Jets get mul­ti­ple con­tri­bu­tions in solid road win ver­sus Canucks

Winnipeg Sun - - FRONT PAGE - KEN WIEBE kwiebe@post­ @WiebeSunS­ports

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.

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