When fans fondly recant the mid-2000’s Buffalo Sabres teams, J.P. Dumont is one of the names they remember. In five season with the organization, the Montreal native amassed 102 goals and 121 assists in 362 games.
Best known as a balanced offensive force flanking the Sabres’ talented center spine, Dumont was a key piece in the team’s 2005-06 Eastern Conference Final run. We sat down with the 12-year NHL veteran to discuss his career in Western New York, his time with the Nashville Predators, and much more.
Anthony Sciandra: Your Sabres career spanned five years where you experienced some very high, and very low points in the history of the organization. In the beginning of your career, there was a looming threat of relocation, and at the end, the Sabres were in the conference finals. What do you feel went into that sort of swift transition?
J.P. Dumont: “When I got to the Sabres… My first year with Dominick Hasek in net, I really thought that we had a really strong team that could go far. If we didn’t play Pittsburgh that year (2001), and those overtime games, maybe we had a shot.”
“It was definitely interesting after we found out about the money issues (with the team). Hasek got traded and it kind of went downhill for a little bit. Like you said, after the ownership issues… there’s not much you can control as a player. Your focus is on playing hockey and you try to stay focused.”
“It was difficult. We never knew what was going to happen. You always think the worst when stuff like that happens. It wasn’t just an ownership issue. We had to wait for a paycheck. Usually we got paid every two weeks and we were all wondering what was going to happen.”
“I know the league had to step in. I was a young player. I think I was 21 or 22 at the time and I’m wondering – “what’s going on?””
“As a team and a management staff, we tried to just stay focused. We knew there wasn’t much we could do. The rumors about towns like Hamilton… But like you said, we got new ownership and in the process I think we learned how to play together and stick together. I think that was a turning point. I think it built the foundation for a few years.”
AS: Now that you mention the foundation, one of the only things that was consistent during your career in Buffalo was the head coach. What was your experience like under Lindy Ruff?
JPD: “Lindy was one of the coaches that was “fair”, you know what I mean? He had a reputation of being “hard”. He was, but he was also fair. Really passionate about the game. I really had a good experience playing for Lindy.”
“He’d seen it all too. He had to change the style of the game a little bit. When Hasek got traded we went through a phase and our style had to be a little bit different. Right after the lockout, I think we were the first teams in the league to play a faster pace. I had a lot of fun playing for Lindy.”
AS: What was your favorite memory in a Sabres uniform?
JP: “Personally, that goal against Ottawa in the playoffs (Dumont’s game-winning tally in Game Three of the 2006 ECSF).”
“It’s still burned into my memory. After scoring the goal, looking at my teammates and the 18,000 fans in the building just screaming. That was definitely my personal favorite. Those fans, obviously they were cheering for the team, but in that moment, scoring that goal, it felt like – they’re cheering for you. That was pretty amazing.”
“But as a team, that playoff run was one of my favorites. With the boys, we were so close as a family, as a team. It was definitely special in that 2005-06 season.”
“If I am looking back to my first year with the Sabres, I learned so much in those playoff experiences too. I played with some great leaders in Buffalo that really helped grow my game.”
AS: Speaking of your teammates – now I know it’s tough to single out just one, but do you have a favorite linemate, or set of linemates you had in Buffalo?
JPD: “Obviously, playing with Daniel Briere, we felt a real connection on and off the ice. We had some similarities offensively. We knew where to go and what to do, so I really enjoyed playing with him. Our line with Jochen Hecht, I think was a really strong line. I really enjoyed playing with those guys.”
“In my first season, I played a little bit with Curtis Brown and Erik Rasmussen. After that it was Stu Barnes and Miroslav Satan. (Laughs) I cannot complain. I had some great teammates and great linemates, but the chemistry I had with Danny was a lot of fun.”
AS: After your career in Buffalo, you signed with the Nashville Predators. After spending your entire pro career with the Sabres to that point, what was that transition like?
JPD: “It was similar (to Buffalo) in the beginning. The way that it ended in Buffalo, I know was a money and management issue. It’s not the way that all the guys there wanted it to finish. If you look at the path – myself, Jay McKee, Marty Biron, Chris Drury, and Briere. We all left in a span of two years. That’s not the way I though it was going to go.”
“When we got to Nashville, it was a good, balanced team with veterans and young players. I kind of fit right away. We really enjoyed our time here… I have four daughters and two of them were born in Buffalo. My second daughter was born in Buffalo in July and I went to go to Nashville in August.”
“There’s always a special place in my heart for Buffalo. We love to go visit and come back any chance I get for the Sabres.”
AS: So you’re still living in Nashville, and I understand you’re coaching high school hockey. What made you get into that?
JPD: “Well I went to play in Switzerland for a year at the end of my career. When I came back to Nashville after that I would watch hockey and play with the kids. I was following youth hockey a little bit. My girls don’t play but I was around and wanted to coach.”
“A local peewee coach kind of quit after Christmas and they wanted me to coach for the rest of the season. I said I’d do it to help out. So, after I did that, I finished the season and all the kids and parents were like – “oh, coach you’re gonna come back next year, right?””
“Kind of made me feel guilty if I said no (laughs). I’ve been coaching ever since. Looking back, this year it was the same thing. They wanted to change some things with the high school team. Wanted to get a little bit more of a hockey atmosphere. They asked me if I’d be willing to coach them this year. The timing was good and we won the championship.”
AS: Congratulations on that big win by the way. So, to close things out here, I want to ask a question that our readers seem to enjoy, so I ask everyone I interview.
Who was the toughest player you played against in your career? Could be an opposing defender, goalie, forward, etc.
JPD: “Oh man. For me, the ultimate one would be Dominick Hasek but I played with him in his prime, right? He was still good when he went to Detroit, don’t get me wrong, but I remember practicing against him and wondering – how can anyone score goals against him?”
“If not Hasek… It was a different era obviously, but there were some defensemen out there, if you didn’t have your head up, you were going to get killed. I’m thinking about guys like Scott Stevens and Zdeno Chara. Those were really tough guys to play against with the old rules.”
“I wasn’t fortunate enough to play with the new rules. That would have been fun!”