Dave Poulin was one of the best hockey players of the 1980s. Problem was not many people knew it then, and few remember that now.
Poulin was a great hockey player. He didn't score many goals and when he did they weren't pretty. He was an unheralded defensive center who was always shadowing the opposition's top gun. He was always on the ice when the game was on the line, taking key faceoffs and blocking point shots. He was the ultimate team player who was never fully appreciated by the fans or media when he played, and will likely be forgotten about over time.
Not if this website can help it! We're here to preserve the memories of all hockey players so that future generations can appreciate the past players. Hopefully we can do Dave Poulin some justice and immortalize him forever online. Why? Because hockey needs more players like Dave Poulin.
Poulin actually never really considered trying to play in the National Hockey League as a young man.
"I was someone that never … as much as you grow up dreaming about the NHL, I never saw myself playing in the NHL."
Poulin played four years of collegiate hockey at Notre Dame. As a member of the Fighting Irish hockey team from 1978 to 1982, Dave collected a solid 89 goals, 107 assists and 196 points and was named to the CCHA Second All-Star Team in 1982. Despite his success he was never drafted by a NHL team and had no real interest in terms of free agent offers. So decided to prolong his hockey career while gaining some life experience. He crossed the pond and played in 32 games for Rogie of the Swedish Elite League.
Poulin, who was also working as an international sales agent for Proctor and Gamble, returned to North America late in the 1982-83 season where he played in 16 games with the Maine Mariners of the American Hockey League where he credits coach Tom McVie with really jumpstarting his professional hockey career.
Poulin signed with the Philadelphia Flyers as a free agent for the final two games of the regular season in 1983. Dave scored 2 goals in those two games and added 4 points in 3 playoff games! Needless to say, Poulin's career was just starting to bloom.
"I had great mentors, particularly early in my career with Darryl Sittler and Bobby Clarke and guys like that to learn from." Poulin quickly adds.
Poulin then went on to play six full seasons with the Flyers. In his first full year in Philadelphia, he recorded career-highs with 31 goals, 45 assists and 76 points. Dave duplicated his fine season in 1984-85 when he recorded 30 goals and 74 points. More importantly he played an integral role in helping lead the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals.
It was probably during the 1985 playoffs that the Flyers realized that as good as Poulin was offensively, his true value was as a defensive specialist. The Ontario native's hockey sense and smarts allowed him to anticipate plays excellently, both in the offensive and defensive zones. His speed and good hands helped mold him into one of the league's finest penalty killers. Though not an overly imposing figure, Poulin played a physical game, initiating contact intelligently. He was also strong in the faceoff circle and a willing shot blocker. In short, there was nothing that this one time captain would do to win. Though he was quiet in execution, his intensity and heart made him a leader both on and off the ice.
Although his offensive production slipped slightly because of his role as the third line center, Poulin actually gained more acclaim. He was named to the NHL all star games in both 1986 and 1988 and played for the NHL all stars against the Soviets in Rendez'vous 87. He also won the Frank J Selke trophy in 1987 as a reward for his defensive excellence.
1987 may have been Poulin's best year. He scored 25 goals and 70 points and as mentioned play in Rendez'vous and won the Selke. He also helped Philadelphia reach the Finals in 1987 where the Flyers took the heavily favored Edmonton Oilers to 7 games in one of the best Stanley Cup finals in memory. Poulin's job was to cover Gretzky or Messier, which ever guy he was out against at that time. The Flyers very well might have won that series if they had two Dave Poulins - one to cover Gretz and one to cover Mess!
"People call ’87 one of the greatest Cup Finals of all time. We lost to a team that may have had nine Hall of Famers. We were missing our top scorer in Tim Kerr, we were missing top players all along the way and we kept battling. A 3-1 game … Glenn Anderson scores in the last minute to make it 3-1." Poulin recollects painfully. "We were as close to a Stanley Cup as you can get without winning one."
Midway through the 1989-90 campaign, Poulin was traded to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Kenny LInseman.. Again his solid two-way play helped his team reach the Cup Finals but the Bruins eventually fell short to the Edmonton Oilers. It was Dave's third trip to the Finals, and the third time he came up short. He never would win the Cup.
"Most people think I won a Cup. That’s probably great. The perception is that I clearly won a Stanley Cup. And most people, the first question they ask me when they find I didn’t, was how it might have changed my life. I don’t know that. I do know that the three times that I got there, in many ways we had over-achieved to get there and we didn’t leave anything on the table."
Dave played three more full seasons in Beantown.
"In Boston, once again we had a couple of key injuries at key times. And we had a great run with the Bruins there for three years. The next two years we lost to Mario Lemieux in the semi-finals and he went on to win the Cup. So I was fortunate to play for very, very good teams and we went to the Stanley Cup semi-finals six times. I know there’s a lot of players who haven’t been there once.”
In his final year with Boston he won the 1993 King Clancy Memorial Trophy, awarded to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.
Poulin signed with the Washington Capitals as a free agent prior to the 1993-94 season. He played two years with the Capitals before deciding to hang up the blades.
Over his 13 years in the NHL with the Flyers, Bruins and Capitals, Poulin notched 205 goals, 325 assists and 530 points in 724 regular season games. Dave added 31 goals and 73 points in 129 playoff contests.
Dave was unheralded in his defensive role but he loved it.
"I took a great deal of pride in my defence. And defence to me is like cleaning. It’s hard work. If you have a willingness to learn and a willingness to do it, you can do it. And I took a great deal of pride in that. Some nights, driving to the rink, knowing the next three hours every time Gretzky stopped on the ice you were out there. The last year in my division, I had Eric Lindros eight times, I had Mario Lemieux eight times, I had Mark Messier in New York eight times and then I had Adam Oates on my nights off. But I took a great deal of pride in being out there when they were out there."