by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
Even as he faces the prospect of driving about 75 miles out of Chicago almost every day, new Rockford assistant coach Steve Poapst never considers himself to be truly leaving the city.
That trip, he estimates, should take him maybe 70 minutes, at most. That’s nothing. Heck, sometimes the 16-mile drive from his suburban home into the heart of the Windy City takes him close to an hour.
"From looking at that point, the commute is a lot easier," Poapst said. "It’s the same thing. Just less frustrating."
Chicago always will have its strings around Poapst’s heart no matter how far he travels. It’s the place where he got his true NHL start and now is the home base for his debut as an AHL coach.
The Blackhawks plucked Poapst, 41, from the Chicago Steel of the USHL, where his work as coach in developing young blueliners earned him a reputation as an up-and-comer. That was his position in the pros, one that he grinded and squeezed for every drop of talent he had.
Poapst turned pro in 1991-92 but didn’t gain any true footing in the NHL until the Blackhawks gave him 36 games in 2000-01. He played 220 of his 307 NHL games with Chicago from 2000-04. He also skated in 498 AHL games with Baltimore, Portland and Norfolk.
"My development time was a little longer than most," Poapst said. "I look at everything as a puzzle and I work through it. You have to be open, look for the right people, the right help at the right time. It’s about understanding when you are ready and knowing what to do with your opportunities."
Poapst finally exploited his chance when he stopped worrying about how he’d fare in the NHL and instead focused on realizing that he belonged there alongside the League’s greats. It’s a mindset he wants his players to get into a lot earlier than he did.
"I call that the ‘awe factor’ with players. You can’t look at that and be nervous in that situation," he said. "Once kids get past that and do what they do best, (they realize) you have a job to do just like they have a job to do, and hopefully I can do it better then you in the end."
Lindsay Kramer is the AHL correspondent for NHL.com. Read today’s complete column here.