Playing Against The Pros

Former NHL Players Breathe New Life Into Buffalo Adult League

 

A year removed from wearing the “A” as a member of the Buffalo Sabres, an adult hockey league in upstate New York was probably the last place Jason Pominville envisioned himself. 

For goalie Dave Stahlman, who played just two years of high school hockey before moving to adult leagues, he never imagined he’d be showcasing his skills against players from the world’s best league.

Yet, here they both are.

The USA Hockey sanctioned Performax Hockey League in Buffalo, N.Y., is no stranger to NHL caliber talent finding its way onto team rosters. Players from three-time Stanley Cup champ Craig Muni to the late Richie Dunn have spent time on the ice at the Northtown Center. Even Patrick Kane has skated there during the summers, and gave one goalie the story of a lifetime when he stonewalled Kane on a breakaway.

Pominville joined the league sort of by accident this season. Looking for an excuse to get back on the ice, he volunteered to act as a sub for a friend’s team should any of his regular players not make a game. Next thing he knew, he had become a full-time fixture on the roster. 

“It’s fun, and it’s a good group of guys,” said Pominville about his team, P22. “It’s not an area where I’m too stressed about winning or losing a game; you don’t have any pressure, really. I just go out there, have fun and have a beer or two with my teammates after.”

The 37-year-old former NHLer put up 105 points in just 19 games in what he refers to as a “getting a nice workout in.” But despite his numbers being twice the amount of the next highest scorer, the impact of Pominville’s presence in the league goes beyond just finding the back of the net.

Stahlman – who plays on the Pool Brite Danes with former pro Cody McCormick – has a unique view of those matchups between the pros from his stance in the net. 

“Playing against guys like him, I’m just trying to make myself better,” said the 32-year-old netminder. “Then, a couple of weeks before the season ended, we had Cody join our team and that was something else in itself, just having him in the locker room and listening to his stories.

“Playing with someone like Cody McCormick, guys were chomping at the bit trying to be on his line. He plays like Pominville; they’re always looking to set other guys up.”

Stahlman went into his first game against Pominville unsure of how he would stand up against a guy who scored 293 goals against NHL goalies. He’d never had the chance to play against someone like that before and it got his nerves going. Nonetheless, Stahlman had it in his head that he could keep up with him.

Pominville shut that down that idea pretty quick, but after making one or two saves made it all worth it for Stahlman.

Stahlman’s captain, DJ Horne, has seen more of a change in the game since guys like Pominville, McCormick and Jay McKee joined them on the ice. He’s faced-off against his fair share of NHL veterans before now, but they don’t bring the faster pace of the game that the younger additions have.

“It’s tough because they definitely play at a different level, but it certainly changes my game a bit,” Horne said. “Everybody has to play a little harder, a little smarter … sometimes dig a little deeper and find some skills or some energy you don’t usually have. When the game gets stepped up, everybody’s game steps up, too.”

Even Frank Albert, the league organizer, finds himself stopping what he’s doing to watch what some of his more accomplished customers can do on the ice.

“I think there’s an excitement in the opposition locker room and guys look forward to it on the schedule,” Albert said. “Everyone steps up their game. They want to play and compete and get a sense of how high a level of skill has been attained by these guys. They get a new appreciation for the sport.”

 

Photos courtesy of Frank Albert, Dave Stahlman.

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