It's been a long time since there was so much fun to be had at a Sabres game in KeyBank Center.
The fans were counting goals most of Saturday afternoon, exhorting their team for one more, just like they did in the old days at Memorial Auditorium. At one point in the third period, the crowd's sing-a-long to "Sweet Caroline" even got interrupted by yet another goal.
But through all the frivolity surrounding Buffalo's 9-2 waltz past the Ottawa Senators, the biggest home blowout in more than 10 years had a much deeper meaning.
It was a fitting salute to one of the most popular players in franchise history.
Winger Jason Pominville played his 1,000th NHL game Thursday in Ottawa and the Sabres were disheartened that their third-period comeback fell short in a 4-2 loss. The team returned home, where owners Terry and Kim Pegula were part of a pregame ceremony honoring Pominville for the accomplishment prior to the teams' rematch.
Pominville honored himself with two goals in the game, giving him eight in the first 14 games of the season. Not bad for a 35-year-old who started the season on the fourth line.
The crowd of 17,881 roared at every mention of Pominville, from the seven-minute ceremony to the announcement of his name in the starting lineup and all the way until he was called back to the ice as the game's First Star after the final buzzer.
"The Sabres did a great job, a great presentation," Pominville said. "I feel very fortunate to call this home and have the support of the fans that I had. From top to bottom, it was a pretty great day."
There were thousands of "Welcome to Pominville. Population: 1,000" placards in the stands the team passed out. There was a pregame video, the presentation of a silver saber by the Pegulas and a painting and photographs presented by teammates. Pominville's wife, parents and two children were on the ice. He said it was a misty-eyed moment but he had a game to play too.
The celebration never really stopped. Pominville owned the building with his two goals — and those placards would have made great hat-style frisbees had he scored a third. During breaks in play, video tributes from past and current teammates played on the jumbotron.
The list of alums in the videos read like a who's who of post-lockout Buffalo teams: Miller, Briere, Ennis, Peters, Biron, McKee, Paetsch, Taylor, Gaustad, Stafford, Campbell, Grier, Ruff, Botterill.
"It's tough not to get choked up when you see the kids, see them on the ice," Pominville said of daughter Kaylee and son Jayden. "Even during the game. It was kind of fortunate we had a lead. I was able to look up and hear most of them. Just a lot of people that have meant a lot to me throughout my career. A lot of great players, and great memories with them. It was pretty emotional at times."
Pominville's teammates were thrilled to give him the support he needed to get a win. The Sabres got seven of their goals in the game's first 28 minutes, with four coming in a span of 2:42 in the second period.
"I don't think I've played a thousand games in my life," deadpanned 19-year-old teammate Casey Mittelstadt. "It's pretty impressive. Obviously, he deserves it. He's one of the best teammates I've ever played with. Especially last year when I got here, I didn't know anyone and he was kind of showing me the ins and outs making sure I was OK. He's just a great guy."
"Maybe it's cliche kind of but that video gives you chills," added linemate Jeff Skinner, who also had two goals. "To see the impact he's had on people, on the community and in the game of hockey, it's tough to describe."
The Sabres had a 3-0 lead after the first period and it was 7-1 after two as Buffalo collected 34 of its 41 shots on goal in the game. The Sabres scored their most goals at home since a 10-1 thrashing of Atlanta in January, 2008. Fifteen players had points and eight of them had more than one. Goalie Linus Ullmark made 27 saves in goal.
"It was great to see the crowd so alive and into the game," said Jack Eichel. "They were really engaged."
"I thought when the puck dropped, guys were ready to go," said coach Phil Housley.
How good a day was it? Pominville's first goal came after a puck ricocheted off his face — and dropped right to his stick for a tap-in at an empty net.
"I don't know if I've scored many that way but that was a nice bounce to get," he said. "You hope it's your day and it just laid there for me too. Nice to get that one for sure. It was a very enjoyable game for me and I'm happy to share it with this group and my family. And it was fun to get the win."
How about Pominville playing the puck off his face right to the stick? https://t.co/m7vqlmTc3L
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) November 3, 2018