Ten years gone

Pominville goals recall thrilling times Sabres haven't seen in too long

Mike Schopp
October 06, 2017 - 9:58 am

I don't quite understand why this night is so memorable for me.

The Sabres opened the 2007-08 season on October 5, hosting the New York Islanders. It was their first game since the 2007 season ended right here, Daniel Alfredsson beating Ryan Miller with an overtime wrist shot while most of America was switched over to the Preakness. The teams shook hands, the 06-07 Sabres waved to the crowd one last time, and that was it.

Chris Drury and Daniel Briere left that July for the money, and we knew the Sabres' unlikely and incredible leap to the top of the NHL probably was over. But as the '07-08 season started, I fought against those expectations.

Ryan Miller and Jason Pominville and, yes, Derek Roy were still here. I'm sure I went on and on about how in 2006-07 Thomas Vanek led the league in plus-minus; now I have no use for plus-minus and Vanek is on his seventh team. (That's seven teams in less than four seasons for Vanek, by the way. That's quite a feat.)

My wife and I had been at all the 2006 and 2007 home playoff games. Like thousands of other fans, we got on board with season tickets as the Sabres simultaneously slashed prices and became good and exciting. Nice timing. For us and for many who were plugged into the Sabres in those years, some of the memories will last a lifetime.

Here, October 5, 2007, was the beginning of the next chapter. I remember the Sabres raising the President's Trophy banner before the game, and how strange that felt. The celebration of a great achievement that you weren't allowed to take pride in. Players wouldn't all have had the same emotions so maybe I'm reflecting mine from that moment onto theirs, but in my mind I see defenseman Henrik Tallinder standing on the blue line as the banner went up with his lips pursed and his mouth crooked, evoking sadness. I imagined him thinking, Can we please just start the game? The Islanders were an easy mark for the 2006-07 Sabres, even in the first round of the playoffs, but this was a new season and on this night the Islanders roared back from a deficit to win, 6-4.

During one of the intermissions some friends joined us in the concourse, where there was a TV showing a Yankees-Indians playoff game. It was the night those bugs, called midges, attacked Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain. I remember sending a text message to Martin Biron, who the Sabres traded to Philadelphia late in '06-'07. He was in Edmonton where the Flyers and Oilers would play the next night. I remember telling Biron how this Sabres game felt different -- no Briere, no Drury, no Biron -- and he responded that he was with Briere, watching the game, feeling the same.

Thursday night was this night's 10-year anniversary. The Sabres opened their season. No new banners were raised. There was, as it happens, a Yankees-Indians playoff game -- and there was Jason Pominville, back for a second tour.

Thursday night's game was young when Pominville flung a backhand past Carey Price to open the season's scoring. It was a great moment, reminiscent of when a young Pominville poured in goals for the last great Sabres team. A team that was dramatically altered when it took the ice October 5, 2007, and has never been the same since.

Jack Eichel, an elementary schooler when the Sabres last won a playoff round, signed a contract extension with the team Tuesday that will pay him $80 million. Ten years ago the Sabres were fractured by their unwillingness to pay up, and the injuries still haven't fully healed. They can get around alright but the limp is still evident.

The Sabres are on their fifth coach in six seasons. It's another new attempt to not only make the playoffs but actually win there. They start the 2017-18 season as an underdog to make it again. A ray of hope can stem, I suppose, from that the last time they got great they were an underdog too.

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