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Poulin reflects on first pro season

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
A fifth round draft selection in 2008, goaltender Kevin Poulin had always dreamed of making it to the NHL and believed his abilities were strong enough to one day compete with the pros. But like most young prospects, and nearly all young goaltenders, he wasn't going to get there overnight.

Instead, Poulin completed two more seasons, four in all, in Victoriaville with the Tigres of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. At the start of last season, he made his professional debut with the Islanders American Hockey League affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

“My initial goal was to make the AHL my first year, just to have some games and see how I was doing,” said Poulin, who was competing for ice time with Mikko Koskinen and Sound Tigers veteran gaolie, Nathan Lawson. “After I had a couple starts, I was more confident and we were doing well, we were winning.”

Goaltender Kevin Poulin #60 of the New York Islanders skates during pregame warmups against the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 8, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
While Poulin wouldn’t have the full-time starting role he was used to, the "three-headed monster" patrolling the Sound Tigers paint stirred his competitive edge.

He consistently came to the rink with the mentality that he was ready to take on the pro level and would stop at nothing to make the save – even if it was just against his own teammates at practice.

However, not having the starting role was hard for the now 21-year-old to deal with. Two of the previous three seasons, he played at least 52 games and the third he played 39 games (2008-09) with the drop off only due to injury.

Thus, he was used to playing 50-plus games a season, but at the time of his first NHL call-up and more than halfway through the AHL regular season, Poulin had only played 15 games for the Sound Tigers.

He remained positive cheering on his teammates and never let frustration creep into his game. That mature attitude got him his first opportunity to strap on the pads on the big stage on Jan. 6. Poulin shined, stopping all 19 shots he faced in 53:43 of relief action.

“I remember my first game in Edmonton,” Poulin said. “I was sitting on the bench and I felt like I was dreaming. I was watching everywhere and was not really focusing on the game, instead I was soaking in the atmosphere. After five minutes, I had to go in. I think that was a good first game because I didn’t have to prepare or think too much about the game. I was more there enjoying my experience.”

The very next game, Poulin made his first NHL start and when John Tavares scored the overtime winner, he had his victory.

“It was awesome playing against Colorado,” Poulin said. “I was watching (Milan) Hejduk and Adam Foote when they won the (Stanley) Cup in Colorado with Patrick Roy (2000-01). It was great to play against those guys. I was watching them on TV just a couple years ago and in an instant, I was there to stop them.”

After just 10 NHL games, the unthinkable happened. Poulin dislocated his knee cap during pregame warm-ups, prior to the Islanders contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Nassau Coliseum.

“It was just bad luck,” Poulin said.

Hitting a rut in the ice could have happened to any goaltender in the crease. In the short time he had before the injury, Poulin posted four wins, a .924 save percentage and 2.44 goals against average in 10 appearances.

More than five months since undergoing knee surgery, Poulin said he's close to being back at 100 percent.

“I was back on Long Island a few weeks ago to go on the ice with (Islanders goalie coach) Mike Dunham,” Poulin said. “It was the first time so I was anxious, but it was pretty good. I’m looking forward to mini-camp.”

Goaltender Kevin Poulin #60 of the New York Islanders skates during pregame warmups against the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 8, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
Poulin added, “I’ve been working in the gym to make it stronger. I’m working really hard to build muscle around the knees and in that area, so it won’t happen again.”

By the time training camp arrives in September, Poulin is expecting to be stronger than ever.

“Each year you want to improve and be better,” Poulin said. “After my injury, I just want to prove that I’m 100 percent and more. I’m going into camp to play in the NHL. That’s my goal. The organization is pretty deep when it comes to goaltenders and we’re all fighting for jobs, so I’ll be looking for my next opportunity.”

Poulin is hoping he’ll shine in training camp with the hope of another "three-headed monster" emerging, this time on Long Island.
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