A hat trick in your first professional game. Followed by the game-winning shootout goal. In Montreal, perhaps the most hockey-centric city in the world.
It has the makings of a movie script – and Ryan Poehling owns the rights because he lived it.
Poehling, the Lakeville native who signed with the Montreal Canadiens last week, played in the team’s final regular-season game Saturday and was named No. 1 star in a 6-5 victory over Toronto. He scored his first NHL goal midway through the first period and got his second goal early in the second period. He completed his hat trick with 2 minutes, 31 seconds remaining, tying the game 5-5. Poehling also scored in the fourth round of the shootout at Bell Centre.
He was one of two Lakeville North High School hockey alumni on the ice for the Canadiens on Saturday. Charlie Lindgren earned the victory in goal. It was Lindgren’s only NHL start this season after spending most of the year with Montreal’s top minor-league affiliate in Laval, Quebec.
“I don’t even know what to say. I’m just in shock right now,” said Poehling, who became the second Montreal player to score a hat trick in his NHL debut (the other was Alex Smart in 1943).
“It felt surreal to me,” he added. “I don’t think that will ever happen again. You can’t paint a better picture.”
Poehling has experienced big emotional swings the last several weeks. Last month he helped his St. Cloud State University team earn the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Division I playoffs. But the season ended abruptly when the heavily favored Huskies lost to American International 2-1 in the regional semifinals. Several days later, Poehling signed a three-year, entry-level contract with Montreal, the team that chose him 25th overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
Had SCSU reached the NCAA Frozen Four, Poehling would have been preparing for that last week instead of making his pro debut. Montreal had been eliminated from the playoffs going into Saturday, otherwise the Canadiens might have been hesitant to use someone who would have been playing his first NHL game.
Poehling’s parents, Tim and Kris, were at Saturday’s game, as were his three brothers, Nick, Jack and Luke. Nick and Jack just finished their junior year at St. Cloud State; they skated on a line with Ryan much of the 2018-19 season, reuniting the top line from Lakeville North’s 2013-14 (Class AA runner-up) and 2014-15 (Class AA championship) teams. Luke played for the Lakeville Hockey Association’s Bantam AA North team this season.
One more year, at least
Tre Jones didn’t drag out his decision. Hours before Virginia and Texas Tech played for the national championship, Jones and Duke University announced he would return in 2019-20 to pursue a national title of his own.
Jones, who played on Apple Valley High School teams that won two state Class 4A championships, started at point guard for Duke as a true freshman, averaging 9.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.9 steals. He had a season-high 22 points in Duke’s Sweet 16 victory over Virginia Tech, but the Blue Devils’ NCAA tournament run ended with a 68-67 loss to Michigan State in the Elite Eight.
Before Jones took himself off the board, he was considered a potential late first-round pick by NBA draft analysts. Three other Duke starters are expected to declare for the draft, including Associated Press Player of the Year Zion Williamson.
Flip Saunders Legacy Award
The Flip Saunders Legacy Award, given annually to a Minnesota Timberwolves player for community service, this year went to a player that Saunders pulled some strings on draft day to obtain.
Tyus Jones, the former Apple Valley High School and Duke University player who’s in his fourth season with the Timberwolves, received the award before Sunday’s home game against Oklahoma City. Timberwolves players vote for the award winner.
Jones’ community service projects include donating technology to local schools and establishing youth basketball teams. He also helped organize an online auction of game-worn items from Timberwolves players to benefit breast health awareness initiatives. Jones’ mother, Debbie, recently was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Saunders, the former Timberwolves coach and president of basketball operations, died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in October 2015. Several months before his death, Saunders engineered a draft-day trade with Cleveland to bring Jones to Minnesota. Jones was on an NCAA championship-winning team in his one season at Duke University.
Jones is averaging 6.8 points and 4.7 assists for the Timberwolves, who finished their season Wednesday at Denver.