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Photo: Jon Teneca/Puck Stopper PhotographyPhoto: Jon Teneca/Puck Stopper Photography

#AHLOTB: Pulock’s pursuit of making it back

by Elayne Barrentine | AHL On The Beat

Last season was a dream come true for Ryan Pulock. The Bridgeport Sound Tigers defenseman graduated to the NHL, playing 15 games for the New York Islanders down the stretch and was on the team’s playoff roster, recording a goal and two assists in six contests. Playing in the biggest games at the highest level was what he had dreamed of from his days growing up in Dauphin, Manitoba, to developing with the Sound Tigers.

“Last year, playing in the NHL was really special to me,” Pulock said. “It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. That first year, that first game, scoring my first goal; all those little things are so special and things you will remember forever.”

But as the young defenseman learned, getting to the NHL is only half the battle and sticking around is another endeavor. He used to be motivated to make it there. Now that he’s had a taste, his focus is to get back.

“It only makes me hungrier for more,” Pulock said. “I’m ready for more.”

Despite Pulock’s strong finish with the Islanders last season, his position wasn’t solidified with a veteran defensive corps returning for the Isles. Pulock began this season in Bridgeport and while he quickly got another shot with the big club on Oct. 21 against Arizona, he incurred an unfortunate setback when a blocked shot led to a broken foot. It was a tough way to start his third professional season.

“Obviously I had a bit of a tough start with the injury,” Pulock said. “I missed the first month or so and the next couple of weeks when you come back, you’re playing well but you’re maybe a step behind. Physically, I wasn’t in that game-shape because it happened so early in the year.”

Pulock got healthy and was loaned to Bridgeport on Nov. 29, 2016. Instead of griping about his injury or being loaned, the former 15th overall pick went back to work. Pulock has scored a career-high 40 points (13 goals, 27 assists) in 47 AHL games and is currently eighth in scoring among AHL defensemen, despite having played the fewest games among the top-15 scorers.

He’s nearly doubled his totals from last season (seven goals, 17 assists, 24 points) and with less than 10 games left in the regular season, he can still match his career-high 17 goals, set in his rookie season. He’s also contributed consistently, netting 18 points (three goals, 15 assists) in his last 18 games.

Pulock has paired the stats with reliable play in the defensive zone – something he focused on last season that earned him his call-up to the Islanders. This year, it’s all come together.

“I think I’ve gotten significantly better in different areas,” Pulock said. “Offensively, I think I’ve contributed more and the numbers kind of show that. I’m excited to continue to help the team win by putting up points that way, playing good defense, and hopefully making a strong playoff push.”

Pulock’s focus is to get stronger and continue to work hard to earn and keep a spot on the Islanders’ roster next year.

“For every guy here, that’s his goal, to make it to the NHL, but I think I have a lot to prove,” Pulock said. “I think this summer is going to be big for me, and I’m going to be really focused and ready to try to take that step. It’s important to continue to get stronger, and get bigger. Those things really translate into your game no matter how long you’ve been playing.”

Focus, time, and commitment got him to the NHL last year, and that’s exactly what it will to get him back. He’s had a taste and he’s definitely hungry for more.