Friday, June 29, 2018

Perunovich overcame odds, took advantage as late bloomer

Defenseman helped Minnesota-Duluth to national title last season, saw 
stock rise with solid World Junior Championship in final year of draft eligibility

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Scott Perunovich wasted little time in getting acclimated with fellow Blues prospects this past week at camp, he even found a roommate he hit it off with right away.

"Meeting all these new faces. I'm rooming with Dominik Bokk, the first rounder, and it's already felt like we've been friends for years," Perunovich, a second-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, said. "We've gotten really close. We mess with each other a little bit. A lot of good people here. It's exciting to be here."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Second-round draft pick Scott Perunovich (right) meets Blues management
after being selected at the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas on June 23.

Bokk, a first-round pick this year, is German-born and knows a thing or two about soccer; he was obviously frustrated by Germany's shocking exit from the World Cup. But Bokk was in baseball-crazed St. Louis this week and took in his first-ever baseball game Friday night at Busch Stadium between the Cardinals and Atlanta Braves with fellow Blues prospects.

Needless to say, Bokk needed some tips on the game itself.

"The first day we got here, he was pretty excited talking about soccer all the time," Perunovich said of Bokk. "We were actually watching the baseball game; he's never seen a baseball game before. He didn't know how many innings there were or strikes or balls; he didn't know anything, so I was just trying to teach him a little about that, but I think he just wants to learn more about soccer."

So who better to teach Bokk the basics of baseball than Perunovich?

"No, I think he's a lost cause right now," Perunovich joked. "I don't think he was paying attention to me when I was explaining it."

Perunovich, who had to sit out the last three days of on-ice activities at camp because of a minor ailment, can attest to not having anyone pay attention to him. The Hibbing, Mn. native famous for producing singer Bob Dylan and Boston Celtics great Kevin McHale has been tagged with the label "late bloomer." And rightfully so.

At 5-foot-9, 172 pounds, Perunovich has fought through the battles of getting himself put on the map. It finally came to fruition this past season, and if 2019 ends the way 2018 did for Perunovich, the defenseman will have no objections.

Perunovich was in his third and final year of draft eligibility and will play his junior season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth; he will be going for a repeat as national champion after Perunovich and the Bulldogs won their second national title.

"We barely got into the tournament," Perunovich said. "It was supposed to be a rebuilding year and we had a young d-core. Our oldest person was a sophomore. To be able to pull that off when no one thought you would is pretty special."

What was also pretty special was Perunovich finally hearing his name called. After being bypassed the past two years, Perunovich was down to his last life. Either get drafted in Dallas or try and land with a team moving forward as a free agent. But notoriety with the Bulldogs and a rise in play for the United States at the 2018 World Junior Championship in Buffalo.

"Years of relief finally to know hard work pays off and I just had a goal and I was able to achieve it," Perunovich said. "That was one of the best feelings I've ever had."

It was the persistent prodding of Blues amateur scouts J Niemiec and Keith Tkachuk, who has had two sons (Matthew as the sixth pick in 2016 and Brady as the fourth pick) chosen in the first round, that pushed Blues brass towards Perunovich despite his size.

"He's a late bloomer," Blues director of amateur scouting Bill Armstrong said of Perunovich. "Yeah, you can put him in that category. What caught my eye were our two area scouts, Keith Tkachuk and J Niemiec were relentlessly forwarding me video on him and saying, 'You better go back to see him, you better go back.' The first person they brought up in the conference calls was to push the crossovers, scouts to go back and see him. They wore us down to the point where we just had to go back and as we went back and watched him, we fell in love with the kid. He's still got work to do, but there's something good there.

"... He's one of those guys that just hates to lose. That's probably a great quality that we haven't talked about with him. You look for that in prospects. Are they big in the big moments? Can they win it? He went into college and the interesting thing about him is he played on one of the worst USHL teams ever. It was a struggling year and he came back in and he valued the winning part and he embraced it. He immersed himself in his team and he led them to a national championship. It's a good story, and he certainly one of those kids that it's one of those little qualities that you love about him, that he hates to lose."

Perunovich, who had 36 points (11 goals, 25 assists) with the Bulldogs last season and three points (one goal, two assists) in seven games for USA, said it was hard at times seeing the light at the end of the tunnel but that it motivated him more to push through. He models his game after that of Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug.

"It was tough," he said. "It was definitely disappointing the first two years not getting drafted, but I think it makes it a lot more special being my last year to go to St. Louis. I had a meeting with them the first day of the draft and I had a good feeling. I liked the people I talked to there. I kind of felt like I did when I was touring UM-D, kind of the same homey feeling. I was excited to be a part of their organization.

"I think (the world juniors) helped my name get on the radar a little bit more. I don't think I was a big name, or I was growing up. I think a good start to UM-D helped me out get my name out there for world juniors and I was luckily enough to make the team, so that definitely helped me out a lot."

Perunovich was in the stands watching and listening to fellow prospects waiting for his name to be called. Some had been there for the first time, some were in a similar situation as he was. Persistence was key.

"Super anxious obviously," Perunovich said. "I felt like names were going off the board pretty fast here, too. I was lucky enough to go decently in the (second) round though. Definitely a lot of excitement there.

"My family has always been super supportive. My dad [Jim's] been there every step of the way. My agency was very good. It's been there. They talked me down a little bit, they kept me a little off the edge there, so yeah, I probably had the best supporting cast I could have had."

Perunovich said there was never a doubt whether it was all worth it in the end, even when it seemed like there would be no favorable end.

"No, I don't think so," he said. "I think that just motivated me more. I knew I was ranked pretty low in a lot of things, but you know, things are different in the hockey world. They know a little bit more, so I knew if I give all I had, it would be recognized. Thankfully it did by these guys."
(USA Hockey photo)
Scott Perunovich made an impact for Team USA
last winter at the World Junior Championship. 

Perunovich will spend his summer working out and preparing for college hockey again in Minnesota but may also have to answer to McHale, whose son dates Perunovich's sister Lisa. 

Why? Because when Perunovich was asked who's the most famous person to come from Hibbing, he wanted to chose his words carefully but couldn't even sugarcoat them when he picked Dylan.

"Oh God, I know Kevin McHale personally, so hopefully, he doesn't watch this," Perunovich said. "I think so, I think [Dylan] might have him topped my a little bit."

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