When a goaltender has the game Mike Poulin had last Friday, you know he has to be the subject of your next Film Room. And with the Georgia Swarm enjoying a bye week after a perfect March, you know the Film Room has to be extra special.
Fortunately, Poulin took the time out of his busy schedule to go over a few big saves during the game and offer insight on the action. The man embodies all of the good characteristics of the Swarm and spent more time talking about what his teammates did to help him have a big night than what he did well against the Rock. Re-watching the game definitely reinforces how on point the Kitchener, Ontario goalie was, but it also gives a new appreciation for the work that his teammates did to shut down lanes, soak some shots, and force bad passes.
Their teamwork is the subject of this Film Room. We’ll break down a few key moments with insight from the man of the hour himself on what the Swarm D did right throughout Friday night.
STOPPING FAST BREAKS
In the second quarter, Latrell Harris of the Rock was streaking up the left side of the floor towards goal. Rock and Swarm players had filled up the right side, but Harris found himself alone. A pass to Tom Schreiber was returned, and Harris made his shot on goal. Poulin played it perfectly and reflected the shot.
“Our D played it perfect,” Poulin said. “Harris was on his wrong side of the floor. They had two O guys out, and we had two D guys back, so our priority needs to be the O guys. They tend to be the better scorers. So our D guys played it perfectly…”
“Our D was in a position where we were fine and set to play the next 30 seconds, no harm against,” he continued. “In any sort of transition, 3-on-2, 2-on-1, you want to try and get your guys in a position where either the guy is a defensive guy or a guy on his wrong side of the floor is shooting. So credit to (Jordan) MacIntosh and (Jason) Noble. Good guys to have back there. They played it perfectly.”
The Swarm held the Rock to just one power play goal on five opportunities, including a 5-min. major. Set defenses adjust to the penalty kill by transitioning from the normal pentagram to a penalty-killing square.
In the third quarter, the Swarm were just up by four goals and found themselves man-down early. The Rock were moving the ball around in the second minute of their man-advantage, trying to create enough separation in the square to get the ball to – and potentially past – Poulin.
“They have three really good outside shooters up top in (Rob) Hellyer, Johnny Powless and (Tom) Schreiber,” Poulin noted. “As a goalie, you ask your D guys to be a little more active up top. There’s not one guy we can pick who that’s who we want shooting. Our D guys were very active, and that allows me to take a step outside. Our crease guys are locked on to their guys, so it’s a 3-on-2 up top.”
Stepping out closes off more of the net from Powless, and his shot goes high. The ball finds itself in Schreiber’s stick on the other side of the floor, and with the shot clock nearly extinguished, he gets a shot off. Poulin stops it, but once again, the Swarm defense helps him greatly.
“Schreiber takes a really good shortside shot that split Connor’s (Sellars) hip, and I got a leg on it,” Poulin said. “I actually – you can’t really tell by my reaction – I thought the ball went in. It hit me; I thought it hit me and went in. That was one of those great benefits of positioning because Connor took enough of his space away that he doesn’t have a lot of net to shoot at, and I happened to be in the right spot.”
SHUTTING DOWN AN ARTIST
The fourth quarter was winding down with the Swarm up by nine goals. The Rock refused to go away and continue to pepper Poulin with shots, 17 of them in fact.
One of them came at the hands of Powless, the former Swarm player. Powless had already scored a nifty goal in the second quarter, a tight shot in the middle of the defense right by the crease. In the fourth quarter, he tried a pick and roll off of MacIntosh, but Poulin knocked the shot away.
“This play, it’s a lot of the effort that Jordan MacIntosh put into it, because Johnny Powless, he’s like an artist with those types of situations in front of the net, being able to throw in lots of good fakes, dip and dunks and score over the top of goalies,” Poulin explained. “Jordan did a great stick check while he’s trying to catch the ball and pushing him away from the net so that Johnny has to basically get a quick shot off.”
BIG TEAM GUY
If you’ve ever seen a Swarm win and pay attention to what Poulin does after every win, you may have noticed a common sight: John Ranagan giving Poulin a bear hug.
“He’s the best hugger,” Poulin said about Ranagan. “I figured that out my first game with the Georgia Swarm when we beat Saskatchewan three years ago. He happened to be the first guy to come up and run to me and gave me the biggest hug I think I’ve ever had. I learned pretty quick that he’s not one to mess with in a hugging match. It really just took off after that. He’s always the first guy there, even if he’s on the bench when the buzzer goes. He hustles right out there and gives a massive hug. It’s almost become our thing now.
“With about two minutes left in the game, it was a little fun between John and me. When you’re up by eight or nine, you can say, ‘Hey, you better make sure you’re on the floor when that buzzer goes off.’ It definitely was something on top of mind for both of us. It’s become pretty cool.”
Poulin continued, “John is one of the best teammates I’ve ever had, and it’s easy to say; anyone’s a great teammate, but anyone who meets John Ranagan just knows he’s a great person. His character and the things that he brings into our room, it’s a massive part of our team’s success, because everyone sees his energy and sees how much he enjoys winning, and it becomes contagious. Everybody wants to be a part of it. This hug thing has taken off, but it’s that way for everyone now.”
“Everyone” is key for the Swarm’s successes. Last Friday was one of the most complete games in team history, and Poulin knows all the effort that his teammates put into those 60 minutes are why he had the best game of his career. Smart plays to stifle opposing transition, activeness when on the penalty kill, perfect positioning, a little extra effort on a stick check, great postgame celebratory hugs; the little things added up into a huge win for the men in blue and yellow, helping them take another season series against a division opponent.
“When it comes to playoff time, being able to get down to Georgia and play in front of our fans – the crowds we’ve been having lately have been fantastic – my first thought was we’re putting ourselves again in a great position for playoffs,” Poulin concluded. “Seeing how many people were still at this game, it was one of our best crowds of the year, and you could see the crowd was still fired up. We had won by nine goals, and everyone stuck around to watch. It was really cool.
“What the Arlottas are doing here, it’s exciting to be a part of. I love winning. I love preseason games, regular season games, playoffs and championships. When you get to do it at home in front of great crowds, it’s an extra-special feeling.”
No final breakdowns, but Poulin did have a great final nugget about his game that was too good not to share. He had just arrived at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and discovered something unfortunate when gathering his luggage.
“When I got to Georgia, my shaft was bent in half. So the next morning, I had to get a new stick, and I accidentally taped it up about an inch or two shorter than normal. So I was holding my stick lower, and at first, I thought, ‘This is the weirdest thing ever, and I don’t like it.’
“But as practice went on and it turned into the game, I found I played actually a lot better. I wish I’d done that 14 years ago.”
Better late than never.