Wednesday, November 17, 2021

With Perunovich's NHL career just beginning, defenseman has Faulks to thank for transition, adult life

2020 2nd-rd pick grateful to Justin, Chloe Faulk for taking him in, allowing 
him to get on feet in foreign city; parents get to see his first NHL game

ST. LOUIS -- Now that Justin Faulk has a live-in tenant again, joining wife Chloe and infant child -- and dogs -- he had one request of Blues defenseman and teammate Scott Perunovich.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Scott Perunovich made his Blues and NHL debut on Tuesday, but the
defenseman is grateful to teammate Justin Faulk and wife Chloe for taking
him in and giving him chance to grow in new city.

"We haven't gone over that yet. I think first duty will be feeding the dogs at 7 a.m. when they get up and want to be fed," Faulk said. "It's pretty smooth. He's got a nice, comfortable space I think for him to kind of relax or to be away from us if he wants as well. It's pretty easy."

Perunovich, one of the Blues' top prospects who played his first NHL game Tuesday, hasn't been given any requests for feeding the dogs but won't object if asked -- or told.

"No, but I'll do anything he tells me to do, but right now, just hang out with him," Perunovich said of Faulk. "He said I'm going to have to start (to) babysit. I've never done that before, so we'll see how that goes."

Changing diapers isn't Perunovich's thing, but he wasn't going to pass up the chance to take up residence in St. Louis with what amounts to his second family, the Faulks. 

They were the ones that took Perunovich into the Faulk home when the 23-year-old stayed with them last season while he was training with the Blues and after his shoulder injury that required surgery.

The 2020 Hobey Baker Award winner hadn't seen much of the ice since his final season at Minnesota-Duluth in 2020. He didn't get one game in last season, and as a young 22-year-old, it can get quite troublesome, and lonely, when things aren't going well in a city you're not familiar with.

"There were some dark times for sure," Perunovich said. "Shoulder surgery wasn't ideal and then I think two weeks before that, I had immediate or emergency wisdom teeth removal too and the whole time, I was living in St. Louis alone too. Well not alone, I was living with 'Faulker' but away from my family. Him and Chloe were rock stars with me, especially Chloe. 

"When I got my wisdom teeth out, I'm not a fan of blood or surgeries and that was like my first main one. I don't really remember much from after the surgery, but I remember Chloe. We were in the kitchen, just me and her I think. Justin was on the road and she was telling me I had to get all the gauze out of my mouth and I couldn't do it, so I was freaked out about it. Next thing I know, she was sticking her fingers down my throat to get the gauze out just being a trooper. And the whole time, she's like eight and a half months pregnant doing this. What those two did for me is, like I'll never be able to thank them, my family as well. They know how much those two have taken care of me. To be able to have that in my corner in that whole time, I don't know what I would have done without those two. I'm serious. I hope they know how much I appreciate that."

Faulk knows. So much so, that he invited Perunovich, recalled from Springfield of the American Hockey League on Monday, to stay with them again.

"I think it just makes it a little easier on him, allows him to get his bearings here," Faulk said. "I have another space in the house that works for him. It's not the basement. He does have windows. He can see the light outside."

Word spread quickly that Perunovich, who was tearing up the AHL with 20 points (two goals, 18 assists) in 12 games, was on his way to St. Louis, and Faulk wasted little time.

"I think Justin just called me, I don't think I had his number yet, and he called me and he said, 'My house is open if you want to live with me,'" Perunovich recalled of the first time last season staying with Faulk. "And then this time, when I got called up this time, I just got off the phone with Doug Armstrong and 30 minutes later, I had a text message from Justin saying I'm living with him. He said he had to check with his wife Chloe first, and thankfully she said, 'Yeah.' Hopefully she doesn't have to take any more gauze out of my mouth."

The Blues didn't hold back. They inserted Perunovich into the lineup immediately, in front of his parents, Jim and Susan, who witnessed first, his solo skate onto the ice for the pregame warmup, then seeing their son play 18:26 in his first game.

"It was a dream for sure," Perunovich said. "It was a special moment. It was really special having my family there. They've been a part of it since Day 1. I just know how much it meant to them and how excited they were. That definitely made it special too.

"Just warms my heart to see how happy they are. I thought for sure my mom was going to be balling her eyes out, so she did a good job. She held up pretty well."

But before he took the ice for the pregame warmup, Perunovich was given a set of instructions, or advice, from someone who's done it himself.

"Vladi actually came up to me probably 30 minutes before warmups and he said, 'You're going out first, you're not wearing a helmet, don't miss the net, don't step on a puck,'" Perunovich said of Vladimir Tarasenko. "That was his advice he gave to me and then he walked away. That was it, so I just listened to what he said.

"I was shooting for the middle of the net, I wasn't missing. Vladi told me not to miss, I'm not going to miss."

Perunovich didn't register a point in the 3-2 loss, but he looked composed, he skated with fluidity and he made pinpoint passes with the puck. There are other parts to his game that will come, but it was evident that the time he spent with the Thunderbirds, albeit for only a month or so, was spent well and helped the Hibbing, Minn. native prepare for this.

"I think a ton," Perunovich said. "I haven't played a lot in the last few years and we have an unbelievable team down in Springfield. All the guys are great people and great leaders and they're also great players too along with our coaching staff. Obviously that helps a ton as well. We have some veteran guys down there who would talk to me and give me advice every now and then. Having those type of leaders is huge for development, especially at a young spot in your career.

"I was getting good ice time. I was on both power plays for a bit. We had some injuries. They told me they were going to try and give me basically all situations and they did. That helps for sure."

And Blues coach Craig Berube wasn't going to waste time just putting Perunovich through the motions; he played 2:59 on the power play quarterbacking the second unit.

"His eyes are up and sees the ice very well," Berube said. "That's a gift. His passing is pretty elite."

On Wednesday as they headed for practice, each drove his own vehicle, and when they arrived and saw the lines and defensive pairings on the white board from the coaching staff, Perunovich was tickled to death when he saw ... 


He and Faulk are expected to be partners against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday.

"I didn't even know what to think," Perunovich said. "I thought I was ... because this morning on my way to the rink, I'm staying at his house and I was thinking kind of how far we've came. I didn't really know him that well before and then I just show up at his house, I follow him from Minnesota and then a year and a half, two years later, my name's next to his on the board, my number. Pretty special and he's a great player, so it should be fun."

Faulk, who had been partnered for much of last season and the start of this season with Torey Krug until Krug would miss five games due to COVID-19 protocol, to which Faulk said, "I think he went and asked 'Chief' if he can get rid of me one game back and he was already complaining about it. I'll have to have a word with him on that I think and see what I did wrong."

Now Faulk's looking forward to playing with a prized hockey player who he's mentored on and off the ice in a sense.

"You watch him skate and play and it's not ... whoever has this mold of a hockey player, whoever made it, but I think he missed a few things," Faulk said. "There's more to it. Like you said, he has his head up. He can read the play and make those plays. It's tough for a young guy to do that, that's for sure. I think you can see how cool and composed he is out there with the puck and how he skates. He thinks the game out there and that's one of the hardest parts to get is the thinking side of it. There's so many guys that can skate real well and shoot the puck real well, that could pass, do a lot of things, but if you can't think the game, he won't last very long, I don't think, up here. Guys are just too smart. You can see that he has a head for the game and can anticipate a lot of things out there and that's obviously going to benefit him significantly."

It's obvious Faulk and Perunovich have developed that bond off the ice, which should make the transition onto the ice smoothly.

"I think so for sure," Perunovich said. "Last summer when I was living with him, I think we were d-partners, or maybe in this camp. Definitely having that connection off the ice, I feel like when I have a question about anything, straight to Justin. Seems like he always has an answer right away. He's a special guy."

"It's usually how it goes in a sense of teammates, you don't just talk on the ice, right? There's plenty of opportunities," Faulk said. "Guys are around each other and build that relationship and stuff. As teammates, it's of the utmost importance that you care about each other and you take care of each other. That translates on the ice. I don't think it starts on the ice and then goes off the ice. I think it's actually the other way. It's important, not for just Scotty and I to play together, but everyone on the team to kind of have that mentality and care for one another and get to know your teammates and what not and be there for each other. It is easy on the ice and then you're willing to work for each other and care about each other's success."

One would think there's plenty of hockey talk when they leave the rink or maybe even at the house.

Not so.

"No, once we get away from the rink, it's not really hockey," Perunovich said. "He's big into fishing. I'm not. I've been asking him questions. He's got a fishing boat at home, so I was looking at that asking questions, but not much hockey unless we're on the way to the rink or at the rink."

Also being a Minnesota-Duluth alum, albeit for one season in 2010-11, connects Faulk and Perunovich. Coincidence? Sure, but the bond is just getting started and will continue to grow.

"This one was a little bit more close to home, I guess, right, in a sense," Faulk said. "Some college and then obviously he's with the Blues, but it's not like I would reach out to someone that signed with the New York Rangers, unless I know them. I'd say, 'Congrats,' or something, whatever that is. This one's easy. A lot of us all went through it in a sense of being a young guy coming to a new situation and having to get your bearings with that connection. We didn't know each other before at all. I just wanted to make it easier on him and I know his agent, I've known his agent since I was, I don't know, 12-, 13-years-old, so that was another connection there that made it easier and what not. It's just something that I wanted to do and reach out and say, 'Congrats,' and see if I could lend a helping hand.

"Four straight Frozen Fours, three straight national championship games, three national championships total, I follow him pretty good! No, I knew what he was doing. I don't follow individuals really. Obviously we all know he won the Hobey Baker and he was having a great career there. I think I knew more about him towards his last year and obviously once I got here too. I didn't know that he was drafted here or anything before I showed up in St. Louis (in 2019) and what not. I follow Duluth quite a bit. I go to alumni weekends when I get a chance. It's nice to see them producing and continuing to have a good team and putting guys to the next level."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Justin Faulk will be partnered with Scott Perunovich when
they take on the San Jose Sharks on Thursday.

To which Perunovich said about Faulk, "Everyone knew who he was. He's definitely a legend at UMD and to get to know him on a personal level, he's a legend off the ice too."

And when Perunovich went "home," he did everything he could to make his stay as well as can be, and to extend it as long as possible.

"I try to be clean, I try to be respectful, I try to be quiet now with the baby in the house too," Perunovich said. "He's got a perfect setup for me. I'm well taken care of and Chloe's an unbelievable cook. It's amazing.

"I'm not leaving until I get kicked out. That's what I was thinking, so we'll see how long I last."
Perunovich's career is just getting started and thanks to Faulk, the transition was made smoothly.

"Scotty's not 18, but guys are 18 years old. Never left home," Faulk said. "You come out of football, or you're into football, you're into three years of college, you've been away from home and you've been on your own. I don't know if they do or they don't, I'll just take your word for it right now, but I think some guys have never done a load of laundry before. They don't need to be sending all their stuff to the dry cleaners every day to get it taken care of. It's an easy way to make life easier for young kids. It's a whirlwind as it is. They've got to deal with people reaching out to them, calling or texting, whatever it might be. If there's ways to make life easier for them, it's a no-brainer."

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