ST. PAUL, Minn -- Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno got feted in Buffalo in November. Thursday night in XCel Energy Center, the welcome mat was put out for Marco Scandella, Jason Pominville and coach Phil Housley.
During the first television timeout, Scandella and Pominville were greeted by the Minnesota Wild in a brief video on the arena's massive video board. Scandella said he went out to dinner with Wild defenseman Matt Dumba here Wednesday night and that it wasn't all that weird to enter his former home and head to a visiting dressing room.
"It's going to be fun. It still feels like home so I'm pretty excited about it," Scandella said. "Honestly, it didn't even feel that weird coming in. It was just nice being back."
Scandella, the Wild's second-round pick in 2008, played 373 games for them from 2010-17. Pominville played 327 games for Minnesota from the time he was acquired from the Sabres in 2013 through the end of last season.
Both of them went to postseason with the Wild for the last five seasons but Minnesota won just two series in that span, a seven-game showdown with Colorado in 2014 and a six-gamer vs. St. Louis in 2015. The Wild were eliminated by Chicago in three straight years (2013-15) and the Blackhawks went on to win the Stanley Cup in two of those.
"Every year it felt like we really had a chance," Pominville said. "Unfortunately we ran into Chicago in three of those years and didn't get past them."
"I came up with Mike Yeo. I had him in the minors, then had him a few years in Minnesota," Scandella said of his former coach in Houston and with the Wild. "I came up as a young guy and then felt like I became a man here. It was home, I lived here for seven years. It was a lot of fun, great experiences and I took a lot from it."
Scandella was victimized by circumstance and Rangers forward J.T. Miller for the winning goal in Monday's Winter Classic in New York, as Miller beat him to the rebound and tapped the puck past Robin Lehner in overtime to hand Buffalo a 3-2 defeat.
"Those 4-on-3s are never easy," Scandella said. "You have to play an 'umbrella' and there's always going to be a man open. That's just kind of the nature of the beast."
While much of the attention went on the ice, it was also Housley's debut in the building as an NHL head coach. Housley's giant likeness from his days with the Sabres in the 1980s is included in a collage of Minnesota natives who played in the NHL high in the arena concourse.
"It's always great coming back to Minnesota, where I was born and raised," Housley said. "I have a lot of family and friends here and being a first-time head coach and coaching against the Wild, it's special. But it's business as usual. We come and get prepared and get ready for the game."
Housley said he understands his place in Minnesota hockey history from his days as a high school and NHL player and his stint as a high school coach here after he retired from the NHL.
"I'm just proud in general, being born and raised here, finding my way through high school and to the NHL," Housley said. "It's a little bit ironic that I started my career with Buffalo and I get my first head coaching job with Buffalo. It's great to come back here. The Buffalo Sabres are a great organization and we're just trying to represent it the best way I can."
Rochester Amerks forward C.J. Smith and goalie Linus Ullmark have been named to the North Division roster for the AHL All-Star Classic to be held Jan. 28-29 in Utica.
Smith, a college free agent signed last March out of Mass-Lowell, is tied for second in scoring among AHL rookies with 30 points. He leads the Amerks in scoring, assists (20) and multi-point outings (7).
Ullmark will play in the game for the second straight year after earning Top Goaltender honors last year following a 15-save performance. He has a 15-5-3 record that ranks third and fifth, respectively, among AHL goalies with a .926 save percentage and 2.33 goals-against average.
A sixth-round pick in 2012, Ullmark is 8-11-2/2.64/.913 in 21 career NHL games.
The two-day event begins Jan. 28 at 8 p.m. with the skills competition. The round-robin 3-on-3 tournament, run much like the NHL has done the last two years, is Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. Former Sabres named to the game include Lehigh Valley defenseman T.J. Brennan and Milwaukee goalie Anders Lindback. Ontario goalie Cal Petersen, an AHL rookie who signed with Los Angeles as a free agent after not signing with the Sabres after leaving Notre Dame, was also named.
The Sabres' representative to the NHL All-Star Game Jan. 28 in Tampa, likely Jack Eichel or Evander Kane, is expected to be named on Wednesday.
— CJ Smith (@_CJ_Smith_) January 4, 2018
— Linus Ullmark (@Icebeardude) January 4, 2018
The Sabres have a back-to-back Friday in Winnipeg against the Central Division-leading Jets. They will play Winnipeg twice in three games as the Jets will be at KeyBank Center Tuesday night in Buffalo's first home game of the new year.
Winnipeg will be without leading scorer Mark Scheifele, who is out 6-8 weeks with an upper body injury. Scheifele had 38 points in 38 games this season, with 15 goals and 23 assists.
The Sabres have won four straight against the Jets -- after losing nine of the previous 10 meetings.