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An avid learner, Colton Poolman playing a big role for UND

UND sophomore defenseman Colton Poolman races the puck toward the St. Lawrence goal in the Ralph Engelstad Arena. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

In elementary school, Colton Poolman's class had a reading contest.

The reward was simple—a candy bar or a soda—but Poolman went all in. He read as much as he could.

The habit stuck.

Poolman dove into book series, like Harry Potter, as he got older.

When he was bored playing junior hockey, he either read books at his apartment or tried to teach himself how to play guitar.

"He's a low-key guy," said Dixon Bowen, who has known Poolman since childhood and lived with him for a year in Penticton, B.C. "He'd always come home and play guitar or read books."

His father, Mark, said: "He really enjoys learning things. It's not that other kids don't, but I think he actually enjoys learning new things and implementing them in different conversations."

Poolman's penchant for learning carries over to the ice, too, where he has become one of the most reliable players for No. 6 UND, which hosts No. 10 Western Michigan in a two-game series this weekend in Ralph Engelstad Arena (7:37 p.m. Friday, 7:07 p.m. Saturday).

Poolman currently leads the team in plus-minus rating at plus-8. He has been on the ice for 15 even-strength goals—most of any player on the team. Defensively, he leads the team in blocked shots with 27, ranking fifth in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference in that category.

"He's been a rock back there, playing heavy minutes in all situations," UND coach Brad Berry said. "He's very reliable and dependable when he's on the ice and now he's adding offense to our group, smartly, from the back end."

In the last three weeks, Poolman leads the team in goals (three), assists (three) and points (six).

His defensive pairing with Christian Wolanin has accounted for 31 percent of UND's goals and 23 percent of the team's points during that timespan.

"I think I'm just trying to play a simple solid role, be solid in my own end, make sure to get pucks out and up to the forwards and make sure you do all the little things," Poolman said. "Once all that is done, you can start trying to create a little more offense for the team. Keep doing the little things, because those turn into the bigger things.

"The forwards have been doing a great job getting to the net and providing traffic. That always helps out when you're trying to get stuff through from the point. Playing with Wolanin definitely helps. He creates a lot of space for me out there and he can see the ice so well sometimes. Just having him out there on the ice creates so much for everyone."

Poolman's play has been a huge boost to the 8-4-4 Fighting Hawks, who lost his older brother, Tucker, to the Winnipeg Jets in the offseason. Tucker was the team's top defenseman last season, earning All-American honors.

Different players

Although Colton and Tucker may be brothers, but they are different in a lot of ways.

Colton shoots left-handed, Tucker right. At 6-foot-1, Colton doesn't quite have the same range or slap shot as the 6-foot-3 Tucker, who was a major threat on the power play. While Tucker was extremely laid back no matter the situation, Colton has a little more fire.

Their contrasts made them a perfect match as UND's top defensive pairing last season.

Berry moved the brothers together after Christmas break and they immediately flourished, helping UND knock off Union on the road in their first game together.

For the second half of the season, Poolman got used to playing against opponents' top players, giving him a taste of what was to come this season.

He's now averaging about 24 or 25 minutes per night, being asked to play in all situations.

Poolman has also scored key goals in each of the last three weekends.

Against Miami, he blasted a point shot through traffic.

In UND's upset over No. 1 Denver, he sniped a shot on a three-on-two rush from the right circle to tie the game 3-3 in the third period. UND earlier trailed 3-0 and went on to win 5-4.

Last weekend, he stick-handled around a Union defenseman in the left circle and picked the corner of the net with a wrist shot during UND's 2-2 tie.

"He's scored some pretty dynamic goals," Berry said. "He's not only being evasive but also getting accurate shots to the net. The goals he's scoring are goal-scorer's goals."

Bright future

Poolman was undrafted and opted not to attend any NHL development camps last summer.

But at this rate, he'll soon attract NHL interest—just like his older brother.

And while his reading habit has been limited to textbooks lately—he's an entrepreneurship major—Poolman has still been eager to learn both on and off the ice.

"He's very smart," Berry said. "He knows the next play. Whether he has the puck or not, he knows what the next play is going to be. He's very smart in that regard."

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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