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Tom Poti Retires

Remember Tom Poti? He announced his retirement this week. I am guilty of assuming he had retired long ago. Due to a terrible recurring groin injury he had only played 37 games in the last 4 seasons, and none this season.

Poti had 69 goals and 258 assists for 327 career points in 824 games for the Oilers, Rangers, Islanders and Capitals. He helped the United States win a silver medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

But when you learn of Poti's medical background the groin injury really isn't such a big deal. In fact, it's amazing Poti ever made it to the NHL at all.

Poti was a solid, mobile defenseman who was calm under pressure. Then again when every day of your life is spent worry about whether his next mouthful of food will inflict serious pain or even kill him, much of life is trivial. Poti suffered from multi food allergies that were that serious.

"I remember growing up in Boston, I was always going to the emergency room until they found out what I was allergic to," Poti says. "As it turns out, just about everything."

“It is pretty bad. There is tons and tons of stuff I am allergic to food wise,’’ continues Poti. “It is like all the additives, like spices and salt and stuff like that. I can’t have anything that makes food taste good. My diet is pretty bland and I have to eat stuff that is pretty plain. I can have a steak but it has to be cooked separately from everything else and it can’t be cooked on the same grill as someone else’s fish or it will get contaminated.

"I can have any meat I want but it can't be cooked in an oil. What do I drink? I can't drink Coke or Pepsi because they've got caramel in them. I'm big on Orange drinks, or Sprite or Mountain Dew.”

On top of that he really struggled with asthama.

“I also have asthma, which doesn’t help. The asthma is worse than the food allergies because you can control the food allergies,’’ says Poti. “You can stay away from the food you are allergic to. But the asthma, you never know when the attacks will come on.

None of these ailments prevented Poti from becoming a puck rushing NHL defenseman for 13 seasons. He hopes he was an inspiration to unfortunate kids who face serious allergies like him.

“You can do it and don’t let anything hold you back or don’t let anyone who has anything to say hold you back,’’ says Poti. “There are a lot of success stories out there so there’s not anything that can’t be done.”

“I’ve always had to work two or three times harder than anyone else just to stay in shape and try to be out there with the rest of those guys and be with them,” he says.

“It definitely wasn’t easy seeing all the other kids being able to breathe without any problem, and eat whatever they want. But I had a lot of support with my family and friends and they helped me out tremendously,” adds Poti. “I was fortunate in that nobody gave me a hard time or anything like that about my allergies or my asthma. If anything it has been the exact opposite. They have been very supportive and everyone has been really supportive and they have gone out of their way to help me.”

And even when he was sucking wind because of his asthma, he never thought about giving up. Playing in the NHL was worth the effort.

Though there were plenty of people who were skeptical of Poti's illnesses. Though he was one of the top prospects in the 1996 NHL draft he was not touched until the third round (by the Edmonton Oilers).

“People said I would never gain any weight and never get stronger or bigger and I was able to overcome all of that.,’’ says Poti.

Poti went on to play two seasons of college hockey at Boston University before joining the Oilers in 1998. He arrived in Edmonton with unfair comparisons to Paul Coffey. Poti's was a fine puckhandler and passer. He was also an excellent skater who carried the puck frequently.

But the funny thing about Tom Poti the offensive defenseman was he never really put up great offensive numbers. Early in his career he was not putting up significant enough numbers to make up for his misadventures in his own zone. As he matured and improved in his own end, his offense plateaued.

Poti was a smart and likable player whose effortless skating allowed him to handle a lot of minutes. Though his defensive struggles could be maddening he was a solid NHL player who was in demand. The Rangers, Islanders and Capitals all employed him for good lengths of time. His best years came in New York where he frequently played alongside Brian Leetch.


Anonymous said…
As a caps fan, I am really sad to see him go. He is just the type of player the caps are in need of now. A smart, veteran defenseman to balance out the defense corps would help very much, as the caps have numerous unproven talented young d-men that need a solid mentor right now. Hopefully we might see him back as a coach soon.

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