SAN JOSE — Tucker Poolman was already shaking his head in frustration with himself before the question was even fully formed. He knew where it was headed. And it's safe to say that not-so-memorable night one month ago, here in California, sticks out like a sore thumb.
If Poolman had been on a golf course, the Winnipeg Jets defenceman's minus-five stat line would have been impressive. But the fact it came in a 7-4 loss to the Anaheim Ducks made it rather painful.
His first full NHL season was never going to be without challenges, and Poolman has certainly stepped up since that game to forget.
The Jets entered Wednesday night's game against the San Jose Sharks with an 8-2-1 record since the Oct. 29 dud against the Ducks. Poolman has been the picture of poise and stability on the blue-line, forming an effective top pairing with Josh Morrissey, with five assists and a plus-two rating over the 10 games he's played in November.
"It's a long season. Every once in a while, you're going to get some bounces, some nights where you're not quite where you need to be. But you show up and be ready to work the next day. And that's been my attitude," said Poolman, 26, following the morning skate at SAP Center.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice had no doubt Poolman would quickly put that rough outing behind him.
"One (bad game) in 20 is a real good number. Everybody's going to have one," Maurice said. "His physical strength is showing. A lot of times when a young player comes in, they kind of deteriorate over time, they get worn down. He looks like the opposite — a big, powerful man, and the heavy lifting and on-ice role that he takes is actually getting stronger."
The former University of North Dakota standout was quick to single out his blue-line partner for praise.
"He's so steady and just such a good player, easy to play with in terms of his positioning and where he's at. He seems to be always be in the right place at the right time. It's been great for me," Poolman said.
Winnipeg's defence had been the picture of stability for much of November, with the same six players regularly suiting up. But an upper-body injury to Nathan Beaulieu suffered Saturday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets opened the door for Anthony Bitetto to return to the lineup Wednesday following eight straight healthy scratches.
Carl Dahlstrom, now the only extra defenceman on the roster, sat out a 12th straight game against the Sharks, but could soon get a game with Beaulieu expected to miss a few weeks, according to Maurice.
"Guys get used to each other, but it's good to play with everyone, too, because you never know when something happens, like it did last game (Morrissey left the game after blocking a shot). It goes both ways, but it was good for every guy to get used to each other a bit more and get a block of games in," Poolman said.
He praised Bitetto for keeping things entertaining in the room and on the ice during practice, even when he wasn't getting a chance to play. That was one of the big reasons the Jets signed the journeyman last summer, with his reputation as a strong character guy preceding him.
"He's got one of those personalities and attitudes that just uplifts the room, a guy that everyone wants to be around," Poolman said.
When he's not living his NHL dream, Poolman keeps a close eye on how things are going at his alma mater. The UND Fighting Hawks have a 10-1-2 record, are ranked third in the nation and led by their captain, Colton Poolman. Despite not being drafted by an NHL club, Tucker's younger brother is expected to be a highly sought-after free agent next summer as he finishes up his senior year in Grand Forks. The 23-year-old defenceman has one goal and seven assists in 13 games.
Poolman's father, Mark, is in his 23rd season as the program's athletic trainer and doubles as the team’s strength and conditioning co-ordinator. There's other local connections as well, with Jackson Keane, son of former NHLer and Manitoba Moose captain Mike Keane, also on the team, along with Jets' 2019 draft pick Harrison Blaisdell.
"I watch the games when I can, talk to Colton, talk to my dad. They're having a good start to the season. It's exciting for the whole town," Poolman said.
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