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Eigner on Poehling: 'I look forward to what he can accomplish'

Ryan Poehling's high school coach, Trent Eigner, was emotional watching his former pupil's memorable performance against the Maple Leafs

by Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL / canadiens.com

MONTREAL - It's safe to assume that Ryan Poehling had plenty of supporters watching his NHL debut back home over the weekend. One of them was Trent Eigner.

Eigner was Poehling's head coach for three seasons at Lakeville North High School, but he has known the Canadiens' prospect since he was 11 years old.

The events that unfolded on Saturday night profoundly touched Eigner, who tuned into the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on the NHL Network while attending a 50th birthday celebration.

"My wife turned to me early in the game after Ryan scored his first goal and she was like 'Are you crying?' I just kind of brushed it off," said Eigner, who has helmed the Lakeville North Panthers for the last nine years. "Having been around the kid and coached him, it was just an extremely emotional deal when you get to watch someone achieve a dream in real-time."

Even Poehling himself described the way things played out as a dream scenario, which it absolutely was. After scoring once in the first, once in the second and lighting the lap again with the game-tying goal late in the final frame, the 20-year-old Lakeville, MN native capped off a magical night with the shootout-winner and a first-star nod.

Knowing Poehling's capabilities, though, Eigner wasn't shocked at all that he managed to rise to the occasion.

"I explained to his brothers via text that it was surreal what I was watching and the reason it was is because I really wasn't surprised that he was the kid doing it. It definitely fits his makeup and his nature to step in and do something like that," said Eigner. "In the most humble way, I think that probably as it transpired, there was probably a part of him that understood why it was going on. He strikes me as the kind of kid that was enjoying every aspect of what was taking place."

That included going one-on-one with veteran goaltender Frederik Anderson under the bright lights of the Bell Centre. 

Eigner was observing Poehling closely ahead of the shootout and he was convinced that his former student would make his opportunity count.

"I was really kind of watching his demeanor. Prior to and just the way he approached the net, everything about it seemed no different than a shinny game that we had played in high school. I really looked at the level of comfort and I fully expected that he was confident in what he was going to do and he was confident in the result," explained Eigner. "From a kid who is humble to a fault, it was fitting. I'm however many miles away in Minnesota watching it on TV, but I could feel the energy building."

Video: TOR@MTL: Poehling scores go-ahead shootout tally

As much as Eigner relished seeing Poehling find the back of the net on four separate occasions, he also loved the way the St. Cloud State University product was soaking in the whole experience, too.

"I always enjoyed when they pan to his face or I get to see that genuine smile. Basically, the relaxed attitude that he had about what was transpiring. At the core root of his success was that he was having genuine fun. That's a hard thing to describe to people or explain to people," mentioned Eigner. "But, I could tell by looking at his face, that at that time and in that place, he was genuinely having as much fun as anyone could have in that situation. I think that will always be the case when he laces them up to go play hockey."

Poehling's incredible passion for the game is one of many things that makes him special, according to the 48-year-old Panthers' bench boss.

The 2019 World Junior Hockey Championship MVP might also be among the top hockey minds Eigner has ever interacted with.

"The thing that has always stood out to me as a coach is that he is one of the few players, if not the only player I've had the opportunity to coach, that really forced me, which in hindsight was a blessing, to listen closely to what a player had to say. And I mean that in the nicest way. I had to admit that this kid saw the game at a completely different level than even I did," explained Eigner. "A lot of times at first glance, when you go to coach him, you kind of need to check the rearview mirror, and when you go back and look at a situation that happened in a game, he was right about what he was seeing. It was just a great learning experience as a coach, being around a kid that not only saw the game at such a high level, but he appreciated it for more than just the nuts and bolts."

Ryan "Big Rig" Poehling

Why does Eigner affectionately refer to Poehling as "Rig" on Instagram? 

There's a cool backstory there, too.

"I've heard through people that it was a nickname that was used with Joe Thornton. I always told Ryan when he was young that I had heard so many great things about Joe Thornton as a human being and a hockey player. The way Ryan is on the ice and the way he carries himself, along with his happy-go-lucky nature and the ability he has to impact people around him in a positive manner, it just led me to call him "Rig." I considered him a big rig on the ice," said Eigner. "He was just big and very competitive, but also had a super pleasant demeanor to him that was just lovable. You can see how he ingratiates himself to people because he is such a humble kid. That's why I landed on it."

Again, Eigner also cited Poehling's cerebral approach to his craft as another reason why the moniker made sense.

"I consider some players to be very A-to-B players, they see the game, they execute what they're coached on. Then, there's a kid like Ryan who kind of has an artistic sense about and an appreciation for the way the game can be played and viewed, and he isn't afraid of exploring those parts of the game which played into that kind of nature," added Eigner. "To me, he was kind of a "Big Rig," just a lovable, unbelievable hockey player."

Looking to the future

While Eigner wasn't at the Bell Centre for Poehling's first game in a Habs uniform, he'll definitely be in the stands at some point down the road.

It won't be his first visit to the building, though. A former teammate of Brian Savage at Miami University in Ohio, Eigner used to watch his good buddy play in Montreal.

"I actually texted Savvy during the game and told him we'll have to go and watch him play together because I really enjoyed seeing Brian play there," revealed Eigner. "It's something I definitely look forward to."

Video: TOR@MTL: Poehling nets hatty, SO winner in NHL debut

For now, though, Eigner is eagerly anticipating a reunion with Poehling during the offseason.

"It's to the point where the hug will probably be without words because he'll understand how excited I am for him," said Eigner. "The depth of the conversations we do have, I'm grateful for because they kind of transcend hockey. At a young age, Ryan understood the blessings that he had and the responsibility he took at playing the game at a high level. I love his approach to the game. For a long time, Ryan has told me that he felt there would be a day that he would play in that League and he went about in a very humble and charismatic way. I haven't, in my nine years of knowing him and being around him, found a teammate that didn't enjoy his company. I look forward to what he can accomplish."

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