Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography
East Grand Forks native Colton Poolman takes on the captain’s role in his junior campaign.
Every kid dreams of playing for his hometown team. Mike Modano in Detroit, Mark Messier in Edmonton, Chris Chelios in Chicago, the list goes on. For Colton Poolman, a native of East Grand Forks, Minnesota, the University of North Dakota was his Detroit Red Wings. They were his Edmonton Oilers and his Chicago Blackhawks. So, he set out to play for the program he grew up around. Now, in his junior season, he is the Fighting Hawks team captain, a goal he has long pursued. Poolman has now captured that goal.
For a local hockey player like Poolman, the opportunity to become captain of the UND hockey team is a dream come true. “It’s a pretty humbling experience. Just to be able to grow up watching this team, to be lucky enough to get to play on this team and to be named captain is such a huge honor,” he said. “You just want to keep building tradition and do all the little things right and do what got you here in the first place.”
It may seem to be a daunting task for a junior to take on the captain’s role. Not only do you need to remain sharp on the ice, but your leadership skills must be impeccable as well. Poolman knows how important leadership is from a captain’s perspective. However, he does have his own brand of leading this Fighting Hawks team.
“I’m probably not the most vocal guy around. I guess you could say I’m more of a lead by example type of guy,” he said. “It’s just being yourself and not trying to do anything out of the ordinary. I got to this point by just being myself, so there’s no need to change anything. Just being yourself I think is the biggest.”
One has to assume Poolman was named captain thanks to his durability on the ice. To date, he has yet to miss a game in his UND career, playing in 80 straight contests. It also helps that he has been one of Brad Berry’s most valuable assets on defense in his two years. Poolman was an All-NCHC Honorable Mention last season after having 22 assists and seven goals on the year. His plus-15 rating was best on the team in 2017-18. The junior was also named to the NCHC Academic All-Conference team and was an NCHC Distinguished ScholarAthlete. The accolades continue as Poolman was a finalist for the NCHC Defensive Defenseman of the Year award and received UND’s Archie Krum Memorial Athletic Scholarship. That honor is given to the athlete that “demonstrates leadership qualities, high academic standards and athletic excellence.”
It’s easy to understand why Poolman is held in such high esteem by his teammates and coaches. In just two short years, he has become an example of what a student-athlete should be. He is successful on the ice and is even more successful in the classroom. Regardless of if he ends up playing professional hockey (which he will, no doubt), his future is set thanks to his work ethic.
The junior saw tremendous individual success in 2017-18. Now back another year stronger, and presumably better, he feels that change is not necessary for the 2018-19 grind. “It’s just doing the same things that got me to where I was last year. Playing hard in your own end leads to good offense. That’s the biggest thing, staying true to what you are and playing the good defensive role,” he said. “But also trying to expand that role and maybe add some offense every now and again too.”
Poolman paced one of the best defenses in college hockey in 2017-18. The Fighting Hawks were dominant and were one of the top penalty-killing teams in the nation last season. To sustain that level of success, Poolman says consistency is key.
“We’ve started really hot early on in the season with the penalty kill and then we kind of have dips and valleys,” he said. “I just think the biggest thing is being consistently good and staying at a high level because there have been weekends where we give up three or four power plays goals. It’s just about consistency, that’s the main thing we want to get into our game there.”
Colton Poolman’s Path To UND And Beyond
- 2014: Graduated from East Grand Forks High School. Led the Green Wave to a state championship in his senior season
- 2014-15: Played for the USHL’s Fargo Force
- 2015-16: Played for BCHL’s Penticton Vees. Had three goals and 37 assists in 57 games
- 2016-17: Freshman season at UND. Had 12 points and 10 assists with a plus-5 rating by season’s end
- 2017-18: Sophomore season at UND. Finished the season with 29 points (seven goals and 22 assists)
A product of those “dips and valleys” Poolman speaks of is the team’s struggles in the nonconference schedule. As November rolls on and the calendar turns to 2019, Poolman knows better than anyone how important early season hockey is. He looks to the ties of last year and how those were detrimental to the team’s postseason hopes.
“It’s just awareness for everybody. I don’t think we were too aware of how these ties would affect us early. I mean, a tie in November, you don’t think about it too much, but in March, you need those points,” he said. “It’s just that awareness and knowing that every game is a big deal. That’s what we need to start instilling in our younger guys and get them up to speed and say ‘hey, we need this game in November, we can’t afford this tie’. It kind of bit us in the end last year.”
Poolman and the Fighting Hawks have done their best to avoid those outcomes early in the season. With four shots on goal in the team’s 3-2 overtime win over Manitoba, he flashed some of what he is capable of offensively. It is worth noting that North Dakota had a team total of 55 shots on goal, a staggering amount, regardless of opponent.
Throughout the opening weekend, Poolman was able to put three shots on goal against Bemidji State.
While he finished the first weekend with a combined minus-2 rating, the Fighting Hawks were able to tie their home opener against the Beavers. Poolman put four shots on goal in two games against MSU Mankato. While he was unable to finish any of those attempts, UND did win one game out of the series. That was their first win of the regular season.
Colton Poolman will go on to play in the NHL in some capacity. Where he plays or how he plays at that level is yet to be seen. What is not in question is his leadership ability at the University of North Dakota. This has driven him to successes on the ice and in the classroom. The end result is him being made the captain of the Fighting Hawks hockey team, his hometown team. Now, he has the potential to become even more of a hometown hero for the Grand Forks area.