If things had worked out differently, Ryan Poehling wouldn’t have been in Montreal on Saturday night. Instead, he would’ve been in Minnesota, preparing with his St. Cloud State teammates for what they hoped and expected would be a trip to the NCAA Frozen Four as the nation’s top-ranked team.
That, of course, didn’t happen because American International stunned the Huskies 2-1 on March 29 in the West Regional first round in Fargo. St. Cloud State was out, in what Poehling’s teammate and captain Jimmy Schuldt called, “that terrible finish that ripped your heart out.’’
Consolation prizes, however, sometimes can be pretty good, and that’s what Poehling, a former Lakeville North star, learned Saturday.
Making his NHL debut less than a week after deciding to forgo his senior season and signing with Montreal, Poehling had a hat trick that included the tying goal with 2:31 left in the third period, then punctuated his “tour du chapeau’’ with the winning shootout goal in the Canadiens’ 6-5 triumph over the rival Toronto Maple Leafs.
“It feels like a dream. I don’t even know what to say,’’ Poehling said in the postgame news conference. “I’m just in shock right now.’’
With his parents, Tim and Kris, and brothers, Jack, Nick and Luke, in attendance at Bell Centre, Poehling scored his three goals in differing fashion. The 2017 first-round draft pick crashed the net for the first one that he called “greasy,’’ pushing the puck past Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen to cut Toronto’s lead to 2-1 at 11:41 of the first period. Poehling’s second goal came off a rebound of a Jeff Petry shot at 2:56 of the second, tying the score 2-2. The hats flew after he knotted it 5-5 at 17:29 of the third off a rush.
In the fourth round of the shootout, Poehling skated in slowly before picking his spot and beating Andersen. When Canadiens goalie Charlie Lindgren – also a former Lakeville North and St. Cloud State standout – stopped Toronto’s Kasperi Kapanen, Montreal had the win in the season finale.
“As it went on, it felt more and more real,’’ said Poehling, who joined Alex Smart in 1943 as the only Canadiens to debut with a hat trick. Poehling’s goals were his only shots of the game, and he played 11:22. He also won four of his seven faceoffs.
Poehling was named the game’s No. 1 star, which earned him a big salute by the Bell Center crowd.
“That was probably one of the more special moments of my life so far,’’ he said. “You kind of get the feeling of the Bell Centre right away.’’
Poehling wasn’t the only former St. Cloud State player to make his NHL debut Saturday. In Los Angeles, Schuldt had an assist and played 21:03 in the Vegas Golden Knights’ 5-2 loss to the Kings. Center Blake Lizotte played 11:12 and won four of eight faceoffs for Los Angeles.