When Tucker Poolman graduated from East Grand Forks High School with no college scholarship offers and no interest from junior hockey teams, he decided to hit the road.
During the summer of 2011, Poolman spent many long hours in the car – driving around and attending tryout camps. From a USHL team to a handful of Tier II NAHL tryouts, each ended with a familiar “no.”
Just when Poolman was ready to hang up his skates, a trip to Wichita Falls, Texas shed light on his future. The NAHL’s Wichita Falls Wildcats brought him aboard.
The Omaha Lancers selected Poolman in the USHL draft the following summer, which paved the way for his Division I college hockey career at the University of North Dakota, which he began as a 21-year-old freshman.
During the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, the Winnipeg Jets selected 20-year-old Poolman in the fifth round – news he received as he watched his name scroll across the bottom of a TV screen. And last year, he made his NHL debut with the Jets, and scored his first NHL goal.
What was once just a pipedream has become a reality for Poolman, who knows perseverance and determination were vital for his success. We caught up with the NHL defenseman, who offered tryout tips for youth hockey players.
Minnesota Hockey: Any tips for young kids who might be nervous for a tryout?
Tucker Poolman: My whole thing I tried to do when I was younger is whatever I thought was my best trait, or whatever I thought I was best at doing, I tried to make sure I showed that when I tried out for teams. I just tried not to get too worked up or psyched out about a tryout. Just show up and do the best you can.
Editor’s note: Air Force head coach Frank Serratore agrees, and he offers six other tips for kids preparing and going through the tryout process.
Minnesota Hockey: Your parents often drove you to tryouts. How important was their support and what were they like through the ups and downs?
Poolman: It was definitely comforting. My parents weren’t too gung-ho about whether I would make it or not. They just wanted me to go work hard and have fun. They had kind of a carefree attitude, which was nice for me when I was a kid.
Minnesota Hockey: Any advice for parents during their child’s tryout?
Poolman: Most kids will already put a little pressure on themselves, or be thinking about it. Maybe they don’t show it a lot, but I guess just growing up the way I did, it was nice that my parents never pushed me or put too much pressure on me.
Minnesota Hockey: How do you take that pressure off yourself—especially during the tough moments?
Poolman: There were definitely some tough moments, and usually you’re out there on your own. So you’ve just got to try to be confident and believe in yourself and not be too timid out there.
Minnesota Hockey: What are some qualities youth hockey coaches are looking for in tryouts?
Poolman: I think they probably look at how hard those kids are working – the coachability type of thing. They look for kids who are listening and working hard and trying to improve on what the coach is telling them to do.
Minnesota Hockey: Not everyone makes the A team. What are some benefits of playing B or in-house hockey?
Poolman: Obviously less travel, which is nice. I’ve always just had so much fun playing hockey. It never felt like a chore to me. I don’t know if that’s just how it was for me or how it is for most people. I just enjoy the game a lot. It’s never felt like a chore to me. It’s always felt like a passion.
Editor’s note: Late-bloomers are common in hockey. And “missing the cut” can be a blessing in disguise for players who regroup with a positive attitude. As the Executive Director of College Hockey Inc. Mike Snee notes, there’s no reason to panic:
“This is the constant battle in youth athletics today – early measurement of where a player is at relative to their peers. They’re drawing too many conclusions too quickly,” Snee said. “… Play where you’re going to be on the ice. What those coaches are stressing is more ice time in key situations is better for development rather than seeing minimal ice time or sitting in the press box.”
Minnesota Hockey: When you were cut during some of those junior team tryouts, what did you learn from those experiences and how did you pick up the pieces and move on?
Poolman: I tried to analyze myself and focus on what I was doing well, in addition to things I could improve on at that point. Usually, one of my parents would be there, or even my brother was there once. I thought it was important to just get their two cents on what they thought. It was difficult, but you’ve just got to try.
Editor’s note: One of the most valuable mental skills athletics can help kids develop is learning to focus on what they can control. So regardless of what the results of tryouts bring for your child, it’s important to guide them towards focusing on what comes next.