From Wolves to Hurricanes, Poturalski keeps his eye on the prize

Almost every athlete wishes they could be faster.

More speed equals more fast breaks, touchdowns, stolen bases, breakaways - you name it.

Of course, trimming a few extra tenths of a second is no easy feat, especially for someone who's in their mid- to late 20s.

Yet, that's exactly what Chicago Wolves center Andrew Poturalski did last summer.

And, wow, have the results have been eye-opening.

Poturalski has racked up 12 goals and 22 assists, a 34-point total that easily leads the American Hockey League. The 27-year-old captain, who was never drafted, also notched an assist while playing in just the third NHL game of his career when Carolina defeated Detroit 5-3 Thursday.

The Hurricanes have six players in COVID protocol, which opened the door for Poturalski as well as teammates Jack Drury and Stefan Noesen.

Wolves coach Ryan Warsofsky admitted Poturalski's promotion gave him goose bumps.

"He was the guy that deserved to go," Warsofsky said. "Credit to Carolina for listening to us and letting us explain to them, 'Hey - this is our best player. He's dominating the game right now.'

"Super proud of him and happy for him. I hope he goes there and doesn't come back."

Poturalski is a big reason the Wolves are off to a franchise-best 20-4-4 start and riding a 12-game winning streak after beating Milwaukee 4-2 at the Allstate Arena on Saturday. The streak ties the 1999-2000 squad for longest in franchise history.

The 5-foot-10, 183-pound Poturalski grew up in New York playing hockey, soccer, baseball, basketball and golf. In the end, he always found himself gravitating to the ice.

"I just fell in love with the game," Poturalski said. "No one in my family had ever played hockey before. It was just something that was special to me and my own."

After three seasons in juniors and two at the University of New Hampshire, Poturalski enjoyed instant success in the AHL with the Charlotte Checkers, scoring 64 goals from 2016-19. He added 12 goals and 11 assists when Charlotte claimed the championship in 2019 by besting the Wolves in the Calder Cup Final.

Despite all of that scoring, Poturalski appeared in just two games for Carolina in 2016-17. It's not an unfamiliar story to Wolves' fans, who have seen the likes of Brandon Pirri and Daniel Carr light up the scoreboard year after year, only to frequently remain one step from the NHL.

"The feedback was always my speed - that's why I couldn't get to the NHL," Poturalski said. "So I kind of took it personal and finally said I want to do something about it (last) summer."

So how, exactly, does one increase his speed at the ripe, old age of 27? By spending weeks and weeks with sprint coach David Ellis and former NFL tight end Rich Gicewicz.

"That's all I did all summer. I barely lifted weights," Poturalski said. "I saw a lot of benefits. I'm firing different muscles that weren't firing before and learned proper form. ... I didn't even tell the Hurricanes I was doing that and when I went to camp they noticed a huge difference.

"That felt good that my work paid off."

Said Warsofsky: "I noticed it Day 1 in training camp right away."

Poturalski admitted he was a bit surprised by the results. He's pulling away from defenders more often and noticing he's got an extra second to survey the ice for open teammates.

"It opens up so many more opportunities," he said. "You can make so many more plays."

Warsofsky, who was an assistant with the Checkers during that title run, is probably the biggest reason Poturalski returned to the Carolina organization after two rough seasons with the San Diego Gulls. After a long conversation, Poturalski signed a one-year deal.

Poturalski, who has 322 AHL games under his belt, admitted to being frustrated about not getting a longer look in the NHL. But the veteran doesn't show it, knowing a bad attitude will infect any locker room.

Although he saw less than eight minutes of ice time against the Red Wings on Thursday, Poturalski notched his first NHL point when he assisted on Nino Niederreiter's power-play goal in the first period. Poturalski fired a shot that was saved, and Niederreiter was there to clean up a rebound.

"Just pure excitement," Poturalski said when asked for his reaction. "It was pretty cool that it was my first shift of the game as well. Obviously didn't expect a power play that early, but the message from (coach Rod Brind'Amour) was to get pucks on net."

Poturalski notched another assist during the Hurricanes' 5-1 win over the Kings on Saturday.

For sure, there's been pressure to perform during this call up to one of the league's best teams. But an older, wiser Poturalski is also making sure to enjoy himself at the same time.

"I feel like this year I've taken a different approach," Poturalski said. "I'm older now. I've worked for everything that I've gotten.

"I have the mindset that I belong (in the NHL) and I'm going to work hard and do what I do and play my game.

"This is a dream of mine, so just make the most of it and have fun."

Carolina Hurricanes center Andrew Poturalski gets past Detroit Red Wings center Joe Veleno in a battle for the puck Thursday in Raleigh. Poturalski, called up from the Chicago Wolves, had an assist in the Hurricanes' victory. Associated Press

By the numbers

<b>Andrew Poturalski's stats</b>Season, team GP G A Pts.

2015-16, Charlotte 16 2 3 5

2016-17, Charlotte 74 19 33 52

2016-17, Hurricanes 2 0 0 0

2017-18, Charlotte 76 22 27 49

2018-19, Charlotte 72 23 47 70

2019-20, S. Diego 17 2 5 7

2020-21, S. Diego 44 9 34 43

2021-22, WOLVES 23 12 22 34

2021-22, Hurricanes 2 0 2 2

AHL totals 322 89 171 260

NOTE: Poturalski also has 13 goals and 15 assists in 34 Calder Cup playoff games

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