holds the record with 12 such seasons. (The NHL switched to an 82-game season in 1995-96.)

Pominville's routine is still one of the first things that comes when you ask his current teammates about his longevity. 

"I think the first thing that pops out about him and that achievement is just his professionalism," defenseman Zach Bogosian said. "He comes to the rink every day and he's not a hard guy to find. He's got his routine where he comes in every day and brings that professionalism."

Chris Taylor was one of Pominville's first centermen in Rochester. Their stalls were situated next to one another at Blue Cross Arena. Even then, Taylor insists he wouldn't have been surprised if you told him Pominville was destined for a long NHL career.

"No, because he's got a gift for getting shots off quick," Taylor, now head coach of the Amerks, said. "He's got great vision. He's a very smart, heady player, and you can't teach that. His hockey smarts are off the chart. Just the knack around the net. 

"But for me, why he does well every year and why he can still score at that age is because he loves the game. He loves it, he's got a passion for it, and he's just a natural goal scorer."

For as much talk as there is about Pominville's routine, there are as many stories of his hockey sense. Jason Botterill, now general manager of the Sabres, was a veteran on Pominville's early teams and echoed Taylor's sentiment. 

"Amazing hockey sense," Botterill said. "And then two, he has such a deceptive shot. He gets it off quickly, has very good placement. From day one, whether he was playing with a Chris Taylor or a Domenic Pittis or a Derek Roy, he always had that ability to play with an elite center and contribute right away."

Sabres goalie Carter Hutton faces that shot in practice on a daily basis. He spent years facing it in game situations when he and Pominville both played in the Central Division, Hutton with Nashville and St. Louis and Pominville with Minnesota.

Some guys, Hutton explained, have hard shots that are easy to save because they're easy to read. Pominville gets to the right spots and has a knack for sending false information to the goaltender.

"Just a little bit of patience," Hutton said. "Some guys will kind of sell you low and go high. It's hard to explain. For us in net, you just see so many reps and if you bite a little early, he's a guy who can expose you. 

"You might think he's going to go somewhere. It might look that way - he might give you a tell - and then the next thing you know the puck's going in the top corner when you thought he was going low blocker."

Taylor recalled a game in Rochester against the Cleveland Barons on Oct. 25, 2005, not long after Pominville had been sent down at the end of training camp. Pominville scored five goals in an 8-4 win while Taylor tallied six assists. 

"I could put it in his feet, I could put it on the outside," Taylor said. "There was no sweet spot for Jason. Every pass that I made, he made me look good. He was just one of those guys that can put the puck in the net."

Pominville has scored 303 goals between the regular season and playoffs, none more memorable than the series-clinching shorthanded goal he scored against Ottawa in 2006 that's become a part of Sabres lore. Even on that goal, he exhibited his hockey sense.

"Pretty confident for a rookie to take Daniel Alfredsson wide, eh?" Peters said. "Like it was no big deal. Like he had him beat, he knew it, probably couldn't even believe it himself that he had him beat. I think he even said one time, he was like, 'I identified that it was a forward.' 

"I was like, jeez. To me, it's a body skating backwards. And it's Daniel Alfredsson. That was a huge goal."

When Botterill acquired Pominville from Minnesota prior to the 2017-18 season, he had a sense he'd be getting a veteran player who still had something to give offensively. He knew for certain he'd be getting a person who would make a positive impact in the dressing room.

Pominville, once captain of the Sabres during his first tenure with the organization, has established himself as a core member of the team's leadership group along with players like Hutton, Bogosian, Rasmus Ristolainen, Kyle Okposo and new captain Jack Eichel.

"He was a captain here and he was on some really good teams here back in the day and he's got some 80-point years under his belt," Okposo said. "He's coming up on 1,000 games. He doesn't have anything else to prove to anybody. But he was committed to helping us turn this thing around.

"I think that says a lot about him. He's not just kind of playing out this year, seeing what happens. He's really committed. He's all-in. It's awesome to see."

"It's no surprise," Botterill added. "It's part of the reason why we brought him back. You know that Jason is a player that I think all the distractions outside, he doesn't worry about that. He worries about helping the team, working on his own game, how he can become better."

Pominville has a reputation for being easy to talk to, whether he's speaking to the media or to a teammate. Three members of Buffalo's leadership group were asked about what dynamic he brings to the mix; all three used the word "calming" in their response.

"I think that he's able to look at things objectively, just take a step back and look at the bigger picture," Okposo said. "And then he's able to articulate it really well too. He has a way of just stating his point, getting his point across in a way that doesn't make anybody feel threatened. It's just very matter-of-fact and calming when he speaks."

"He's a guy that, inside those closed-door meetings, isn't shooting from the hip a lot," Hutton added. "He's pretty calculated. I think he sees it from the big picture a lot, too, from the younger guys' point of view and the older guys. I think a lot of times his insight, even to the coaches, is very, very valuable to all of us."

Kim says Jason's easygoing nature has been a defining quality for as long as she's known him.

"I'm so proud that that's really the way he is," she said. "He's always been like that. He's never changed."

Video: "Welcome To Pominville" Training Camp Teaser

When Kim met Jason, he was playing junior hockey in her hometown of Shawinigan. The kid from Montreal had already been drafted by the Buffalo Sabres. She had to look it up on a map.

"He told me his dream was to play for Buffalo," she recalled. "I was like, 'Oh, OK, that's cool.'"

Buffalo would become their home. Their two children, Jayden and Kaylee Rose, were born in the Queen City. Jayden skated for the first time at Northtown Center (or, at least, he was supposed to - he cried out of disappointment when he realized there would be no fans and no national anthem). 

Kim says they had it in their heads that it would be the place they would stay to raise their family, until the business side of pro sports reared its head and Jason was traded to Minnesota in 2013. 

When they returned last season, it felt almost as if nothing had changed.

"When we found out he was coming back I was like, 'What?! We're going back home?!'" she said. "This is the place where he grew up. Like, when he got here, he was a kid. We were kids. I feel like we grew up here. I feel like he's a kid who grew up in the organization and then made it to the 1,000 games."

Phil Housley and the Sabres leadership group have made it a point to emphasize pride in playing for the city of Buffalo this season. Pictures of alumni have gone up in the hallways and above the stalls in their dressing room at KeyBank Center. 

Pominville is an asset in that sense, too. Only nine players have dressed for more games in a Sabres uniform than Pominville's 672. Only eight have exceeded his total of 500 points with the franchise. He'll continue to climb the leader board in both categories as this season progresses.

"He's been around good teams," Okposo said. "He's been on really good teams here. He talks about how passionate the fans are and the city is when you're winning, that culture."

Video: What Are The Odds?: Jason Pominville

 "Just talking about this city and how it was when they were winning, how good they were, how crazy it was," Hutton said. "Trying to inspire guys to realize, you know, this is a hockey town."

What was it like when they were winning? Kim Pominville remembers what it was like to even attempt an ice cream date during the playoffs in 2007.

"He's like, 'I don't think it's a good idea,'" she recalled. "I was like, 'C'mon, we can go for ice cream, just like in and out, quick. It'll be fine.' He's like, 'I don't know.' 

"So, we went for ice cream and then we get out of the car, and there was a line. We stood in line and like, all of a sudden, people rushed at him. Girls were pushing me out of the way and there were even girls crying. I was like, 'Wow. That's amazing.'"

By the time Jason was done signing autographs, Kim had eaten both ice cream cones to prevent them from melting. 

Now, Pominville has a chance to help usher in more good times. He enters his 1,000th game on a five-game point streak, and the Sabres are off to their best start since 2011. He's still more focused on looking ahead than he is on looking back.

"I'm sure once I'm done playing it's something I'll have time to reflect on a little bit more and appreciate more," he said. "But it's definitely humbling, having an opportunity to play that many games and stick around for that long. It is pretty special, playing the majority of my games with this team too."

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