LAKEVILLE, Minn. — People are finding different ways to pass the time with social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz allowed golf courses to open in the state on April 18. That allowed Ryan Poehling and some of his friends and relatives to head to Legends Club golf course in Prior Lake.
And Poehling nearly picked up a hole-in-one last week. The near ace left him with a bone to pick with the governor.
"With this quarantine stuff, you can't touch the flag sticks, you have to have your own cart, so we had four carts for four people," he said. "They have pool noodles in the holes, so the (golf) balls can't go all the way in the hole, so it's easier to grab the flag.
"So hole 17 is a par-3 and I hit a ball and it landed 3 feet in front of the pin and it rolled, it went into the cup, but it hit the pool noodle and bounced out. It was like 3 inches behind the hole. So that pool noodle took away a hole-in-one from me."
Poehling said he got his only hole-in-one when he was 8 years old, so he wasn't pleased to have his rare shot denied.
"I went into the clubhouse and I was yelling at the guys I know real well, since I was 10 years old," he said, laughing. "I was joking around with them and saying that I may have to send Gov. Walz an email about this."
Poehling, a former St. Cloud State All-American and Lakeville North (Minn.) High School star hockey forward is back living at home while he waits for what his next move will be in his pro career. A first-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens (25th overall, 2017 NHL Entry Draft), Poehlings has split his rookie season between the NHL and the Laval Rocket of the American Hockey League.
Both leagues suspended play on March 12, but Poehling had missed time before that because of an injury that he is finishing rehabilitation on.
"I got sent down the AHL about three weeks before and then I got hurt probably two weeks later," he said. "There was a game where I got hit awkwardly and my shoulder kind of moved around. I didn't think much of it and then it happened the next two games and I went and got a CAT scan and that's when I found out
"I tore my labrum, but it wasn't big enough (a tear) to have surgery. So I've just been rehabbing it ever since and it feels good now, which is good."
That was not the lone physical problem that the 21-year-old forward experienced during the season. Poehling suffered another injury right before the beginning of the NHL season in an exhibition game.
"I got a concussion in the second-to-last exhibition (game) and that kind of sucked because I was playing real well," he said. "It took me 10 days to come back.
"I've never had one of those before, so it's a scary injury to have. Just glad that I'm OK now from it."
At the beginning of the 2019-20 season, Poehling was listed at 6-foot-2 and 204 pounds. But one of the adjustments to pro hockey was the size of the pro players.
"There's a lot of strong, big, old men out there and you definitely have to prepare for that," he said. "Lucky for me, I've got a flexible body. I can take a few more hits than most."
It was not a hit, but his second-to-last game at St. Cloud State, Poehling's head went into the boards after he lost an edge during a game against Colorado College in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff. Poehling said that, while he missed the championship game of that tournament, the concussion symptoms were not as bad.
"That was minor to the point where they didn't have to count one, so that was more of a neck injury," he said.
Poehling rebounded and played in the NCAA Division I playoffs one week later.
After St. Cloud State was upset by American International College, Poehling signed a three-year, entry level contract with the Canadiens. He then made a memorable NHL debut, picking up a hat trick on April 6, 2019, in a home game with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Among the three goals was the game-tying goal late in the third period and then the game-winning goal in the shootout.
"I'm still grateful for that, such a great thing that happened," he said. "It shows what hard work and going after you want to achieve a goal ... how rewarding it is. I don't know why or how it happened."
Besides the physical challenges that Poehling faced during the season, there were other adjustments that he had to make as a pro. Poehling played college hockey after graduating early from high school and playing just nine games of junior hockey. The most games he played in a season in college was 36.
Even with the injuries, Poehling has played 27 games in the NHL and 36 games in the AHL this season.
"It was definitely different than what I expected, but I think it'll be good for me in the long run," said Poehling, who has six goals and 15 points in his two stops this season. "You go through so much adversity as a player that, hopefully, I can take this as a learning experience and kind of build from that."
He also has had to learn a new position, particularly when he was playing in the NHL.
"After I got called up, we were so deep at center that I ended up playing wing for probably 20 of the (NHL) games," said Poehling, who was a teammate of former Huskies goalie Charlie Lindgren in both pro stops. "It was hard at first because, most of the guys who play center end up playing some wing throughout youth ages and even in college. That wasn't the case for me.
"You've got to focus more on those little board battles (at wing). If you're a center, you're like a third defenseman. When you're a wing in the defensive zone, you have to worry about the defenseman in your area. Then there's breaking the puck out and finding the soft spots, where you need to be and sheltering yourself to make plays. I improved a lot and it was good to prove that I can play both center and wing."
While there was a lot of learning during Poehling's first pro season, he said he was also able to follow his twin brothers, Jack and Nick, and the Huskies a fair amount during the season.
"When I played in the AHL, we had some home games at 3 on Saturday and, after that, I could always watch St. Cloud games at 5," he said. "As the season went on, they kept getting better and better. It was kind of fun watching that process and seeing them grow as a team."
Jack and Nick, who were senior alternate captains for the Huskies, are free agents. But like most college free agents, the pair have not signed pro deals yet. Ryan said that his brothers are finishing classes online and golfing with him.