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Pominville looking forward to coming full circle for another Winter Classic

NEW YORK -- There will be plenty of time over the next few months for Jason Pominville to spread some stories around the Buffalo Sabres' locker room.

Pominville was the 23-year-old kid who scored the "scary good" short-handed overtime goal that knocked out the Ottawa Senators in the second round of the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs. The emerging pro who scored 34 goals as the Sabres went to their second straight Eastern Conference final in 2007. The 62-point man on the 2010 Northeast Division champions. The 30-goal, 73-point captain on the 2012 team that just missed the playoffs.

And now that he's circled back to Buffalo in a summer trade with Minnesota, Pominville is the only player who played for the Sabres in the iconic 2008 Winter Classic game in the snow against the Pittsburgh Penguins in then-Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Pominville is going to get another chance to take it outdoors when the Sabres and New York Rangers meet Jan. 1 at Citi Field in Queens.

"People were so excited about 10 years ago so to have a chance to do it again will be amazing," Pominville said Friday as the NHL hosted a news conference to unveil a mockup of the rink on the New York Mets' infield. "It means a lot. Terry and Kim Pegula weren't there for the first one. They'll be here for this one and it means a lot to them as owners. The city of Buffalo should be excited."

Pominville said he vividly recalls the Sabres' practice in the empty Ralph, a frigid New Year's Eve in 2007. When he arrived the next day for the first installment of what has now become one of the NHL's premier annual showcases, he knew he was in for something different.

"I remember driving in, arrving at the rink early and seeing the parking lot full of people tailgating and bonfires," he said. "That's when it really hits you thinking, 'Oh man, we're going to have a good day. This is going to be fun.' The turnout was amazing."

Pominville said the biggest moment for him was when the teams walked on to the ice together just prior to faceoff and smoke and fireworks went off into the sky.

"You're kind of in that awe feeling from that point," he said. "The whole game you're sitting on the bench just looking around going, 'This is pretty cool.' That first time you walk out it's pretty impressive."

Pominville is 34 now and totaled just 24 goals the last two seasons in Minnesota. But his value during this stint in Buffalo is going to be measured in far more than goals and assists. This is a locker room that's been mostly devoid of players who have won anything in the postseason. Pominville has lots of playoff experience on his resume -- including victories in Buffalo.

Sabres centers Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly, who joined Pominville at the media availability, said they're looking forward to picking his brain.

"It's a huge pickup for us. His veteran experience speaks for itself," said O'Reilly. "He knows what it's like to win here and that's something we need to feed off. He's just been with a good team and has a good taste in his mouth. We all have to cling on to him and use that. We have new faces and we will have to work hard but if we can come together with him and lean on him it will be huge."

"It's been great talking to him, getting to know him," added Eichel, who has spent the last two days in New York on the NHL's annual preseason media tour. "He's a really good guy, a great professional you can learn a lot from. The fact that he's been in Buffalo and won makes it awesome to have him on the team. The guys are excited about it."

Winter Classic Notebook: All eyes on Eichel

The Sabres captaincy remains open with the departure of Brian Gionta. Eichel could be in line to inherit it sooner rather than later, but Pominville gives Buffalo a clear bridge candidate before the team is turned over to its marquee man.

"I just want to do my thing and help out any way I can, whether I have a letter or not," Pominville said. "I'm at a stage that's not the most important thing. You just want to help everybody be on the same page and win."

"There's a lot of leaders on the team, guys who've worn letters," Eichel said. "And Pommer has already worn the 'C' in Buffalo. There's a lot of leaders. Whether you have a letter or not, you have to be the best leader you can be to young guys in the locker room who might be in their first or second training camp.

"It's only my third year but it feels like I've been around a little bit. I've been through things in the organization but have been able to do some good things in my career. All those experiences help you grow."

While looking forward to a new season and another outdoor game, Pominville allowed himself to look back when the Citi Field jumbotron showed Sabres-Rangers highlights and they included Buffalo's dramatic Game 5 victory in the 2007 Eastern Conference semifinals. That was the game where Chris Drury scored the tying goal with 7.7 seconds left in regulation and Maxim Afinogenov won it in overtime.

"They showed a few images earlier and it still gives me goosebumps when I see it," Pominville said. "Those back-to-back years were fun runs and things I'll remember. It's fun to be back in the city and get recognition. It's been five years and walking around people are excited to see me.

"Just talking to the guys about what the city turns into and how it is just walking around town when the team has success has been fun. When we were doing it, there were 10-15,000 people watching games outside. It was an amazing time. We want to establish that, bring that back so the guys get a chance to live it."

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