Pohl would love to exact some revenge

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

The Minnesota town he grew up is called Red Wing, so it only seems appropriate John Pohl would become a hockey player.

His dad, Jim, was the local coach. His three brothers -- all of them close in age -- would play two-on-two in the basement or the backyard, always.

The drive on Highway 61, the roadway made famous by Bob Dylan, was the way to the big city. The goal wasn't to be a pro -- the goal was to make the state high school championships.

"I was born in 1979," Pohl said. "But the time I was old enough to know better, the North Stars were gone to Dallas. I didn't care about the NHL, I didn't watch it. It wasn't anybody's dream to play in the National Hockey League. It wasn't even on our radar.

EVERYBODY PLAYED

"We played hockey because everybody played hockey. It was just kids doing stuff with their friends."

John Pohl walked across the Maple Leafs' dressing room at Lakeshore Lions Arena yesterday, followed every step of the way by seven television cameras and several reporters.

This is how fast it can happen in Toronto.

One day you're a nobody, up from the minor leagues hoping to get noticed. And a few power plays and a shootout goal later, the headline writers cleverly call you 'Super Pohl' and for that day, and maybe the next few, you're a celebrity in the biggest hockey market of them all.

Tonight means a lot to Pohl, tonight's game against the St. Louis Blues. Before he had gone to the University of Minnesota, the Blues invested a ninth-round draft pick, 255th overall, on a kid who had played just 10 games for the Twin City Vulcans of the U.S. Hockey League and had made an American under-17 team.

Four college years later, the Blues signed him, sent him to Worcester on the American Hockey League and mostly ignored him.

In his last season in Worcester, the year the NHL didn't play, Pohl's career seemed locked out.

"I was a healthy scratch two out of every three games," Pohl said. "The coach didn't like me, never played me."

The coach was Steve Pleau, son of St. Louis general manager Larry Pleau. The coach clearly was acting on orders from his father and boss.

"I thought about (quitting). But I wasn't ready. When you've gone through all that, you sure appreciate where you are (now). I know what's it's like to be a minor leaguer. I know what it's like to be a fourth liner. I know what it's like to be the last guy on the team and have to try to be noticed."

His brother, Tom, is going through it right now. In his junior year at the University of Minnesota, he is being phased out. His brother, Mark, played a couple of seasons of junior and never progressed.

John Pohl is 27 years old, a rookie too old to be recognized as a rookie, who is just now finding his way in the NHL. Before him, the most famous export of Red Wing, Minn., was shoes. Now, for the first time, people are noticing he isn't just another guy taking up roster space.

"It has been a lot of work, a lot of patience," said Pohl, acquired by the Leafs in exchange for nothing in the summer of 2005. "When the Leafs traded for me, they told me that I would get an opportunity to play for an NHL coach in the minors. I pretty much knew I wasn't going to make the team no matter what I did at camp. I decided I was going to the minors and going to be best player in the league.

"My game grew a lot last year. Paul Maurice did a lot for me."

There is a healthy respect between player and coach but almost no relationship.

"He doesn't get very personal with his players," Pohl said. "He lets you know what he expects and you have to do it."

POWER PLAY

The expectations are growing. Over the past 20 games, Pohl's ice time has increased by 50%. He now gets regular power play time. On Saturday, with the hearty endorsement of captain Mats Sundin, he was chosen to take part in the shootout and ended up scoring the winning goal against the Ottawa Senators.

He then gestured to the skies, a message nobody but him, or maybe his father, understood.

Just a few days earlier, his girlfriend had called with unwelcome news. His grandmother, Kay, had died at the age of 91.

"She meant a lot to me," he said. "She was always watching out for me. Hopefully, dad saw (the goal). I miss her.

"I just wanted my family to know how I felt and that I was thinking of her."

AND ANOTHER THING

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