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Poehling: Growing from heartbreak

While losing to Finland hurt immensely, it only strengthened Ryan Poehling's resolve to help the St. Cloud State Huskies win a national title

by Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL /

MONTREAL - The look on prospect Ryan Poehling's face after the Americans fell to the Finns at the World Juniors in the gold-medal game last weekend spoke volumes.

This wasn't any ordinary defeat for the 20-year-old center and his fellow countrymen. This one stung, and rightfully so after coming so close to reaching the top of the podium.

"Right away, I was devastated," said Poehling, on the heartbreaking 3-2 defeat that saw his squad rally from a two-goal deficit in the third period before giving up the game-winner with 86 seconds left in regulation time. "The reason I was so devastated was because we felt that for the first time we did everything right. I was like, 'How did we not win?' I couldn't make sense of it. We didn't take any shortcuts."

After processing the loss for a few days back home in Minnesota, though, the Canadiens' hopeful believes his second straight appearance at the annual event will only make him a better player in the long run.

He learned valuable lessons while leading the charge offensively for the United States, earning top forward and tournament MVP honors when it was all over.

"The most important thing I learned is that you've always got a chance. You never know what's going to happen with hockey. It also taught me a lot about playing as a teammate. If you can all play as a group of five and even set the next line up for success, it can help a lot," explained Poehling, who registered five goals and eight points in seven games, along with a plus-5 differential. "Sometimes it's not going to be your night, and that's o.k. You've just got to work hard and bring your effort and your attitude. In hockey, sometimes bounces don't go your way. I think that's what happened. You just have to give it your all, play the right way and respect the game, and it will respect you back. If you do that, whatever happens at the end, you can live with the result that it gives you."

On January 6, Poehling shared a poignant post on his Instagram account alluding to the fact that he grew from his time in British Columbia.

"You don't really know about something until you've gone through it. Then, you can talk about it and give people advice on it. For me to learn from this experience, be in that gold-medal game and realize what pressure is and how you respond to it, it shows a lot about your character and how you can handle it going forward," added Poehling. "It's kind of like history. If you don't learn from it, it's just going to repeat itself."

Poehling's stint with Team USA is undoubtedly top-ranked St. Cloud State University's gain as they welcome him back into the fold and set their sights on making some more big-time noise in the collegiate ranks.

"I think it's added motivation. It showed you how devastating endings can be. That's why we play sports. I love the competitive nature of the game. I think it just propelled me where, honestly, I don't want to feel that way ever again," confided Poehling. "We've got a great team with a solid group of guys that I think can get the job done. But, it's not going to be easy. At the end of the day, it comes down to the team that's going to win the last four games of the year. That's what I'm looking forward to, getting back to the playoffs and competing for a spot [in the Frozen Four]. Especially with how last year ended [losing in the NCAA Regional Semi-Final] and now the World Juniors, you're going to see me play with a lot of heart."

And, the junior pivot, who was selected 25th overall by the Canadiens in 2017, plans on upping on leadership role another notch for the Huskies as well.

"I just got a little taste of playoff hockey at the World Juniors. It felt like playoff hockey for those last four games that we played. You've got to realize in playoffs that you're going to play hard games, no matter how many or how little scoring chances you have. It's how the game goes," explained Poehling. "To mentally stay in it and feel that way, I think I'm going to spread that throughout the guys. For me to kind of bring that back to the team, that experience, and kind of teach them, that is going to be essential for our success towards the end of the year."

Expect the Lakeville, MN native to pick up right where he left off with the Huskies production-wise, too, before joining the National Junior Team.

He observed and internalized a thing or two hockey-wise from watching some of the top youngsters in his age group.  

"I think no over-passing, in general, and realizing when you have a chance at the net, you've got to get it there. A lot of goals scored now, especially in the NHL, are second and third opportunities. I was having trouble, if I don't see a lane into the goal, I'm not going to shoot. But, you have to realize that there's going to be guys in the net front and just getting the puck there is an opportunity," mentioned Poehling, who boasts three goals and 17 points in 16 games with SCSU on the season. "To see other players doing it, where every time they get the puck, every time they have a chance, they get the puck to the net. I think I learned that most from other guys. It's working out for them, and I needed to start doing it. I shot a little more, which is something I'm trying to do the second half, be more direct to the net in attacks."

Exceeding (his own) expectations, growing in confidence

While walking away with a silver medal around his neck instead of a coveted gold was a tough pill to swallow, Poehling is grateful for the way things played out from a personal standpoint.

One of a record seven Canadiens prospects in the tournament, he was a force to reckoned with and will surely be remembered for his third period hat-trick against the Swedes during the preliminary round.

"I had a great tournament and I enjoyed the way I played. Did I ever think going into it that I'd be the tournament MVP? Probably not," admitted Poehling, whose parents, Tim and Kris, were on-site to watch him in Victoria and Vancouver. "To come home with that silver medal and that trophy and that recognition, it was special. I couldn't imagine a tournament where that would have happened. It was great for me and my family to share that at the end of it."

It surely was, and his performance only further solidified the fact that Poehling's future is extremely bright.

"For me to kind of take those experiences and use them to my advantage, it's one thing that I do very well. I think I've done that so far with the opportunities I've been given. It's one of those things where you should learn from everything you do," concluded Poehling. "Even in college, each year I think I gain more and more confidence. I cherish that the most, realizing that this is an opportunity that you can seize. I think I've done that pretty well for the most part, too." 

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