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Mike Harrington: If it's the last ride, Pominville is determined to enjoy it

At 35, Jason Pominville is the graybeard of the Buffalo Sabres. Imagine that.

Presented with the notion Saturday in HarborCenter – even though he still looks just about as boyish as he did when he burst on the scene here more than a decade ago – Pominville had a good laugh at the thought.

"I feel like it's almost been that way for a few years now," Pominville said after his workouts on the second day of training camp. "It hasn't changed for me. I still prepare myself the same way I always have."

Study the birthday lists and you're floored.

Of the 51 players the Sabres have in camp, 23 of them are age 23 or younger. Only nine are over 30. Pominville outpaces the next-oldest, defenseman Matt Hunwick, by nearly 2 1/2 years.

No. 1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin and fellow 2018 draftee Matej Pekar are here as 18-year-olds, the first Sabres to attend training camp born in the 2000s. Casey Mittelstadt, the center on Pominville's line, is more than two months away from turning 20.

Pominville will turn 36 – and thus double Dahlin – when the Sabres are in Florida on Nov. 30.

"I'm sure these guys will look up and have questions as we go along," Pominville said. "I'm with two good young talents in Mittelstadt and [Conor] Sheary and I can help them. I played with Casey a little last year, and hopefully I can teach him along the way."

"It is difficult. Let's face it, there's a lot of young legs," said coach Phil Housley. "But Pommer has done a great job of bringing his speed and experience. He's a really good leader out there pushing the young guys."

Pominville's totals with the Sabres entering the season are 660 games, 201 goals, 289 assists and 490 points. When he plays 22 more games, he will move past Ric Seiling and Rick Martin for eighth overall in franchise annals. He's one of just nine Sabres with 200-plus goals, and almost certainly will become just the eighth member of the team to hit 500 points while wearing the crossed swords.

Quite a tale. From being on waivers as a 22-year-old in 2005 to two stints as one of the more popular players in franchise history.

Strangely enough, assuming Pominville is in the lineup for the first 12 games of this season, No. 1,000 would come Nov. 1 at the site of his greatest moment – Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa.

It was Pominville, of course, who scored the "scary good" goal against late Ottawa goalie Ray Emery that eliminated the Senators and sent the Sabres to the 2006 Eastern Conference final. It remains the only short-handed overtime goal to clinch a series in NHL history.

Those were heady days. Thirsting for hockey after the cancellation of the previous season, Buffalo fans were gifted a team that feasted on new NHL rules and became the talk of the town before that fateful Game 7 in Carolina ended their Stanley Cup hopes.

The next season led to a Presidents' Trophy and another run to the conference final, albeit another disappointment as Ottawa got its revenge. But remember what the edited sign on the Kensington Expressway said during the '07 playoffs? Yep. "Welcome to Pominville."

The Sabres don't figure to get near those kind of heights this year, but Pominville is heartened by the way General Manager and former teammate Jason Botterill has reshaped the roster.

"We knew there were going to be changes but it's one thing to say it and another to go out and do it," Pominville said. "It's left us pretty excited. Everyone was pretty impressed with the haul we got back with the guys from St. Louis (in the Ryan O'Reilly trade), and then you go get Sheary and [Jeff] Skinner too."

Pominville's career ledger shows 987 games, 277 goals and 696 points between the Sabres and Minnesota. He said he's particularly proud at the chance to play 1,000 games, a mark fewer than 5 percent of players in NHL history have reached.

"It goes by fast. It's crazy," he said. "I still remember my first year and the runs here. I remember seeing guys early in my career who were hitting 1,000 and I'm thinking, 'Man, that's a lot of games. That guy has been around a while.' And now here I am. It's overwhelming and exciting."

Pominville is on the second line in camp, although he probably fits into more of a third-line role at this stage of his career. That's his likely slot when Sam Reinhart returns.

A three-time 30-goal scorer, Pominville hasn't cracked 20 in the last four seasons. He had 16 goals and 18 assists for the Sabres last season, but the losing certainly wore him down, as he had six goals in October – but then endured goal-less stretches of 14, 13 and 20 games.

One thing that's remarkable about Pominville's career is his durability. Last year was the eighth time he has played the full 82 games in a season, and he has missed just a combined 12 games over the last seven seasons.

This year promises more distractions and perhaps more reflection. Pominville is on the last year of his deal with a $5.6 million cap hit. It's a young man's game now and this might be it, either by his own choice or by that of teams who may not feel he can fill the net anymore.

"I'm here to help. I want to be part of the solution," he said. "I'm not worried about the other stuff. Those things will take care of themselves. I just want to be here to help and bring the team in the direction we've worked hard to get it back into. We've made strides even the first couple of days here and I want to keep focused on that."

Pominville's children are 8 and 7 now, so he's happy they'll get to enjoy one last year with the Sabres.

"What I'm excited about is that my kids now realize what it is and will see me play," he said. "If they were too young they might say, 'What did you do, Dad? You played hockey?' Now they'll know a little bit so that's a cool thing.

"I've always loved it here, been a fan of living here, the city, the team, everything. I always followed the team even when I was away for four years in Minnesota. It makes it even more special here to be here again."

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