NEW YORK — When there wasn’t a microphone stuck in his face or an NHL GM probing his psyche this week, Ryan Pulock’s mind invariably drifted back to one place. The memory of his younger brother Brock.
"I’ve thought of him a lot this week. I wish he was here. My whole family does," said Grandview’s Pulock.
The 18-year-old Brandon Wheat Kings captain is predicted to be a first-round selection in Sunday’s NHL Draft and, according to TSN draft expert Bob McKenzie, owns the best shot in the draft.
Pulock spoke to the Free Press on Saturday from his hotel in Newark, N.J., surrounded by eight family members including his father Dave, mother Tannis and older brother Derrick.
Younger brother Brock was killed in a car accident in March of 2010.
"Most of my memories of Brock this week have been from our time playing minor hockey together or just fooling around at the rink. We were only a few years apart in age and we were close. We spent a lot of time together," said Pulock. "If I get to hear my name called on Sunday, I’ll turn to mom and dad first and I know all of us will be thinking about Brock."
It doesn’t take much talking to Pulock to realize whatever team drafts him will be getting a lot more than a shot that has been compared to that of Hall of Famer Al Macinnis.
"His defining trait is his shot. He’s got an elite NHL shot right now," said Brandon Wheat Kings GM and owner Kelly McCrimmon. "He makes the simple play and he passes the puck hard and on the tape. He’s a powerful guy. He’s already 214 pounds. But there are a lot of intangibles with Ryan.
"He’s from a great family. He has great commitment and does everything possible to be the best player he can be. He’s got great leadership qualities and is very respected by his teammates and shows all people respect. He’ll give himself every opportunity to be a good pro."
McCrimmon drafted Pulock and brought him to Brandon just a few short months after Brock died. He carefully watched over Pulock to make sure he was OK on the ice and emotionally.
Then in September of 2011, McCrimmon lost his own brother and long-time NHLer Brad, in an airplane crash involving the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the Kontinental Hockey League.
"March 29th is the day Brock died and it’s also Brad’s birthday," said McCrimmon. "As it turns out that day has some significance to the both of us."
"It’s an important day for both us. It’s a unique situation," he said. "We’ll both think of our brothers on that day forever. Brock has been in my family’s hearts and minds a lot this week. One hundred per cent I’ll be thinking of him (Sunday). He’ll be right along there with us as the experience unfolds."
Pulock quickly adjusted to life in the WHL scoring 42 points as a rookie to break the franchise mark for 16-year-old defencemen previously held by Wade Redden (39 points).
"I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a top pair NHL defenceman, but as a fallback he’s for sure a second pair D-man," said McCrimmon.
As for the big shot, Pulock says it’s part hard work and part genetic.
"When we went to the rink as kids I took a lot of shots. I might have inherited some of it. My dad played junior in Dauphin and they tell me he could shoot it, too," Pulock.
Any playful banter in the house over who had the better shot?
"Nope. He doesn’t bring it up. Which makes me think I have the better shot," said Pulock with a laugh.
Pulock may have a lot more fans after an NHL team and its supporters latch on to him today but he won’t forget the folks in Grandview, a town of 800 people located 45 kilometres west of Dauphin.
"The support I’ve been given from the people at home in Grandview, they’ve been great to me. I wish I could have brought them all with me," said Pulock.
While all of Grandview won’t be in the Prudential Center today when the NHL Draft gets underway, many local folks will be gathered to watch one of their favourite sons go through a moment of a lifetime.
The Grandview Kinsmen Community Centre will be full of his friends and neighbours.
"There will be more than 200 of us," said Grand Plains minor hockey volunteer Jeff Legaarden via telephone. "If you know the Pulock family, you know what great people they are. And if you know Ryan, you know what a respectful young man he is. He’s great with people of all ages. Whether it’s the two-year-old kids hanging around at the rink for the first time or their 85-year-old grandparents that are there to watch them, Ryan has time for all of them. And a way with all of them. It’s not too often that a Parkland kid has the chance to get drafted let alone go in the first round. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first or second round, it’ll be pretty wild when they call his name. We’re proud of Ryan as a community."
Pulock said he’s ready for the moment.
"I’m feeling good. Getting a little excited. This is what all kids think of when they’re skating on the rink or just dreaming about hockey," he said. "This is the first step towards playing in the NHL."
As for where he gets drafted, Pulock says it doesn’t matter but admits there would a something a little special about hearing one team call his name.
"I just want to play in the NHL one day and whatever team it may be, I’m going to be thrilled by it," said Pulock. "Being from Manitoba and playing all of my hockey in Manitoba, Winnipeg would be pretty cool. Any team will make me happy but the Jets would be special and unique for obvious reasons."
The Jets, eh? We all understand hockey is a business and they’ll have to do what is best for the team when their number comes up. Pulock is ranked a little deeper in the first round than Winnipeg’s pick at 13th.
So it’s an unlikely scenario.
But part of the package teams look for is the quality of the person. It’s not just about the best player and I can tell you this, the Jets couldn’t draft a better person.
Not this year. Not any year.