It’s an adjustment for sure. You’re on your own. You have to do your own meals. That’s the biggest difference between junior and pro. I’m trying to learn every day all the little things that it takes to be a good pro. That’s going to be all season. - Emile Poirier
GLENS FALLS, NY -- Emile Poirier’s first full season in the Flames organization is all about learning the pro game, both on and off the ice.
The 19-year-old rookie scored two goals in his 2014-15 debut on Nov. 1, following a six-month recovery from May 9 shoulder surgery.
It wasn’t the first time the Montreal native has people’s opened eyes since turning pro. Poirier also found the net twice, with two assists, in a pair of games with the Abbotsford Heat at the end of last season, coming on the heels of a 43-goal, 87-point season at Gatineau in the QMJHL.
Still a month shy of his 20th birthday -- Dec. 14 -- he has four goals in his first three AHL contests, an impressive start for any young prospect.
“That was great for me to get those good bounces in my first game,” Poirier said. “That’s great for the confidence. After a couple of good shifts like that you just get more confidence. Hopefully that’s how the season is going to go.”
Adirondack is at North Division rival Hamilton (Canadiens) tonight and Saturday, before traveling to Rochester (Sabres) on Monday. Poirier’s activation couldn’t have come at a better time for the Flames as forwards Markus Granlund, Michael Ferland and Sven Baertschi were lost to recalls following a rash of injuries at Calgary.
“We needed it,” Adirondack coach Ryan Huska said. “With the call-ups we’ve had we needed that extra forward and Emile’s got the ability to generate offence. He skates really well so he’s got some good speed. Like most goal scorers he knows where to go around the net. He finds himself in a good position; he has a knack for that. To score 40-plus goals, even in juniors, is a real feat for a player to do. To score two in his first game here for us says a lot about his offensive ability and finding the areas around the net to be able to score.”
Poirier is determined to improve all aspects of his game. One miscue, an errant pass, led directly to a Utica goal in the Flames’ 5-4 loss to the first-place Comets on Nov. 1. But without him, Adirondack never would have rallied from a 4-1 deficit.
“The area Emile’s going to need to consistently work on is taking pride in how he comes back to our end,” Huska said. “Becoming a good 200-foot player is something that’s going to be important for him because he does have that natural goal-scoring ability and offensive talent that make him a really dangerous player on the ice.”
Poirier’s three years of junior hockey was an invaluable proving ground. But the AHL is an entirely different game.
“It’s an adjustment for sure,” he said. “You’re on your own. You have to do your own meals. That’s the biggest difference between junior and pro. I’m trying to learn every day all the little things that it takes to be a good pro. That’s going to be all season.”
Growing up in Montreal, Poirier was naturally a big Canadiens fan. His favorite player was Alexei Kovalev.
“I watched him a lot when I was young. I love his skills, I love his game,” he said. “My dad was my first coach when I was young. He’s the one who taught me hockey. There’s a park in front of my house with an outside rink so I’d always be there in winter.”
Montreal is only three hours north of Glens Falls, N.Y., where the Adirondack Flames play. So it’s an easy trip for Poirier’s parents, Alain and Lisa, and his younger sister, Rosalie, to see him play.
Peter Mahovlich, a four-time Canadiens Stanley Cup champion, is looking forward to watching Poirier, too. Mahovlich spent the last two years of his legendary playing career with the former Adirondack Red Wings and lives near Glens Falls, scouting the AHL for the Florida Panthers.
Glens Falls, a small tight-knit community without big-city distractions, is a great place for young prospects like Poirier to start out, he said.
“It’s easy when you’ve got a few bucks in your pocket and no responsibilities, you can make a lot of bad choices,” Mahovlich said. “Look at all the college athletes who are a little older, 21 or 22, intelligent people, with good coaches and they still make the wrong choice.”
“It’s not just talent, it’s desire and sacrifice,” Mahovlich said. “If being a hockey player is what you want to do you’ve got to dedicate yourself to doing the right thing and being the best you can. It’s amazing the number of hockey players that don’t make it because they aren’t dedicated. You can surround yourself with good people or not-so-good people. Every day you’re going to have to make a choice.”
It’s clear what Poirier’s goals are, and he feels right at home at Adirondack. A left wing, he played his first game on a line with forwards Ken Agostino and Bill Arnold, who assisted Poirier’s first goal of the year, a blast from beyond the left circle.
“The guys here are really great,” Poirier said. “The more you play with the guys, the more you get comfortable with them, the more you know what they’re going to do and the more you can adjust to them. My game is going to the net, forcing things offensively.”
“I played my game at the junior level,” he said. “ Now I want to bring the same kind of game to the pro level. We’ve got a good bunch of guys, a good coaching staff. It’s going to be a good year.”