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Puempel gets early glimpse at pro hockey world

by Matthew Healy / Ottawa Senators
Forward Matt Puempel, a first-round pick by the Senators in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, finished the season with the AHL's Binghamton Senators and scored his first pro goal (Just Sports Photography).

Keeping an open mind and putting in some good old-fashioned hard work – that’s how Ottawa Senators prospect Matt Puempel plans to improve his game.

The 19-year-old native of Windsor, Ont. , has recorded some big numbers in his career so far. During his three-season stint with the Peterborough Petes, he pumped out 166 points in 144 regular-season games, including 84 goals. The power forward says humbly, “I think I’ve been fortunate to get the opportunity to play with good players and to have good coaches in order to stay consistent (in scoring) – I couldn’t have done it without them.”

All that being said, the kid definitely has shown he’s got a real nose for the net. The Ottawa Senators selected him in the first-round (24th overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, with general manager Bryan Murray later touting him as a “goal-scoring machine.”

Puempel signed a three-year entry-level contract with the team in the fall, calling it “definitely a dream come true – a big relief off the shoulders.”

“Now the hard work starts,” he added.

With this young hockey player, there’s at least one thing you learn and you learn quickly – Matt Puempel isn’t interested in resting on his laurels. Prior to the draft, the 6-0, 190-pound left-winger attended the 2011 Senators summer development camp and was a member of the winning team during the National Hockey League rookie tournament held in September in Oshawa, Ont. Of those experiences, he said, “It was a ton of fun and I enjoyed it. It really introduces you to the (NHL) game.

While it can be said that Puempel has enjoyed quite a successful hockey career to date, some goals he has aspired to haven’t yet been realized. He had hoped to earn a spot on Team Canada’s roster for the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship, but he didn’t make the cut.

“It was definitely disappointing from my side of things,” admitted Puempel, who’s tried to put a positive spin on that experience. “I’ll just have to work that much harder (the next time).”

Another setback in Puempel’s career happened January , when he suffered a concussion in a game against the Kingston Frontenacs. After sitting on the sidelines for three months without playing a game, he returned to action on March 25, when he was sent to the Binghamton Senators, Ottawa’s affiliate in the American Hockey League, after the Petes’ season ended. He notched his first career professional goal on April 14 in the B-Sens’ season finale against the Norfolk Admirals.

“I don’t feel anything from that (the concussion) and I don’t hesitate at all (on the ice),” he said, dismissing any concerns that the injury would hamper his play. “I don’t think it’s held me back at all.”

Puempel aimed to make the most of his nine games with the B-Sens.

“Playing here (in Binghamton) helped me learn and allowed me to step into the pro game to see how it is,” he said.

Testing the waters of a professional league is an essential step for any NHL prospect. But, Puempel does concede the jump from junior to pro is “a pretty big adjustment and you have to get used to it.”

Just to see every day, what they (Binghamton players) go through,” he added. “That’s something I can bring back to wherever I play next year.”

Whatever jersey he wears next season, he’s certain to bring his fearless offensive style with him.

“I’m not afraid to crash the net and go to the dirty areas to score a couple goals,” he said.

It’s that desire to score and willingness to sacrifice that makes Puempel a threat.

“I’ve always loved to score and help out my team,” he said. “When you love to do something it definitely makes it more enjoyable and you want to do it more. There’s not a better feeling than scoring a goal.”

He’s also turned his scoring ability into a greater goal. Puempel’s Purpose donates money to the Children’s Wish Foundation every time he scores or gets an assist.

“You feel good when you know you can change someone’s life and put a smile on someone’s face,” he said of the inspiration behind his personal charity. “Knowing that when you score a goal it’s helping someone out, it’s really nice.”

When asked how he can continue to improve his game he said, “I think in order to get to the next level, defence is where it starts. Everyone needs to work on that and commit to that, so that’s what I’m trying to do.”

He added it’s important to put a lot of effort into your training, especially in the off-season.

“The guys (in the NHL) are so much bigger, so you have to get so strong to be able to hold your own in the corners and in the battles,” he said. “Skating wise, leg strength is going to be a big factor.”

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