With wind back, Poulin soars

April 14, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

Practice wouldn't begin for another two hours, but Dave Poulin was in the locker room. It is his daily routine, and it started a long time ago, when the 12-year veteran was a rookie with the Philadelphia Flyers.

"It just happened that I got a ride to the rink with a guy who insisted on being early and was always the first guy there," said Poulin, referring to Bobby Clarke. "Bobby would be in full uniform at 5:30 for a 7:30 game. Older players, like Clarke and [Guy] Lafleur, did that. They hung around the rinks, talking about the game.

Poulin, 35, is ready to play, but for a while this season, Capitals management, then-ESPN analyst Jim Schoenfeld and even Poulin wondered what had happened to the well-respected defensive forward, who had signed a two-year contract as a free agent with the Capitals.

A year earlier, he had turned in one of his best seasons for the Boston Bruins, and the Capitals went after him not only because they liked the way he played, but also because they needed his veteran leadership.

But when the team got off to an 0-6 start, Poulin started second- guessing himself.

On Dec. 26, he scored his 199th NHL goal. He didn't get his 200th until March 29. In between, it became a running joke: Would Poulin ever score No. 200?

What no one knew was that Poulin was ill. It wasn't until he was hit by a virus in late January that a series of incidents led the Capitals to discover exactly what was wrong.

Poulin came back from the virus in time to make the Capitals' road trip to St. Louis and Los Angeles, Feb. 10. He sat out the St. Louis game and then was given a one-on-one workout with Schoenfeld in Los Angeles.

"He killed me," said Poulin.

"I shouldn't have killed him," said Schoenfeld. "The drills weren't designed to be killers. We did start, stop and shooting drills, and I'd lean on him while skating in circles. He not only couldn't get through them, his recovery time was terrible."

That's when Schoenfeld sent him for more tests and Poulin discovered he has asthma.

"When I went for the test that measures breathing capacity, I measured 50 percent for someone my age," he said. "Not 50 percent of anathlete my age, but of an everyday person. At that point, all we knew was that something was wrong with my lungs. It was a relief to find out it was asthma."

Poulin missed 17 of 20 games while his medical problems were being sorted out and returned at full strength March 7.

After missing 39 games with an injury last season, Wayne Gretzky credited the rest with helping him lead the Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup finals. Dave Poulin may not be able to do that for the Capitals, but he can relate to the concept. At least now, in good health, he can give it his best shot.

CAPITALS TONIGHT

Opponent: Buffalo Sabres

Site: Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, N.Y.

Time: 7:35

TV/Radio: Channel 20/WITH (1230 AM), WMAL (630 AM)

Outlook: The Capitals (38-35-10) are looking for a springboard into the Stanley Cup playoffs, which begin Sunday. Buffalo (43-31-9) is looking to move into a tie for fourth place.

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