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When one door closes…

While COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the hockey world for much of the 2020-21 season, it created a series of unique opportunities at home and abroad for Cole Perfetti

Paul Edmonds
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May 30, 2021
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It’s fortunate Cole Perfetti is good at stops and starts, since that’s the way his hockey career has unfolded in the last 14 months.

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the hockey world in March 2020, which included his Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season with the Saginaw Spirit, the talented forward essentially spent the next nine months devoid of a meaningful hockey game.

But the switch flipped back on last fall when he was invited to Canada’s National Junior Team Sport Chek Selection Camp. From there, he represented Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship, played 32 games with the Manitoba Moose in a condensed American Hockey League (AHL) schedule and accepted an additional invitation to play for Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Championship.

And somewhere in between, he also attended training camp with the Winnipeg Jets, the NHL team that selected him 10th overall last October in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.

“It’s been a whirlwind, but I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Perfetti said from Riga, Latvia – the site of this year’s world championship.

“It’s been a bucket list of things and a lot of my dreams have come true in the last eight months. It’s been amazing.”

As rare as it is for a teenager to represent Canada at the world championship as Perfetti, Braden Schneider and Owen Power are all doing this spring, it was equally unique for a 19-year-old from North America to play in the AHL.

But due to the OHL’s inability to start their 2020-21 season amid the pandemic, Perfetti found a spot with the Moose – the Jets’ top minor league affiliate.

It was an appropriate landing zone and preparation precursor to playing for Canada in Latvia since every night the competition is against men, not boys.

“It was so good for me,” said the Whitby, Ont., product. “The OHL would still have been great development, but you’re just not getting that size, skill, strength and speed that professional hockey has.

“I developed so much this year. I could see it my game and feel it in my game. I know how much better of a hockey player I am compared to when I first arrived in Winnipeg. The elevation in my game allowed me to get an invitation to worlds.”

Arriving in the Manitoba capital as a top prospect thanks to a 37-goal and 111-point campaign with the Spirit in 2019-20, it would be presumed he would just provide that level of offensive contribution to his new team.

But as veteran Moose head coach Pascal Vincent cautioned, asking a 19-year-old to score at that rate in the AHL is a folly expectation.

“I watched him at the World Juniors and obviously he has an offensive mind-set, and we didn’t want to change that, but it’s a big step coming into our league.”

However, it didn’t take long for Perfetti to find his groove with the Moose. He arrived as one of 16 first-year players on the team and departed for Latvia in early May sitting second in team scoring with nine goals and 26 points in 32 games.

At one stage he fashioned a seven-game point scoring streak consisting of four goals and 13 points – good for the AHL Rookie of the Month award for April. Of those points, 12 of 13 were either goals or primary assists and he did it without cutting corners away from the puck and inside his own zone.

“He didn’t cheat the game defensively to create offence,” said Vincent. “He was really smart about figuring things out. You don’t have to tell him twice.”

With excellent vision, skating ability and hockey acumen, it’s no secret in understanding why he’s part of Canada’s entry at the IIHF World Championship.

Overall, it’s the third time Perfetti has represented his country in the last three years. This includes the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he led the tournament in scoring with eight goals and 12 points in five games.

“That was first time ever that I played on European ice,” he said. “It was huge for me to see where I stood against the best competition around the world and a big confidence booster going into my draft year. I built a lot of confidence off that tournament.”

Directing most of his international play along the way has been André Tourigny, who is an assistant coach with Team Canada at the worlds and was Perfetti’s head coach at the 2021 World Juniors. He also game-planned against the young star for two seasons in the OHL as the bench boss of the Ottawa 67’s.

It is this connection that helped tender the invitation for Perfetti to join Team Canada in Latvia as one of the team’s three teenagers this month.

“He's a smart kid,” said Tourigny. “He wants to learn... he's a fun kid to coach and I really like the way he plays.”

Understandably thankful for the opportunity to be part of Team Canada again, Perfetti knows his participation in the world championship is another significant step in his development to his ultimate goal of earning a spot on the Winnipeg Jets next season.

“This is an NHL tournament,” he said. “As a young kid who hasn’t played an NHL game, getting a chance to play with and against NHLers is very helpful for me. This tournament is great for my development. Anytime you get to wear the Maple Leaf and represent Canada and do it at the world stage is special.

“It’s going to be huge for my confidence leading into next year and hopefully jumping up to the Jets.”

For more information:

Dominick Saillant
Director, Communications
Hockey Canada
514-895-9706
[email protected]

 

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-284-6484
[email protected]

 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
Office: 403-777-4567
Mobile: 905-906-5327
[email protected]

 

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