BUFFALO, N.Y. – It was Jan. 15, 2015.
Goalie Devan Dubnyk made his Wild debut after a red-eye journey from Arizona to Buffalo to join the team on the heels of a trade with the Coyotes.
He was impressive, and so was the rest of the team in a 7-0 shellacking of the Sabres — a game former Wild winger Jason Pominville remembers helping spark the Wild from a footnote in the standings to a contender headed for the playoffs.
“We started believing and started getting confidence as a team and just had that feeling that we weren’t going to be denied no matter what happened and kept pushing to play better,” Pominville recalled. “We found a way to dig ourselves out of a pretty big hole.”
Pominville, 34, has been a point producer, top-line option and veteran leader in his second tour with the Sabres, who acquired him along with defenseman Marco Scandella and a fourth-round draft pick in 2018 from the Wild in exchange for forwards Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno and a 2018 third-rounder during the offseason.
But perhaps his most important asset right now is the experience he banked from that turnaround by the Wild, an in-season makeover the Sabres are seeking to duplicate after a rough start has them at the bottom of the Eastern Conference as their rebuild continues.
“It just gives us hope and belief that we can get it done here, too,” Pominville said.
Wednesday was the first time the teams have squared off since that June trade, a decision that addressed needs for each side.
The Wild capitalized on the cap space the team freed up by executing the deal and received depth up front. And Buffalo bolstered its forward group by bringing back their former captain — who had six goals and 13 points through 21 games entering Wednesday night’s game — all the while beefing up its back end by adding Scandella, a minute-muncher who’s taken on a top-pairing role as a stabilizing presence on the Sabres’ blue line.
“Coming into camp, I was just trying to earn a spot and try to get some more minutes, which was really nice,” said Scandella, who was averaging 23 minutes, 43 seconds of ice time.
Even though the Sabres have struggled, it’s hasn’t been difficult for Pominville to focus on hockey when he reports to the rink because the transition from Minnesota to Buffalo has been seamless off the ice.
He and his family have settled in the same area they lived before, and his son even remembers his babysitter and a few friends.
“Obviously, on the ice we want to have more success and win more games, but that’ll come,” said Pominville, who was drafted by the Sabres and played parts of nine seasons for them before a 2013 trade to the Wild. “We gotta pull up our sleeves and keep digging, keep working and keep pushing each other to be better. But everything else has been really easy for me and my family.”
Back on the ice
Winger Chris Stewart was back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch for Monday’s game against the Devils — the first time he sat out this season.
Stewart was an offensive juggernaut at the outset, racking up six goals in his first six games, but he’s cooled off with zero points in 13 games since.
“I know the player I can be,” he said. “I haven’t been that the last 10 or so games. … I think I can be a contributor on this team and as a leader on this team, I take full responsibility and I hold myself to a higher regard. I gotta be better for this team, and I will be.”