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Q&A: Goalie Mike Poulin

Poulin ready to block a shot during the preseason game against the Knighthawks. Photo Credit: Micheline Veluvolu

Mike Poulin #30. Photo Credit Graig Abel.

The Georgia Swarm started their 2016 offseason with a bang, signing veteran goalie Mike Poulin, 31, to a three-year contract on the very first day of free agency. One of the most respected goalies in the sport, Poulin spent the past six-and-a-half seasons with the Calgary Roughnecks, a perennial playoff contender. He won Goaltender of the Year in 2012 and set a team record with the Roughnecks for most minutes played with 5,311:00. Poulin has been adamant that he signed with the team he believes has the best chance at taking home the Champion’s Cup, a statement he reiterated during an interview with GeorgiaSwarm.com

Q:  How was training camp?

A: It was good. I think we came a long way in a short amount of time. We were getting ready for an exhibition game against Toronto (Rock) and then the next week an early one against Rochester (Knighthawks). They were a bit of an eye-opener seeing as we didn’t play very well against either team. Neither of them had close to their game one lineups playing. We realized early that we had a long way to go, and I think we came together. We’ll be a much different, better team for it.

Q: What do you attribute to those early struggles?

A: I think we just had to see it firsthand the way we need to play to be successful. Against Rochester, it was a tale of two halves. We spent the first half kind of relying on talent and not being a hard-working, young, fast-running team, and we got our butts kicked. It was 14-5 after the first half, and we saw exactly how we shouldn’t be playing. We went out in the second half and tried to dictate the pace. We ran a lot more, made their offense work harder, and came out in much better shape. We won the second half 10-3. Obviously still losing the game, but it showed us we’re not a team that’s just going to show up and win. We’re a team that needs to work hard, be gritty, and force the other team to play the game that we want to play. When we do that, we can have success. The lessons we learned are exactly what a lot of people see coming into this league as a young team – success is earned, not given, and we had to see it firsthand. That unfortunately took losing a couple games, but they should serve us better in the long run.

Q: What impressed you the most during the camp?

A: I think for the amount of new faces we brought into this group, how well everybody gelled together. And I think that’s an attribute to the group that (Swarm Owner and General Manager) John Arlotta and (Head Coach) Eddie Comeau have put together and hand-picked for a specific reason. We brought in athletes, but we also brought in good character people. Everybody came in with no egos and all of our cards on the table, understanding this is what we want to do. There’s a massive mountain in front of us being the entire season and, more specifically, Saskatchewan (Rush) come game one. I think everybody realized we’ve got a good group here, a good opportunity. If we do the right things, we can see a lot of success.

Q: You signed with the Swarm on the first day of free agency, a three-year deal with the team. What helped make up your mind so quick?

A: Free agency is interesting. You never know who’s interested or who’s going to call. I didn’t know what my options were coming into this season … Georgia reached out to me in such a passionate way – I met with them day one of free agency. They basically put their cards on the table, and they were very interested in bringing me in. So when one of my options reaches out so passionately, it just really connected for me that this is a team that wants me and I want to be there as well.

One part of it is really being wanted and wanting to go there, but the other part is also the group that’s already there. I’m 31 and coming into my 12th season. I haven’t won an NLL championship yet, so that’s very important to me. Before I do eventually hang it all up one day, I want to go out and be a champion. I think the team to do that is in Georgia. I think we have a great opportunity in front of us with some good players we’ve brought in and some assets that we have in terms of picks and injured players coming back.

Q: How does this team compare to the other championship-caliber teams you’ve been a part of?

A: I was very fortunate in Calgary. We were always a playoff team. A few years we went in to playoffs No. 1 ranked. I know what it takes to be a good team … Every team says they’re close. Everybody says “We’re a band of brothers” or “We love these guys.” You really have to differentiate and separate yourselves from just being a close group. I think what’s great about this team is we have an identity. We are a talented, fast, hard-working team. People call us young, but I think there’s a lot of experience and a lot of champions on this team, guys that have won college championships, junior championships, major lacrosse championships. There’s a lot of positives in this group.

What is kind of a constant with championship-winning teams is knowing how to win in those tight games. I’m really excited to see what this group brings. I know part of my goal in coming here is being the guy who can make that one extra save in a one-goal game that helps lead us to more wins and puts us in better positioning in the playoffs. I think it’s going to be a fun time to see how we stack up to the back-to-back champions, Saskatchewan Rush, in game one and see what we can do the rest of the way.

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Q: What was it like playing against the Swarm last year?

A: I’ve always had my hands full with Georgia. As a goalie, you just know a certain offense in transition scores a lot of goals, and the Swarm has had my number. I knew going into our first game against them how talented a group they are, but to see it first hand, to see them swing the ball left to right and as a goalie have to jump side-to-side and be active like that, you know you’re in for a long night. Part of wanting to come here was also not having to face this Swarm offense again. I’m extremely excited about that and just happy to be on this side now, because they made my workload extra hard last year.

Q: You mentioned earlier that you are going into your 12th season, and you have been one of the top goaltenders for a really long time now. What do you attribute to your continued success as one of the top defenders in the league?

A: I’ve been very lucky in my 11 years in this league to be around other great goalies. I originally came into this league as a third-string goalie behind Steve Dietrich; I spent two years behind – in my eyes – the greatest goalie of all time, Bob Watson; and then I spent a year with Anthony Cosmo, who’s a legend in his own right. I’ve been very lucky to be around great goaltenders. I didn’t waste those opportunities. I was always trying to learn, see what other guys were doing.

Steve Dietrich is a student of this game. He studies players and tendencies. He lives and breathes lacrosse. Bob Watson is the kind of guy who doesn’t let a bad goal rattle him. He had this mentality of “What can you do with that one?” He’d shake it off and move on better than anybody I’ve ever seen. A lot of people say Bob wasn’t the best goalie ever, but he was the best big game goalie ever. He won championships and was just always accountable in playoff games. So I took those two things from Steve and Bob. In terms of Anthony, I was always told we play a similar style, being taller, skinnier guys who move well. I’ve been very fortunate to be around goalies who I can learn a lot from, and I’ve been taking it all in for 12 years.

Even to this day, I try and learn from everybody I’m around, whether it be a player or a coach, and even goalies like Frank Scigliano who I played with in Calgary and Brodie (MacDonald) in Georgia here who physically aren’t anything like me – they’re both big, solid guys. I’m still trying to learn things that they do. They drop down or attack or even throw the ball certain ways. I’m always trying to be a sponge and take in everything that I can. I hope that’s why I’ve been able to stick around in this league for so long.

Q: With you and the other vet players that the team has in addition to new assistant coach Dan Ladouceur, there is a ton of playoff experience for such a young team. What are you guys trying to tell everybody else who have not been there yet?

A: The NLL playoffs used to be a different beast. Going in to the one game series, I know personally speaking you’d lose sleep over it because anything could happen in a one game. Like I said earlier, I’ve gone into playoffs on a No. 1 ranked team who should’ve won it all. Those years still bother me, 2012 and 2010 in Calgary. We let them slip away. And now the way the league has changed, you really have to understand the pressure of your full season riding on such a short period of time. At the same time, you just have to go out and do your best. We’ve all been there before. We’ve all played in big games. There’s no secret potion.

I always like to joke – the Space Jam movie, if Michael’s secret stuff was a real thing, everybody would have a championship ring. But you really do have to go out and treat it as any other game while understanding at the same time your season could be over tomorrow. If that isn’t enough extra motivation to keep you going, to keep you wanting to play, you’re in the wrong sport.

I think with this group, I’m just going to try and preach the message of we’ve done some good things, but the Swarm doesn’t have a championship yet, and that’s the ultimate goal. We’re playing for more than just a good regular season and hopefully a playoff round here. We’re going for the ultimate goal of a championship, and it has a bigger meaning for me. I want the Swarm organization to do well, and I personally want to go out as a champion in this league at some point.

Q: What is it like playing for Ed Comeau?

A: Eddie’s been great. It’s a nice change. I’ve never played for Eddie before. I’ve heard great things, and he’s obviously been around a long time. He’s coached some great players, and I’ve never heard anybody have a bad thing to say about him. So I really look forward to getting to know Eddie on a personal level, and his coaching style is a nice change for me in terms of the fun aspect that he adds to this game. We usually finish practice with a sort of contest or game. I’ve really enjoyed that side of things. I’m really looking forward to spending more time with Eddie and the rest of the coaching staff.

Q: What are the expectations for yourself and the team this year?

A: For myself, I try not to put a number on it. Like I don’t really focus on a save percentage or goals against average because those, I think, are more team stats than anything. The quality of shots given up or quality of scoring chances aren’t really things that I can help with. So I just try and focus on being a big save player. In the fourth quarter, I want to make that extra save that leads to a one-goal win versus a one-goal loss. It’s hard to quantify that, but at the end of the day, you look in the mirror and you know whether or not you were the difference. I want to be able to say that I was the big difference for this team when we get to where we’re going.

The team goal is a championship. I’m certainly not shy about that being the reason why I came here. But in terms of goals to get there, I think it’s important to set a few and just breaking the season down into four or five game targets, winning each one of those, whether it be winning three out of four games or finishing with a 12-6 record. Those are things that we can set as targets to help us get to that ultimate championship goal. That’s one of those things I want to be able to contribute, to take the experience that I’ve had in this league and help guys break down the season and know that every game matters. Coming into the season game one against back-to-back champions, you can’t use this as an, “It’s the first game – they’re the best team in the league – we know our target now.” No, this is still an opportunity for us to get off to a winning start and start to breed that culture here.

Georgia opens the season at home against the two-time defending champion Saskatchewan Rush on Saturday, Jan. 7 at 7:05 p.m. ET from Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Field at Infinite Energy Arena. Fans can purchase Single-Game Tickets for all nine home games at www.GeorgiaSwarm.com/SingleGame.

For the first time ever in a professional lacrosse game, four siblings will all compete in the same game when the Thompson Brothers hit the floor during the Swarm's season opener. In celebration of this historic event, the Swarm has put together a “Thompson Brothers 4-Pack” ticket package. Fans who purchase the package and use the PROMO CODE: TSHIRT at GeorgiaSwarm.com/HomeOpener or by calling 844-4-GASWARM will receive (4) Lower Level Tickets and (4) Commemorative T-Shirts.

Select fans that purchase will also have the chance to win VIP experiences during the game such as a pre-game photo with all four Thompson Brothers at centerfield, Thompson Brothers/Swarm apparel and autographed Lyle Thompson Bobble-Braids. Following the game, the entire Swarm team along with the Thompson Brothers will be available on the turf for autographs and photos. Fans outside of the metro Atlanta area can catch the game LIVE via NLLTV.com.

The Swarm is currently offering a special Home Opener Ticket & T-Shirt Package for only $99! Fans will receive (3) Lower-Level Sideline Tickets and (3) Swarm T-Shirts (a 4th Ticket and T-Shirt can be added to the package for only $20!). Call 844-4-GASWARM for purchasing info!

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