It could be now or never for Matt Poapst.
The dream of playing in the National Hockey League might be fading a tad for the already 23-year-old Poapst, a former star at Clarkson University, but he’s making the most out of a big opportunity.
Poapst recorded a hat trick leading the Ottawa Senators to a 7-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL Rookies Tournament at the Robert Guertin Arena last night.
The win improved Ottawa’s record to 2-0, while the Canadiens dropped to 1-1.
Playing alongside Senators top prospect Jason Spezza, Poapst provided the goal-scoring touch and was deadly within the slot area.
“My main goal is to make the main camp and now I just have to take it one game at a time and see where it goes,” Poapst said after the game.
“It’s great to contribute like I did tonight. You don’t go into a game thinking you’ll score a hat trick, but it’s really nice.”
Antoine Vermettte, Chris Minard, Brooks Laich and Kyle McAllister also scored for Ottawa, which dominated play from the opening faceoff.
Spezza recorded two assists, both coming off beautiful plays to set up Poapst for markers.
Duncan Milroy scored the lone goal for the Canadiens.
Poapst, a former co-captain at Clarkson, was passed over in the NHL draft and comes into the rookie camp on an amateur tryout.
“Being one of the older guys really helps,” he said.
“Playing college hockey, it’s a lot like this hockey up here and it’s about the same pace, so I just have use that to my advantage.”
Leading 1-0 on Vermette’s goal, the Poapst-Spezza duo struck for the Senators in the first period. Spezza skated through mid-ice and shuffled the puck to a streaking Poapst down the right wing and the six-foot-one winger went top corner on Olivier Michaud for his first goal of the night.
Spezza also made the play on Poapst’s second goal of the night in the second period.
Spezza found himself in the corner and was able to feather a pass through traffic to a waiting Poapst in the slot, who one-timed it past Michaud, who had no chance.
Poapst concluded his night with his third goal in the final period, set up by Sean Connolly.
“Spezza’s a great player and he has that long reach, so as a winger you just try to find the open spots and he gives you the puck,” Poapst said.
Paulo Colaiacovo collected the easy win in goal as his defencemen took care of any possible Montreal attack. The heavy hitting pair of Christoph Schubert and Anton Volchenkov kept Canadians forwards weary all game long.
Colaiacovo had to be sharp on a couple of good scoring opportunities from Montreal’s Jonathan Ferland, but he was able shut the door.
At the other end of the ice, Michaud, while not getting much help from his teammates, looked shaky at best.
The only bright spot for the Canadiens was the trio of Jozef Balej, Johan Eneqvist and Tomas Plekanec. That line looked good all night and supplied the majority of the Canadiens’ scoring chances, but never did solve Colaiacovo.
Despite the outcome, Milroy did find some positive points for Montreal.
“The score really didn’t reflect our effort tonight,” he said. “Tonight we just got the butterflies out and now we have to settle down.”
“The work ethic is there and you know everyone wants to impress the general manager and coaching staff, but we have to bounce back like pros do.”
The contest featured only one fight in a pretty chippy game. After searching for a number of dancing partners, Ottawa 67’s tough guy Adam Smyth found his match in Brian McGrattan, who played a physical game all night. The pair fought to a draw and were ejected.