In a perfect world, one of the best moments Ryan Poehling's life wouldn't have happened. At least not yet.
While it was hard to beat the storylines that came out of an NHL debut for the ages, the fact Poehling even suited up for the Montreal Canadiens on April 6 was the sobering byproduct of No. 1 overall seed St. Cloud State getting upset in the first round of the NCAA men's hockey tournament.
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"That was so hard to deal with because we did all the right things and it still didn't go our way," Poehling said with the memories of the loss still seared into his mind a couple of weeks later. "That's just how life goes sometimes. That said, it's not always about what happens, it's about how we deal with what happens that shows our true character."
Looking back on it now, to say the 20-year-old Lakeville native took lemons and made lemonade would be an understatement. Exactly a week after "one of the worst experiences" of his life, Poehling bounced back with "one of the best."
Not only did he become only the fifth player to score a hat trick in his NHL debut -- a goal in the first period, a goal in the second period, and a goal in the third period -- he netted the game-winning goal in the shootout to lift the Canadiens to a 6-5 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"Just thinking about it now, that first goal was pretty surreal," said Poehling, a first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft who played at St. Cloud State. "I remember going through the line thinking, 'Wow. I just scored in my NHL debut.' Honestly, the second goal and the third goal, I was so into the game that I didn't really even let myself think about it.
"I feel like the moment that it started to hit me was when I was lining up for the shootout and the crowd was so loud that I couldn't even hear the whistle blow. It just kind of felt like destiny at that point."
Originally thinking about going five-hole on Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen, Poehling made a last-second change of plans after watching the previous shooters.
I’m jealous of everyone who gets to play another game in an SCSU jersey. Best 4 years of my life. Thank you to the coaches, staff, and my teammates for everything pic.twitter.com/H3dwGUJJ6a— Robby Jackson (@RobbyJackson23) March 30, 2019
"He was kind of baiting the guys (to go five-hole) and then closing his legs pretty quick," Poehling said. "I knew that if he did that again his left shoulder would be peaking down a little bit. That's where I tried to go and it ended up working out."
Poehling nearly lost it a few minutes while being interviewed on the ice postgame. After being asked the initial question, Poehling stuttered, shook his head, and paused for more than 30 seconds as the 21,302 in attendance lost their minds.
"That was probably one of the best moments of my life," Poehling said. "You can't replicate something like that. I just tried to take a step back and truly listen to them. You just had to be there. It was hard to describe in the moment --and it still is."
It's been a whirlwind for Poehling since making his NHL debut. He had exit interviews last week in Montreal with an eye toward next season, made a pit stop at Augusta National to watch Tiger Woods win the Masters, and has now settled back in at his childhood home in Lakeville.
"Everything has happened so fast," he said. "I'm trying to take a step back here and there and enjoy it and realize how blessed I am."
Poehling said he is most looking forward to being "a normal guy" now that he's back home. He plans to some spend time with family and friends, get in as many rounds on the golf course as possible, and maybe sneak in a few weekends at the cabin before getting back to work.
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As special as his NHL debut, it pales in comparison to the lofty goals he's set for himself heading into next season.
"I haven't made the roster yet," Poehling said. "I want to be in Montreal next season. That week or so I got to spend up there was so great. It's something I want to do for the rest of my life."
Sometimes it's still hard for Poehling to fathom how everything has played out over the past few weeks. From devastation to jubilation and everything in between, it's been a wild ride -- one he hopes is just getting started.
"I've always believed that everything in life happens for a reason," Poehling said. "Without us losing (in the NCAA Tournament) none of this would've happened. Not saying I'm glad we lost, by any means. It sucked. It's just crazy to see everything pan out the way it did."
This article is written by Dane Mizutani from St. Paul Pioneer Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.