Flames’ prospect Poolman torn as older brother battles future teammates

EDMONTON — Colton Poolman can’t lose.

Or can’t win.

Or maybe it’s both.

For the past few seasons, Poolman has been a supporter of the Winnipeg Jets. Makes sense — his brother, Tucker, patrols the blue-line for the Winnipeggers.

Except that Colton, after completing his senior season as captain of the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks, inked an entry-level contract with the Calgary Flames. He hasn’t met the boys yet, but these are his future teammates.

And, it just so happens, the Flames are facing the Jets in a won-or-done qualification series as part of the NHL’s summer restart.

“It’s going to be … weird,” Colton admitted in the build-up to Saturday’s Game 1 between his brother and soon-to-be buds. “It’s definitely a different situation, the whole win-lose sorta thing. You have your brother on one side, and obviously you want him to do well. But you’ve signed with a team and you want them to go far and make a good push. So it’s really hard to know who to cheer for at the moment.

“I would guess my family, because Tucker is playing, they’d maybe lean toward his side. I watched (Wednesday’s exhibition against the Vancouver Canucks) and he scored a goal, so that was very cool. They were excited about that. But I don’t know what’s going to happen on Saturday.

“It’ll be a lot of fun, obviously, but it’s going to be a little stressful, just having a foot in each camp … It would be good for both teams to win, I guess. I don’t know how else to put it.”

Oct 26, 2019; Regina, Saskatchewan, CAN; Calgary Flames forward Tobias Rieder (16) skates through Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey (44) and defenseman Tucker Poolman (3) during the first period of the 2019 Heritage Classic outdoor hockey game at Mosaic Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-405162

Anne-Marie Sorvin / USA TODAY Sports

At home in Grand Forks, N.D., Colton Poolman was planning to watch Saturday’s late date between the Flames and Jets with family and perhaps a few close friends.

The 24-year-old defenceman just finished a biology/pre-health sciences degree, but these summer showdowns will serve as a sort of continuing education.

He will, of course, be keeping tabs on Tucker, who wears No. 3 on his back and skates on the Jets’ third pairing. But the Flames’ college free-agent signing — it’s a one-year, two-way deal for the 2020-21 season — will also be studying the likes of Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie.

“I watch my brother’s game whenever I get a chance and just notice the little things he does and things I want to implement in my own game,” said Colton, who notched four goals and 13 assists in 31 outings in his final NCAA campaign but is more heralded for his handiwork in his own zone. “And it’s not even just my brother, but just watching different NHLers and seeing how they operate during the games and the type of style they’re trying to bring and what they can and can’t do, you want to just be a student and learn what you can.

“And this, the summertime, is kind of the time to have fun with things, try new things and see if you can’t implement them in the winter. So it’s cool to get this sort of hockey in the summer because you’re seeing it live and then you go try it out. And it’s also cool to have a brother right there, so it’s kind of close to home.”

These blue-line brothers — both right-handed shots — stayed close to home to star at the University of North Dakota, where their father Mark is a football alum and the longtime athletic trainer/strength and conditioning coach for the men’s hockey program.

Tucker, who has two-and-a-half years and one inch on his younger sibling, was a fifth-round selection in the 2013 NHL Draft.

The Jets were willing to turn him pro after two collegiate seasons, but he wanted to stick around for one more. After all, Colton was just arriving on campus.

Calgary Flames Ryan Lomberg battles against Tucker Poolman of the Winnipeg Jets during NHL pre-season hockey at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Monday, September 24, 2018. Al Charest/Postmedia

Al Charest/Postmedia

“He was definitely the big guy and I was the freshman out of junior,” Colton recalled. “He has some really good offensive capabilities. He has a really good shot. That’s something I want to improve on. I think he kind of sets himself apart with a really good one-timer and shot, and that’s something I want to get towards.

“But I think we’re both pretty defensively strong and very simple in how we play. He’s got me in the height and weight, for sure, but I think I play a competitive style just like he does. So I think we’re kind of similar in that respect.

“He is definitely someone that I try to model my game after. He has some offensive stuff that I have to work on, but defensively I think we’re very tight, and that’s something I try to pride myself on.”

Colton, listed at 6-foot-1 and 198 lb., is already several months into his off-season training and although he wishes he could have headed straight to Calgary after scribbling his name on that contract, he’ll still be waiting quite some time for a first opportunity to impress his new employers.

Both the NHL and American Hockey League are currently targeting early December for the start of the 2020-21 schedule.

Colton will likely need some minor-league seasoning, but he is motivated to join Tucker, now 27, on the big stage. Perhaps, if there’s a future playoff series between the Flames and Jets, the Poolman family will really be divided.

“Having him kind of pave the way … He’s the guy that made it first and I give him so much credit and respect how hard that he works,” Colton said of his older brother. “It’s a good thing for me to try to hold onto and say, ‘Yeah, he did it,’ and I’m going to try to make the most of my opportunity and hopefully try to see what I can do to make that dream come true for myself.

“Obviously, there is plenty of work to be done, but I’m very lucky and it’s a great opportunity to have a brother who has went through it all and is currently playing. I can bounce questions off him or have an out, have a talk with him. He gets it. He knows.”

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