Scott Perunovich became the tenth Minnesotan to win the prestigious Hobey Baker Award as the most outstanding player in men’s college hockey in April. The Hibbing native led the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) with 40 points, which was second among all NCAA defenseman.
Perunovich, who signed with the St. Louis Blues after the college season ended, made his mark on the Bulldogs and college hockey from the moment he took the ice, earning the National College Hockey Conference’s Offensive Defenseman of the Year award and being named an All-American in each of his three years of college hockey.
We caught up with the defenseman to hear more about his hockey journey and what helped make him the player he is today.
Minnesota Hockey: What was it like growing up playing hockey in Hibbing?
Scott Perunovich: Hockey was pretty big growing up for me, especially in the small town of Hibbing. We had in the past won State Championships, and some legends that came from here. Growing up, Peewees and Bantams, I just looked up to the high school guys. It meant so much to put on a jersey and play for Hibbing.
MH: Did you play a lot of pond hockey growing up?
SP: When I didn’t have practice, I was never really home. I was probably at the outdoor rink. It was called the Greenhaven Rink. That’s kind of our main set of rinks. I would be out there, right after hockey practice or right after school, until they shut the lights off at 9 pm. I basically lived at the outdoor rinks with my buddies growing up.
MH: What made playing outdoors the type of experience you wanted to spend that much time there?
SP: I think we just had a good group of kids. It was free and relaxed at the outdoor rink. Just with my buddies, freezing cold and having a ton of fun. My youth coaches growing up were Pat Iozzo, Ryan Hanegmon and Aaron Jamnick. Every Wednesday our practice would be at the outdoor rink, and we would just have the whole group kind of scrimmaging at the end of the rink. Pretty soon, people started showing up. Then, younger kids would show up. It just made it really special.
MH: At what age did you start taking hockey seriously and start really pursuing it?
SP: That’s a hard question. You always dream of playing in the NHL as a kid, but growing up, my dad always told me to play hard and have fun. It’s all about having fun. That’s what I’ve tried to do. I was obviously competitive, but I just wanted to have fun. When I really started to get serious about what could happen was probably halfway through my freshman year of college.
MH: What was your biggest motivator or had you excited about getting better at hockey?
SP: Growing up, that’s where everyone would go. My whole friend group would always be at the outdoor rink. Hockey was our escape. We could just have fun. I have a few buddies who are pretty into hockey too, and they’re still playing today. I think the outdoor rink was a huge part of my development believe it or not. If you have 20 guys on a sheet of ice, there’s not a lot of room. You have to think. It was definitely beneficial to my career.
MH: Did you have an idol, mentor or someone who really influenced you in hockey?
SP: I have one person that is far ahead of everyone else. That’s my dad. He’s been my biggest motivator and supporter and everything in between throughout my entire career and life.
I also had a lot of great people around me growing up in youth hockey. Pat Iozzo coached me through youth hockey. I had Ryan Hanegmon, Aaron Jamnick, Mack Estey and Bob Bussey. They knew hockey, but they also knew how to put a smile on your face. They taught you how to play, but you also had fun doing it. Kids were excited to get to the rink and practice and see those guys.
MH: What was your time like playing high school hockey?
SP: High school hockey was super exciting for me. I played two years at Hibbing. We have an unbelievable rink. I think it’s the best high school rink in Minnesota. It was a packed barn all of the time. We had a ton of fans growing up. We had big rivalries. Greenway was a big rivalry so those games were packed. We had thousands of people there. We beat them in overtime in playoffs, which was super exciting.
MH: You accomplished so much at UMD it may be hard to narrow down, but what do you think are going to be your favorite memories?
SP: Not in order I guess, my favorite memories would be the first National Championship, the second National Championship, and the friendships and memories I made with my teammates throughout three years at UMD. They’re special players and special guys. We made a ton of memories that will last a lifetime.
MH: The season ends abruptly. You sign an NHL contract, and then, you win the Hobey Baker Award. What has this last month been like for you?
SP: It’s been pretty hectic. When the season ended, it was tough for everyone. We had to come back home. I came out to my cabin. I’ve been staying out here and trying to keep my mind ready.
When the Hobey Baker Award night came, I had my grandmas come out here and my girlfriend. We watched it and celebrated. It was a really special night. I was happy I could enjoy that with my family. It was definitely a unique experience, but it was still so special. It gave us something to look forward to.
MH: What are you doing to stay active and try to train when you don’t have the typical facilities or access to ice?
SP: I have a bunch of body weight exercises I have been doing through St. Louis. My dad taught me how to run the chainsaw. I’ve been cutting down trees and splitting them. I have been doing a lot of yardwork. I guess anything I can do in terms of outdoor projects that keep me busy and keep my mind active so I’m not staring at a TV screen all day. I’m basically outside from 10:30 am to 8 pm.
MH: Would you have any advice or suggestions for young players growing up in Minnesota?
SP: I would say always have fun. When you stop having fun, it’s tough to keep playing hockey. Work hard, always have fun and be a good teammate. Be thankful for your parents. They do a ton that you don’t think about until later in life.