Mike Poulin and his Georgia Swarm teammates celebrate their first NLL title. Poulin also won the Teammate of the Year Award. - Submitted photo
In the world of team sports, the delicate balance of taking pride in personal accomplishments while maintaining team success as a priority is a challenge at the best of times.
And make no mistake, these are the best of times for K-W native and professional lacrosse netminder extraordinaire Mike Poulin.
Not only is Poulin coming off a championship season with the Georgia Swarm of the National Lacrosse League, but he was also awarded the league's prestigious Teammate Of The Year Award for the second time in his career.
In a recent interview, this dichotomy was the first thing I asked him about.
BT: What does it mean to you to win both awards in the same year and how do they compare?
MP: After 12 years, to finally win a NLL championship means so much to my family and I. We've come close before so you start to wonder if it's ever going to happen. To win with the group we had in Georgia was extra special for me which made the wait well worth it.
The Teammate of the Year Award is really cool too.
It’s an award for someone who exemplifies leadership on and off the floor and voted on by all the players, so it's an honour to know that you’re respected by peers and regarded as a leader and team guy around the league.
BT: Please comment about lacrosse in the K-W area — how did it help you and who made a difference?
MP: I think the people who run K-W minor lacrosse are doing an unbelievable job of growing the sport and providing kids with opportunities like I was given. I got into lacrosse because a classmate of mine brought sticks to school one day.
I'm trying to do the same with my school program in the K-W area. It’s a way for me to give back.
Growing up with five older and athletic sisters, we were a busy family. I can't tell you how many coaches or parents of teammates helped out with carpools to get me to lacrosse. The K-W lacrosse community really is a great group.
BT: What is it about our area and lacrosse goaltenders? Did you have a relationship with some of these guys?
MP: There must be something in the water — the number of NLL goalies to come out of K-W makes people
wonder what we're doing around here.
Bob Watson, Steve Dietrich and Phil Wetherup were the guys I looked up to and all of them were extremely generous with their time and guidance — especially Phil, with the amount of coaching he did with the Braves. It went a long way toward making me the goaltender I am today.
Steve Dietrich was influential getting me into the NLL with the Buffalo Bandits in 2006 and has been a mentor to me since.
And getting to play with Bob Watson on the Toronto Rock was a dream come true. He is the greatest goalie to play lacrosse and watching it firsthand was amazing.
BT: How do you feel about the current state of the NLL generally and the Swarm specifically?
MP: The NLL is in great shape right now. Our new commissioner has really embraced a digital strategy to help us get noticed and has big plans for growth including two new teams in 2019.
I really believe within 10 years, the NLL will be a major player in the second tier of professional sports similar to MLS (Major League Soccer) soccer.
(Note: First tier is NHL, NBA, MLB and NFL)
The Georgia Swarm is relatively new, although the franchise is not. It just moved from Minnesota to Georgia two years ago, so we still have work to do building a fan base. Hopefully winning will help.
The roster is in good shape — we’re the youngest team in the league with lots of first-round draft picks in the next few years to help keep us stocked with talent. With no free agents this year, we'll have a very similar team to the one that just won the championship.
BT: What career goals have you set for yourself moving forward?
I still have three to four good years of playing left in me and my kids are ages three and one, so my plan was to stop playing when they’re ready to start playing sports. But while I'm still able to play, I'm going to keep competing.
I promised my championship ring to my oldest son, so I better try to get one for my youngest!
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