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Colton Poolman focused on following in the footsteps of his brother Tucker and making it to the NHL

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick /

Colton Poolman is no stranger to the bright lights and big stage.

Suiting up for one of the NCAA's premiere hockey programs - in front of the wildest fans on the planet, no less - he'd already become used to the pressure, thrill and emotion of games at the 'Ralph.' 

But not even that, his home rink, could top the vibe at the World's Most Famous Arena. 

"My freshman year, we got to play in Madison Square Garden," Poolman said, shortly after signing a one-year entry-level contract with the Flames. "It was unbelievable. 

"It was what they called a 'destination game.' We set it up with Boston College and it was, without a doubt, one of the coolest experiences of my life. We had about 8,000 fans that travelled from Grand Forks to New York City and it was like a home game at MSG - the Ralph, but on Broadway. 

"We got there a couple days early and the (NBA's New York) Knicks were playing around the time we arrived. We got to walk around while they were shooting around and stuff, and I was like, 'Wow. 'This is a pretty big deal.' 

"I'd never been there before, so it was cool to have a few days to go sight-seeing and things like that, before capping it off with the game and a big win.

"If that doesn't make you hungry…"

Four years later, Poolman is one step closer to living the dream, full-time. 

The East Grand Forks, Minn., native is coming off an excellent senior year with the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks, leading the squad to a 26-5-4 record and winning the Penrose Cup as the NCHC's regular-season champion.

His four goals and 13 helpers this year gave him 75 career points (18G, 57A), he was on the top D pairing and played in all situations, and made great strides on the defensive side of the puck, where he and his 198-lb. frame could really flourish. 

"I play a pretty competitive, hard-nosed game," Poolman said. "I try to move the puck into my forwards' hands and try to jump into the play and contribute offensively when I can. 

"But, mostly, I want to take care of my own end, play hard and lead by example that way."

The two-year captain is lauded for his heart, character, competitiveness and leadership qualities. In his conversations with the UND staff, Flames GM Brad Treliving said that no matter he talked to, those winning qualities were consistently praised.

"When they start talking about the DNA of this kid, the character of this kid, it's pretty impressive," Treliving said. "Character kid, really competitive, at the college level plays in all situations. 

"I think he's going to be a guy that's going to play a real hard defending game, kill penalties, that sort of thing. He just does things that help you win. Every team needs a player like Colton who does a bunch of the heavy lifting. They're not sexy jobs, but if you look at successful teams at this level, they all have players that do the things that he does. 

"He's a real intriguing player."

Poolman, who earned a 3.855 cumulative grade-point average in biology, is the younger brother of Winnipeg Jets defenceman Tucker - a fellow UND star that rose to prominence in that program and took home the conference's Defensive Defenceman of the Year honours in 2017, an award Colton is now a finalist for just three years later. 

The two actually played together for one year before Tucker signed with the Jets - something both players will certainly look back on fondly for years to come.

Together, they've climbed the ranks and have each other to thank for the support, and for pushing one another in good times and bad.  

"He's been there for me throughout this whole process," Poolman said. "Just being in the NHL - and, obviously, he played a year or two in the AHL - he'd always be there for all the different questions that I'd have. He's already been through it, always been a couple steps ahead because of his age, and it's great to have someone to be able to bounce things off of.

"He's a guy I could always look up to. He didn't always have an easy path, was cut from a lot of junior teams growing up, so to watch him work, get to UND, and eventually get to the NHL like he is now, he's been the ultimate role model for me."

The 24-year-old is now ready for that same next step. 

He grew up only a few blocks away, dreaming of the Ralph, winning there, and wondering what kind of mark he would leave one day. 

Looking back, it's hard to imagine it going much better. 

But now, it just might.

"I grew up right across the river, so I was able to go to plenty of games growing up and saw some of the great players that came through that program," he said. 

"It was a dream come true to play for UND, and it was another dream of mine to one day play in the NHL. 

"Hopefully this is another stepping stone towards that."

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