The last couple of years have been a whirlwind for Scott Perunovich, yet the accolades have just continued to roll in.
“Growing up from Pee-Wee to Bantams, people told me that I was too small, what I was doing wasn’t going to work at the next level,” Perunovich said in an interview with BTS Hockey back in 2018. “Then from bantams to high school, people said the same thing. Then to juniors same thing, then people in Cedar Rapids told me it wasn’t going to work at the college level. I’ve taken that negativity and used it for determination.”
A two-time national champion, Perunovich has capped off his career at the University of Minnesota Duluth winning the Hobey Baker Award just days after he signed an entry-level contract with the St. Louis Blues.
“I’m extremely honored and humbled to be this year’s Hobey Baker Award recipient,” Perunovich said during an interview with SportsCenter.
Earning high praise from every corner of the college hockey landscape, Perunovich’s development shows his progress as a hockey player.
“He is a difference-maker, that’s for sure,” Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said in a statement. “He’s the type of impact player who can take control of a game. He’s had a tremendous season — and a tremendous three-year career here — and is certainly deserving of this award.”
Back in 2018, Perunovich was asked about being in the conversation for the Hobey. He said that it was great to be in the conversation, but that it wasn’t at the forefront of his mind.
“That’s definitely an honor. I try not to think about that too much. I didn’t get a lot of recognition when I was younger, whether it be the draft, or anything like that. It definitely feels special now and it makes me work that much harder.”
Perunovich had this mindset mostly because he was never the first guy people thought of when discussing the top blueliners in any of his draft years. He was passed over twice in the draft — once in 2016 and once in 2017 — before he was selected by the Blues in the second round in 2018.
“I went to a smaller school in northern Minnesota, and I wasn’t a big name there. I do believe that I was a late bloomer. I had a rough year at Cedar Rapids. My coaches here at UMD really helped me to turn the page and help me get ready for the next level in college hockey. I definitely bloomed my freshman year of college hockey, and a lot of that credit goes to my coaches and teammates.”
Perunovich’s Time in Duluth
That freshman year in 2017-18 saw him take the NCAA hockey scene by storm, scoring 36 points in 45 games, leading the Bulldogs to their second National Championship win in school history, defeating Notre Dame 2-1.
Perunovich said that despite the fact that they went into the tournament as the third seed in the region, they never believed they couldn’t win it all.
“At the beginning of the year, no matter who you’re playing for, or how good you think you’re going to be, your goal is always to win a national championship. The coaching we have, though, could turn a sub-par team and turn them into a team that could be competitive at playoff time. No matter who we have, we will have a shot at winning a national championship.”
In an interview after the championship win, Perunovich said that the team had played “Bulldog hockey.” “[We played with] heart, grit, everything it takes to be a good hockey player. This team is closer than just a team, we are family forever.”
That year also saw him represent Team USA at the World Junior Championships, helping to lead them to a bronze medal. He scored 3 points in the tournament in 7 games (1 goal, 2 assists.)
Talking after the tournament, Perunovich said he believed that having a teammate there to help him transition to playing at the highest level of competition did help him in the process.
“Having my UMD roommate Dylan Samberg in Buffalo helped me a lot. The pace there was super high. A lot of the guys that I got to play with and against went high in the draft this past year. Some are playing in the NHL too, so I just got to experience the competitiveness. That helped me a lot, and it was a great experience on and off the ice.”
In his sophomore campaign in Duluth, he teamed up with a loaded group of defensemen. He assisted in holding opponents to three goals in four games on their way to a second national championship in as many years.
Aspiring to help the team win their third national championship in a row this past season, Perunovich tallied 40 points in 34 games for the Bulldogs. He led them to a 22-10-2 record before the NCHC playoffs were canceled.
Now having signed a contract with the Blues, how does Perunovich fit in the grand scheme of things on the back end for the team?
The only youngster they have with a left-handed shot is Vince Dunn and their leadership on that side of the defense is Jay Bouwmeester, whose future is unknown as of now.
When the Blues were making the decision to draft Perunovich originally, he had a couple of people on the draft floor advocating for him.
“They pounded the wall for him, they wanted him,” said Tim Taylor, the Blues’ director of player development (From ‘Hobey Baker 2020: What comes to mind when coaches, scouts see Scott Perunovich play for the first time? ‘Special’, The Duluth News Tribune, 4/9/20). “They knew that he had talent. Keith Tkachuk, who played a huge amount of games in the NHL, a real good player, he sees something in him that he would love to have as a player. That’s a defenseman that moves the puck and gets up there and really wants to win.”
Whether he starts out the 2020-21 season for the Blues, or in the AHL with the Springfield Thunderbirds, the hopes for Perunovich’s future are very high from everyone in the organization.
“I was in awe of how quick he did things, and his speed and his agility… He’s a smaller guy but he plays a fierce game,” said Taylor. “Once I saw him that first time, I knew he was a special player. Not so much because of his vision, creativity and skill, but because of his compete. That’s the one thing that stood off the charts for me.”
Perunovich has had a long and winding road to get to the pros. It has been a road that has been filled with experiences and accolades, and he has a lot of people rooting for him from all levels of hockey.
His time has now come to prove that he can help out the team that took a chance on him.