DULUTH — As soon as Scott Sandelin signed Scott Perunovich, he knew he was getting an outstanding player.
The University of Minnesota-Duluth coach got to watch Perunovich grow and develop over the past three seasons, and all of that hard work has paid off handsomely.
Perunovich earned the top award in college hockey when he was selected the Hobey Baker winner Saturday.
He became the sixth Bulldog to win the award, joining Tom Kurvers, Bill Watson, Chris Marinucci, Junior Lessard and Jack Connelly in that elite class of players.
As a freshman, Perunovich had an outstanding season, especially on the offensive end of things, then as a sophomore, he still had a good year even though he wasn’t 100-percent healthy.
This season, with nothing holding him back, Perunovich upped his game to another level.
“You saw the kind of player he actually is,” Sandelin said. “He has unbelievable vision and patience. He can control a game. He has the offensive ability, but his defensive ability grew here.
“He’s also competitive. That’s a big part of his success, too. That should help him moving forward.”
UMD has had a lot of proven defenseman in the program throughout years in Kurvers, Curt Giles and Norm MacIver, but Sandelin said Perunovich ranks right up with them.
“We’ve had a lot of good ones, and in this modern era, he’s been one of the best in college hockey the last couple of years,” Sandelin said. “I was hoping he would get that recognition, and get that award. He’s deserving of it.
“He has the ability to make a difference in a game. When he was on the ice, he was fun to watch.”
There were still some things in Perunovich’s game that needed to be cleaned up, and Sandelin worked the Hibbing graduate to improve those parts of his game.
“We had some conversations,” Sandelin said. “My job is to keep pushing guys to get better. Scotty always had the talent, but it was practicing the right way and approaching things the right away that allowed him to become that elite player.
“You get kids who are talented, and they can get by with that, but our job is to take that and reinforce what they’re doing well to get better. He was coachable. He got a lot better here in a lot of areas of his game.”
One of those areas was defensively. Perunovich is a magician with the puck on his stick, but Sandelin needed to tighten up his defensive game.
“That was a big area,” Sandelin said. “Coming in, we knew what he meant to our team offensively, especially with today’s game being more offensive-minded. He was like our fourth forward, but that may have sacrificed his defensive responsibilities.
“That got overlooked his freshman year because he was putting up numbers. We kept harping on him to make sure that that was a part of his game, to make sure he was taking care of it, then he had the green light to do things after that.”
Sandelin would love to have Perunovich back for a fourth season, but he has since signed a contract to join the St. Louis Blues next season.
“He’s ready to take that next step,” Sandelin said. “He’s a complete player. He’s more confident in all areas of his game. Those are the things he got stronger at over his time here.
“He’s not the most physical player, but he uses his brain and body position. His anticipation is good. He picks his spots defensively, but that’s no different than our other defensemen. He matured, got stronger and he has more confidence. I’m excited to see where him move forward.”
Perunovich is going to a strong Blues organization, so that should help.
“He’ll be bringing elements to that team from an offensive side,” Sandelin said. “It’s a great opportunity for him to play with a good hockey team. Hopefully, they put him in the right situations to be successful early.
“It’s a learning curve, but he’ll figure it out. He’s going there confident. Had he left last year, do I think he could have played? Possibly, but he wasn’t healthy. Having the year he had this year will certainly help him mentally. He has a good chance to get the opportunity to play there.”