Poturalski has plenty of reasons to smile

Photo: Ross Dettman

📝 by Lindsey Willhite | AHL On The Beat

Chicago Wolves captain Andrew Poturalski boasts a beautiful set of teeth.

How do we know? Because he displays them all the time.

Judging by the pictures on his Instagram account, the 27-year-old Williamsville, N.Y., native lives his best life every day. There he is smiling with his bride, Haley, on vacation. He’s grinning with his golf buddies on one of their trips to a Top 100 course. He’s beaming over the latest big fish he landed. He’s cheesing while holding the 2019 Calder Cup aloft.

There he is at the zoo. Attending a Buffalo Bills game. Courtside at a Charlotte Hornets game. Modeling inspired Halloween costumes with Haley. Smile. Smile. Smile. Smile.

But he’s not a carefully curated social media creation. During a recent 40-minute conversation, Poturalski smiled virtually the entire time as he shared stories of his life. When the American Hockey League’s Player of the Month for October flashes those pearly whites, you can’t help but smile along.

“He’s always super-optimistic about things,” said Haley, who has been together with Andrew since they met in 2009 at the prestigious Maria Love Charity Ball for Buffalo-area high school students. “It’s a nice balance in our relationship because I like to think he calms me down when we have a lot of things going on. He’s always in a good mood and smiling. That’s for sure his personality.”

Poturalski’s perpetual good mood helps explain why Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky decided he’d make the perfect captain for this year’s team.

(To be fair, it also helped that Poturalski is really, really good at hockey. In 2016 during his sophomore year at the University of New Hampshire, he was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award that goes to the nation’s best college player. When his Charlotte Checkers defeated the Wolves in the 2019 Calder Cup Finals, he won the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy that goes to the postseason most valuable player. He led the AHL in points last year while playing for the San Diego Gulls and is one off the league lead this season with 23 points.)

“He’s got that personality that people want to be around him,” Warsofsky said. “They want to golf with him. They want to go out to dinner with him. They want to be friends with him and see what he’s all about. He’s a good person who lives the same way off the ice as he does on the ice. He’s a good role model for these younger players.”

Many of his teammates happily spent part of their day off Nov. 3 sharing in the gender reveal for the Poturalskis’ first child. Andrew teed up a tricked-up golf ball that, when he hit it with his driver, revealed they’ll be expecting a boy on Easter Sunday. Haley jumped for joy while nearly every Wolves player smiled while taping the event on their phone.

“That’s the most nervous I’ve been over a tee shot,” Andrew said. “It was awesome to have all of the boys there as well. I had my pro from my course back home text me and say my swing looks good. It was a special moment. We’re pumped.”

It’s the first grandchild on both sides of the family — and they all live within 15 minutes of each other in the Buffalo area.

“Our parents are super-excited,” Haley said.

If Baby Poturalski retains Andrew’s traits, then we’ve already established he might become the smilingest baby in North America. But here’s something we haven’t shared with you yet: He might also become the most competitive baby in North America.

Behind Andrew’s smile is a will of iron. Whether it’s because he’s listed at 5-foot-10 in a sport that treasures bigger forwards — or because he just hates to lose — the Wolves captain never lacks for motivation to excel.

Photo: Todd Reicher

Jake Rosen, whose father is best friends with Haley’s father, is one of Andrew’s best buddies from Buffalo. They grew up playing hockey together, they’ve spent a lot of time working out together, they’ve taken golf trips all over the States together in order to tackle the nation’s best courses. In short, he knows Andrew — and Chicagoans know well the person Andrew reminds him of.

“Did you watch The Last Dance?” Rosen said. “He has that Michael Jordan type of competitiveness where he’s got to win all the time. He’s the most competitive person I’ve met in my entire life. But that’s why he is where he is, right? That’s why he’s so successful. I really admire that about him. Sometimes it drives me nuts. It’s not a normal thing that people have, but it’s amazing.”

Haley confirms Jake’s take.

“That’s the top trait I would describe him as,” she said. “He’s just so competitive and he strives in everything he does to be the best. With golf. With fishing. With anything. I’m actually pretty competitive, too, and it’s funny. We’ll go mini-golf or do other things I’ll try to beat him at, but he’s just good at everything. I don’t mean to pump his tires and grow his head a little bit bigger, but he’s just super-competitive. He’ll work at something until he’s the best.

“I was beating him at Scrabble for two years. But the more we played, the more he started to pick things up and now he’s starting to beat me. That was, like, my only thing I had over him.”

Perhaps Andrew has been memorizing dictionaries in his spare time in order to improve?

“Maybe,” Haley allowed. “Who knows? But he always has to be the best.”

This, of course, applies to hockey, too. Remember, this is a guy who scored 43 points in 44 games last season to win the AHL’s scoring title. And a guy who produced 12 goals and 11 assists in 18 postseason games — most of them while playing with a broken foot — to win MVP honors. He has accomplished plenty. He could prepare the same way every season and remain ahead of his AHL peers.

But Andrew has only two NHL appearances (both with the Carolina Hurricanes during the 2016-17 season) on his resume. While he’s plenty interested in leading the Wolves to another Calder Cup, he also wants another NHL chance.

That’s why he spent the summer training not just like a hockey player, but like an Olympic sprinter. In addition to his usual work with trainer Trevor Taggart at Cutting Edge Sports Training in suburban Buffalo, he reconnected with David Ellis, a sprint coach he met in Charlotte.

“He helped me a ton working on my sprinting form and firing the proper muscles,” Andrew said. “When I would sprint before, I would run how I skate — and technically my form wasn’t great. At first, I was really quad-dominant. But then you get your glutes and your hamstrings firing and that generates more power. I saw huge gains in my speed and in my form.”

Andrew also worked with Buffalo trainer Rich Gicewicz, the father of one of his best friends, Rockford’s Carson Gicewicz. The elder Gicewicz transformed himself from a walk-on tight end at Michigan State into time with some NFL teams, so he understands athletes like Andrew who go undrafted and overlooked but refuse to accept limits.

“We did a lot of agility and speed work on the turf with him,” Andrew said. “Pretty much all of my workouts this summer were tailored to speed and footwork instead of lifting weights. I figured, I’m 27. I’m strong enough to play at this level. At the NHL level, it’s all about getting faster.

“I didn’t tell the Canes or anyone that I was doing this. But as soon as I got to training camp, they noticed.”

Warsofsky certainly did.

“His speed has really improved since he was at Charlotte,” Warsofsky said. “You can see the difference in his skating and his speed and his play away from the puck. He really stuck out in training camp.”

And Andrew has carried it over into the AHL season. In the Wolves’ first six games, the team’s top-line center piled up five goals and nine assists to earn AHL Player of the Week and Player of the Month honors. On Nov. 26 during the Wolves’ five-goal third-period rally at Grand Rapids, Poturalski tied the Wolves record by scoring four points (1g, 3a) in the period.

“It’s good to see the hard work pay off,” Andrew said.

Then he smiled. What else would you expect him to do?