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BioSteel game the latest accolade as Eric Pohlkamp continues to thrive in second USHL season

Eric Pohlkamp has flown under the radar the last few years. But after a strong start to the season, the Bemidji State commit continues to emerge as a draft prospect

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Eric Pohlkamp recorded an assist and impressed defensively during the BioSteel All-American Game on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023 in Plymouth, Mich.
Jordan McAlpine / The Rink Live

PLYMOUTH, Mich. — Eric Pohlkamp has always played with a chip on his shoulder. It’s something that’s followed him both on and off the ice.

The Baxter, Minn., native embraces the fact he hasn’t exactly been a blue-chip prospect on NHL draft rankings. If anything, it’s fueled him to keep working and continue playing his same style.

“I was never really well-known growing up or labeled as one of the top guys the last few years. But now after getting invited to this type of stuff I just really want to make the most of these opportunities and I think guys are starting to know who I am now,” Pohlkamp told The Rink Live Monday morning.

“I honestly feel like I’ve always played with a little bit of an edge and I just like to remember that at these events.”

Vermont commit Alex Bump of Prior Lake scored the game-winner and Andover native Garrett Schifsky added a pair of goals to pace Team USA to a 5-2 win over Canada East in Cornwall, Ontario.

‘This type of stuff’ refers to the BioSteel All-American Game — the latest accolade of Pohlkamp’s second USHL season. Just over a month ago, Pohlkamp represented Team USA at the World Junior A Challenge.

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A late addition to the roster, his father, Joe, drove over 400 miles to Cedar Rapids to deliver his passport. Eric responded by scoring five goals and added two assists in his four games. Team USA won its first title since 2018 at the event.

The Bemidji State commit was named to the World Junior A Challenge All-Star Team and has certainly caught the attention of those at USA Hockey and around the USHL.

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Eric Pohlkamp had 18 points in 61 games last season with Cedar Rapids. He already has 31 through 28 games this season.
Andy Scanlon / Photo courtesy of the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders

Pohlkamp’s emphasized the defensive part of his game and knows he may fly under the radar to some because of it. At the same time, there’s a reason he was invited to both events.

The 5-foot-11, right-shot defenseman has done everything but fly under the radar on the ice this season.

Pohlkamp currently leads USHL defenseman in points (31) and goals (11). He’s also blossomed into quite the power-play weapon where he’s racked up 17 of his 31 points. Cedar Rapids power play is currently third in the USHL at 27.5%.

Unranked coming into this season, Central Scouting had Pohlkamp at No. 127 amongst North American skaters in its midterm rankings. It’s a list he could certainly continue climbing in the coming months too.

“I think his potential is very high because he works so hard,” said Cedar Rapids head coach Mark Carlson. “He’ll continue to work on his skating, he’ll continue to improve his body and even though he’s got the tools to be successful, the work ethic is the big thing with Eric.

“He’s a guy that you’re going to see continue growing and I don’t think you can say that about a lot of guys.”

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“After last season I really saw how fast this league is and the importance of speed going forward,” Pohlkamp added. “I want to get quicker every single year and become the best defender I can. I think my defense can still use a little bit of work but it’s an area I’ve really focused on this season and I think the offense has followed that.”

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Eric Pohlkamp pictured as a 5-year-old. He's now one of the USHL's top defensive prospects. “Eric’s a very physical player," Joe Pohlkamp said. "He's got a hard shot and he's willing to out-compete anyone."
Photo courtesy of the Pohlkamp family.

However, getting to this point didn’t happen overnight. One of six kids, Pohlkamp watched his two older brothers, Chris and Matt, both go through the USHL and play at Bowling Green. He’s learned a lot from both, especially now as he finds himself following a similar path.

Pohlkamp started skating with them on the outdoor rink, typical of most Minnesota kids at a young age. He laughs about it now, but his parents, Mary and Joe, initially wanted him to try his hand on the hardwood.

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The 17-year-old forward is a top prospect for the 2023 NHL Draft, but his journey to get to this point was filled with people who impacted him in his life and game.

“We went to sign him up for basketball in the fall but it didn’t start until January. Eric was 4 at the time and said he wanted to play hockey, and the rest is history,” Joe Pohlkamp said. “It’s been a blast seeing him have the success he has and we know how hard he’s worked over the years. We couldn’t be happier for him.”

And the Pohlkamp family will get the chance to see a lot of Eric over the next few years. Baxter sits roughly 100 miles from Bemidji.

“I think Bemidji State just fits me and there’s something about. Bemidji just perfectly fits my personality,” Pohlkamp said. “I’ve been talking to them for a really long time and they were my first offer. I really like the coaches there, it’s close to home and it’s a really good fit.”

But there’s still a lot of hockey left before he heads back closer to home.

Pohlkamp left Brainerd High School after three years to join the RoughRiders. The decision was a tough one, especially as he left his friends and family behind. But Pohlkamp added he felt it was the “right decision” and playing in the USHL would benefit his game.

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So far that move looks to be paying off.

“He’s done everything you’d like to see from a second-year junior player,” Carlson said. “He’s worked really hard in the weight room, he’s grown and matured as a person and his game has taken off at both ends of the ice.

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“He might not have been the flashiest person out there but he knocked down a couple guys and physicality is still a big part of the game. And you can see he understands the importance of being tough to play against,” Mark Carlson said of Pohlkamp’s performance at the BioSteel All-American Game.
Jordan McAlpine / The Rink Live

“He’s added more offense to his game this season. But he’s also done a great job of paying attention to all of the defensive details and has turned into a good two-way defenseman. He’s an exciting player to watch and an exciting prospect.”

As for Pohlkamp individually, his immediate goal is to make a second-half push and bring a playoff run to Cedar Rapids.

At the same time, his focus remains the same. Get better every time he steps on the ice.

“I think I’ve just become a more confident player this season and really understand the preparation and everything else that goes into becoming the best player you can be every single night,” Pohlkamp said. “So I think if I just continue to work and I’m consistent and steady every night, my game will continue to take off.”

Jordan McAlpine is a junior and prospects reporter for The Rink Live.
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