University of Minnesota Duluth standout defenseman Scott Perunovich finished his final collegiate season with another significant honor.
Perunovich, a native of Hibbing, Minnesota, captured the Jim Johannson College Player of the Year Award from USA Hockey. The award was established in 1994 to recognize the accomplishments of the top American-born player in men’s college hockey.
“It’s definitely exciting, for sure, especially during this time of [coronavirus] quarantine with my family,” Perunovich said. “It’s something to look forward to and share together. It means a lot to my family, my teammates and the city of Duluth.”
In 2019, the Jim Johannson College Player of the Year Award was renamed in honor of the late Jim Johannson, who played college hockey at the University of Wisconsin and spent two decades as an executive at USA Hockey.
“Obviously, I think he’s very deserving of it,” said defenseman Dylan Samberg, a teammate with Perunovich at Minnesota Duluth. “He’s a great player and I enjoyed being his teammate. He was really fun to watch on the ice and it was cool to be part of this with him. I figured he had a really good chance of winning it and I’m really proud of him.”
Perunovich joins a list of winners, which include Buffalo Sabres star Jack Eichel and Calgary Flames standout Johnny Gaudreau, in addition to goaltender Ryan Miller, a star for the United States during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.
“He was a go-to guy for us, who played a ton of minutes,” said Scott Sandelin, head coach at Minnesota Duluth. “He’s always been a really talented offensive player with great vision, but I saw the development and how he has grown over the years here. It’s a great honor and the accolades he’s getting are certainly well deserved.”
Perunovich also claimed this year’s Hobey Baker Memorial Award, the top individual prize in men’s college hockey. He’s the sixth Hobey Baker Award winner from Minnesota Duluth, the school with the most winners in NCAA history.
Sandelin anticipated a big season from his standout defenseman.
“He had a great summer, he got healthy and I think his season reflected that,” Sandelin said. “He had an unbelievable year and was a huge part of our team. He was a guy who could control a game for us and contribute both offensively and defensively.”
Perunovich was the second ranked scoring defenseman in the NCAA this season with a team-leading and career-best 40 points in 34 games. Since the 1961-62 season, a defenseman has led UMD in scoring just three times, with Perunovich accomplishing the feat twice. He had 22 power-play points and 34 assists, ranking first and second, respectively, among all NCAA skaters.
“It’s a lot easier when you have a great team around you,” Perunovich said. “I got a lot of my points by moving the puck up to our forwards and letting them do the rest of the work. I get a lot of the credit, but the credit goes to my teammates, for sure.”
For the third time in his career, Perunovich was named an All-American, a feat only two other Bulldogs have ever accomplished. He was picked as the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Player of the Year — the first defenseman to lead the league in scoring — and was the first three-time All-NCHC First Team pick in league history.
Perunovich also became the 58th Minnesota Duluth player to record at least 100 career points and the first defenseman since Norm Maciver in 1984-85.
“All three seasons he had here at Duluth were great,” Samberg said. “He had a really great first year, which kind of kicked him off for the next couple years. He’s earned everything, he’s a fun player to watch and I have a lot of good memories with him over the years.”
Those memories included championships.
Perunovich, who grew up about 90 minutes from Duluth, helped his home state team to consecutive national championships as a freshman and a sophomore. The Bulldogs sought to win a third consecutive national title for the first time since Michigan from 1951-53. They were ranked No. 5 in the nation when the NCAA season was canceled because of the coronavirus.
“I genuinely think our team had a really good shot at winning it again this year,” Perunovich said. “The feeling in the locker room was kind of the same as last year. We had leadership, a good team and we were closely bonded. I was really looking forward to trying to make history with UMD.”
Now, Perunovich is set to begin the next stage of his career, as he signed a two-year entry-level contract with the St. Louis Blues in March. He was selected 45th overall in the 2018 NHL Draft.
Sandelin compared the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Perunovich to the likes of a pair of 5-foot-9 standout NHL defensemen in Boston’s Torey Krug and Jared Spurgeon of the Minnesota Wild.
“Obviously, I’m not going to say he’s Torey Krug right now, but I think he’s in that same mold, and with the game today, those guys can flourish,” Sandelin said. “There’s such a calmness and poise to his game and Scotty’s vision is as good as I’ve had here. I think he’s going to a great organization that will help him grow as a player.”
Perunovich is looking forward to his time with the Blues organization.
“It has definitely been my dream for a long time to play in the NHL,” Perunovich said. “I really like the organization, all of the guys I’ve talked to and everyone who works there. It’s kind of the same feeling I had when I committed to Duluth. I feel like I’m in good hands and I trust the organization.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.