Jets get multiple contributions in solid road win versus Canucks
VANCOUVER — Tucker Poolman had already come to grips with the possibility he might just be enrolling at the University of North Dakota as a student.
Already cut by several junior teams, Poolman decided he would take one more crack at it before giving up his hockey dream. It’s a good thing that he did. Six years after earning a spot with the Wichita Falls Wildcats of the North American Hockey League, Poolman made his NHL debut with the Winnipeg Jets on Monday against the Edmonton Oilers.
Saying his persistence eventually paid off is a drastic understatement.
“My expectations weren’t very high. I was to the point where I was like ‘I’ll give it my best shot and so be it,’” Poolman said on Thursday before the Jets faced the Vancouver Canucks. “You think you’re career is over when you’re 18 and you barely made the team and you’re not playing. That’s tough. But at this point now, it’s helped me. It’s hard to faze me anymore if something happens. I’m happy to be playing and it keeps me calm out there.
“I never thought I would have this opportunity. When I left high school, I thought I would play a couple of years of junior and it would be awesome if I found a college to play for. It was like a home run going to UND and I’m here now. It’s kind of crazy.”
Former NHLer Paul Baxter was the head coach of the Wildcats when Poolman arrived and he saw the potential early on.
“He’s got a fantastic stride, he’s really good on his edges and he’s got exceptional vision,” Baxter said in a telephone interview from Nashville. “He’s very good at staying in the moment. Very personable, very honest and forthright. He’s very humble too. I was impressed with what kind of person he was. Almost as much as how good a player he could be.”
Following the one season in the NAHL, Poolman joined the Omaha Lancers of the USHL for two seasons.
That’s when his game took off and Poolman was named top defenceman in the USHL in 2013-14.
Poolman attended the University of North Dakota in the fall of 2014 and spent three seasons there before turning pro with the Jets.
One of those seasons (2016) saw Poolman helped the Fighting Hawks capture the NCAA Frozen Four Championship.
“I watched every shift of his and thought he played composed, he made plays and to me, he played like he has experience,” University of North Dakota head coach Brad Berry said in a telephone interview from Grand Forks. “He invested in his game to get better at it over the course of time.”
Many of Poolman’s former coaches tuned in to see his NHL debut.
“Tucker’s such a good athlete and he’s kind of the classic case of that late developing player,” said Philadelphia Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol. “Yet he’s always been a very smart player and he physically matured and put that combination together with how smart of a player he is as well as how complete of a person he is.
“He gave himself a chance through doing everything the right way. I’m not surprised after his last couple years he was able to carve out a spot on the 23-man roster.”
Several of Poolman’s UND teammates weren’t surprised to see his ascent either.
“He’s a phenomenal player and his story is tremendous — from barely making an NAHL team to going to UND and being one of the best defenceman for several years there,” Canucks forward Brock Boeser said. “Some people said that he might not make it, but I knew deep down that he had a really good shot of making it. I couldn’t be more proud of him. He’s earned everything that he gets.”
Poolman’s calm demeanour and work ethic was important in helping him reach this point.
“He’s pretty quiet, he keeps his nose clean and he just goes to work,” said Canucks defenceman Troy Stecher. “He’s versatile and he’s a guy that’s going to find a way to be successful.”
As for the debut, Poolman was on stand-by, since the Jets didn’t know if Dustin Byfuglien (soft-tissue injury) was going to be good to go for Monday’s game.
But at 5 p.m. MT, Poolman got the call he would be in the lineup.
He quickly sent a few mes- sages for family members and friends so they could make arrangements to get the NHL Centre Ice package.
Much like he did throughout training camp and six pre-season games, Poolman was composed and calm, finishing with just under 15 minutes of ice time.
“It was awesome to get out there for the first shift and kind of settled down after that and tried to play simple hockey,” said Poolman, who was chosen by the Jets in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft. “Not try to do too much or over-handle it by any means. It wasn’t too crazy a game. I just played five-on-five and there weren’t too many tense moments. I was just trying to play the game and think about my nerves or anything like that.”
Poolman realizes the road is just beginning, but thanks to his ability to navigate a few rough patches along the way, it’s safe to say he’s ready to enjoy the ride.
No matter where it takes him.
Jets defenceman Tucker Poolman came into his own during the 2013-14 season playing for the Omaha Lancers of USHL.