Practice after practice, Matt Pohlkamp is routinely one of the last players off the ice for the Quad-City Mallards.
The mentality is something learned over his years of playing hockey, reinforced by a brief post-college stint with the regular-season champion Toledo Walleye last season.
"It was a great taste to see that kind of winning hockey and how, as players in the locker room, how they did things from day to day, how every day you’ve got to go to work and you’ve got to do these kinds of things to be successful," Pohlkamp said. "I took what they were doing every day and try to bring it to my game now."
That hard work is paying off for Pohlkamp, who is quietly having a nice rookie year with the Mallards. He's only missed two games this season and has nine goals and 10 assists, his 19 points tied for fourth on the team. He's produced five points in his last eight games, coming as a result of a pairing with Triston Grant and Alex Globke.
Pohlkamp and Globke played together last year with the Walleye, and Globke assisted on Pohlkamp's first career goal last year. The trio has combined for 14 points over the last eight games, giving the Mallards depth among their offensive lines.
"I really enjoy playing with those guys. They work hard; they always know where to be," Pohlkamp said. "It makes playing the game a little easier out there just because we connect a little bit better, and I think it’s really helping us, playing those guys. They’re good players, and we’ve been scoring a few more goals lately."
Pohlkamp grew up in Baxter, Minnesota, but despite living in one of the country's hockey hotbeds, Pohlkamp didn't have much background with the sport.
His father Joe played football for St. Cloud State and coaches at Brainerd High School. Both he and Matt's mother, Mary, played basketball in high school.
But Matt ventured into hockey, wanting to get involved with sports as early as possible.
"We were going to play basketball, but you couldn't sign up until you were 5 so they signed us up for hockey because you could start earlier," Pohlkamp said.
Polhkamp played both football and basketball for Brainerd then played two years of juniors before attending Bowling Green State University, where he scored 38 goals and added 50 assists in 160 collegiate games. He helped the Falcons to four consecutive winning seasons after Bowling Green had failed to top the .500 mark for 16 straight years before his arrival. He played nine games with the Walleye last year, scoring one goal and adding two assists.
"I’ve always been like this, just work hard," he said. "I don’t say a whole lot, just go to work hard every day and try to do as well as I can because I just try to take advantage of every opportunity."
Now, Pohlkamp has been something of a trendsetter in his family. His brother, Chris, is a junior at Bowling Green, and three of his four other siblings also play hockey.
"I'm kind of trying to lead the way so they have somebody to look up to," Pohlkamp said. "Hopefully I'm a good role model. I think I am, but I try to teach them every day how to live the lifestyle and approach it and try to be successful. Hopefully they can be as successful or even more successful than I am."
Pohlkamp's progression has not gone unnoticed. He sees time in every situation for the Mallards and is earning the right to be out on the ice in key moments.
"He’s getting better and better," head coach Phil Axtell said. "The fact that we are struggling as a team and he continues to improve in every scenario of the game, penalty kill, power play, 5-on-5, towards the end of the game or a face-off and I look down the bench for someone I trust, and I trust him."
Though the Mallards continue to struggle, Pohlkamp is seeing improvement. Since a 13-game losing streak the team is 4-4-1, not perfect but a step in the right direction.
"I think we’re taking more ownership of our actions and how we’re playing out there because at the end of the day, it’s the players that have to win the games," Pohlkamp said. "I think we’re taking more ownership of ourselves and looking in the mirror and be like, 'OK guys, we can’t do this anymore, we’ve got to start playing better.'"
Beyond the wins and losses, Pohlkamp is soaking up all he can, looking to use his knowledge for the future.
"That’s kind of been my whole life, just quietly doing my own thing, and this year is no different from other years," he said. "I’m working hard and enjoying it."