From UND to the Jets' top defensive pairing
WINNIPEG -- Unheralded. Unknown. Unrecognizable.
Just a few of the words that were used to describe the Jets’ defensive core to begin the season.
It’s how you could describe Jets’ rookie defenceman Tucker Poolman in the face of outside scrutiny or expectations.
"I guess I've had to work my way up. I don't really think about that,” said the 26-year-old. “I just show up and try to work every day, and try to block that out."
"What's probably been good is we had so many things going on, nobody really noticed what he's done,” added head coach Paul Maurice. “So we didn't have to answer questions every day, but he's come in and played on the top pairing, from a guy who really wasn't in the league."
Ineed, Poolman didn’t play a single NHL game last season, instead suiting up for the Manitoba Moose for 43 games. Since being called upto the Jets fulltime, the fifth round pick from the 2013 draft has set career highs in games played (31), assists (11), and points (12), while playing an average of just under 17 minutes a game.
"The whole thing with Tucker, it's been one surprise after the other,” said his dad Mark Poolman, who on Sunday made the three-hour drive from Grand Forks, North Dakota to Winnipeg to watch Tucker play for the first time this regular season.
"Truthfully after high school, anything beyond that has been icing on the cake. And then he goes and plays juniors and goes to college."
College hockey was a special experience for the Poolman family. Mark played football at the University of North Dakota, earning bachelor degrees in physical education and athletic training in 1992, before completing his master’s degree in exercise physiology in 1997. That led him to being an athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coordinator with UND’s hockey team, where Tucker would spend three seasons.
"It was a little different, because I've never been around a team and had my dad around it,” said Tucker. “So we kind of got used to each other in terms of setting boundaries and things like that."
"I would say probably two, three months into his freshman year we had a little heart-to-heart,” said Mark. “He corrected me as far as keeping my distance, which is awesome. I had no problem, I needed to find the line, so he told me what the line was and it worked out great."
Tucker’s younger brother Colton is the current captain at UND, while the youngest brother in the family Mason, a high school senior, could soon follow the same path.
“It’s just such a special place for all of us,” said Tucker of the program.
He admits he still watches UND games whenever he can, but his focus is on the Jets.
"It's been fun. Trying to just work hard every day, and trying to help this team win hockey games,” he said. “At the end of the day, that's what the job is, so that's what I'm trying to do. It's been exciting."
“There’s a guy who’s covered a lot of ground in terms of confidence and experience,” said Maurice. “He just didn’t really have a whole lot, or what he would do in the NHL. He’s just got thrown right in the fire, and he’s playing pretty darn well. His game is as solid as anybody else’s.”