WINNIPEG – Cole Perfetti admits he isn’t really the journaling type, but his virtual scrapbook is currently overflowing with magical memories.
The Winnipeg Jets’ top forward prospect capped a remarkable nine-month span by claiming a gold medal for Team Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Men’s Hockey Championship in Latvia last weekend.
Chosen 10th overall by the Jets last October, there was an inordinate amount of uncertainty over how much hockey Perfetti might even be able to play this season, considering the Ontario Hockey League never even got to play a single game.
But at a time when many of his friends and teammates were either kept off the ice or unable to participate in game action, Perfetti was able to enjoy a wide variety of experiences he won’t soon forget.
The last of which was jumping over the boards and joining the massive celebration after Nick Paul and Connor Brown converted an opportunity in overtime to secure the gold-medal victory over Finland.
“Not much of a journaling kind of guy. All the experiences and stuff I’ve been through, I just try to soak it in when I’m there. Then just look back,” said Perfetti. “I’ve already gone through my phone a couple times for pictures from the night we won. It was an amazing night and something I’ll never forget, and it brings a smile to my face just looking at the pictures.
“Just looking back already at the tournament, it was so much fun and I’m glad to be home, be with my family. At the end of the day, it was a great learning curve, great learning experience. I’m so grateful I got the opportunity to learn, to be able to play. I don’t really document too much stuff, just sort of live in the moment and look back on it and hopefully have just memories in my head that I can replay.”
Along with the many memories created, from starting the compressed season suiting up for Team Canada at the world junior hockey championship in Edmonton to joining the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League, Perfetti came to an important realization over the course of this season.
His ultimate goal of becoming an NHL player is far closer than he imagined when joining the Jets organization last October.
“This year really made me realize that… it’s the best league in the world for a reason and it’s very hard to make that next step into that league,” said Perfetti, who had nine goals and 26 points in 32 AHL games this season. “There were some things that I needed to do to get ready for the NHL. But playing these last five months with the Moose and with Team Canada here, I’ve realized that I can handle the strength, I can handle the speed. I can go in the corners and not get pushed off pucks and be able to win battles and make plays coming out of those battles. It was a real eye-opener for me, to realize I’m not far away on strength.
“I can play right now and it’s only going to get better as the summer goes on, as I get stronger and put more work in. It’s only become that much more beneficial for me to make that jump easier. I don’t think I would be here in this position without this year.”
To make those strides as a 19-year-old is impressive.
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The Jets have some depth at forward and it will be difficult for Perfetti to earn an NHL job right out of the gate, but he’s determined to do everything in his power to influence that decision with a strong training camp.
“This whole year has been major for me,” said Perfetti. “I realized what I need to work on this summer to get to that next step. Obviously, playing at the worlds with a bunch of NHL guys, I was really happy with my play. I felt very good on the ice, very confident, able to make plays and was very happy with how it went. It kind of made me realize that while there’s lots and lots and lots of work to do, but I’m not as far away as I thought I was, I don’t think.
“I proved a lot to myself. I showed that I can play with the physicality of men all year. The strength, the speed. I can make plays. Obviously, it’s just going to be (about) becoming a man, getting more strength, that natural strength and stuff like that, which is going to come from being in the gym and that. It was a big year for me confidence-wise, in realizing where I am and how much work needs to be done. I definitely know what I need to work on in the next couple of months here before heading to Jets camp.”
Perfetti is back home in Ontario and plans to enjoy some time with his family before diving into his summer training.
The isolation from spending countless hours in quarantine or a bubble environment has been taxing, but Perfetti’s ability to soak in the moments and to have a genuine appreciation for being on the ice when many players were unable to do so is something that will serve him well.
“I’m very grateful and thankful for the opportunity that I got. A lot of my close friends from Saginaw and in the OHL didn’t even get to play hockey. They lost a whole year of development,” said Perfetti. “It’s been a pretty busy year. In a year where a lot of kids didn’t get the opportunity and suffered, I was fortunate to get the chances and take that next step, to become that much better of a hockey player. I’m very appreciative and very thankful for all of the opportunities and all of the chances I was given this year in a tough year.”
Having the opportunity to suit up in the AHL with the Moose is something Perfetti wouldn’t have been able to do under normal circumstances.
Understanding that nothing about this pandemic season was normal, it afforded Perfetti with an outstanding opportunity to get a head start on his professional career and to see how he stacks up.
Not only was Peretti able to show his versatility by playing both centre and wing, but he also earned the trust of Moose head coach Pascal Vincent and played a prominent role.
As he worked through the adjustment process, Perfetti delivered a good chunk of his production on the power play, utilizing his vision, smarts and spatial awareness.
But as the season wore on, Perfetti began to settle in at even strength and while he’s considered an excellent distributor of the puck who occasionally displays a pass-first mentality, he has a great shot and showed he’s not afraid to use it.
Among the highlight-reel goals Perfetti scored this season was a rocket past Freddie Andersen when the goalie was down on a conditioning stint with the Toronto Marlies.
Perfetti added a pair of goals in 10 games at the world championship, including the game-winner against Kazakhstan.
After losing to 2-0 to the United States in the gold-medal game at the world juniors back in January, Perfetti was ecstatic to end his exhilarating season on a winning note.
“To lose that gold-medal game (at the world junior hockey championship), it was pretty tough. Obviously carrying over into this tournament, we were in the gold and we went to overtime. All I could think about was just not wanting to ever feel that sense of losing again,” said Perfetti. “It was a long, hectic year, but it was an amazing year and being able to finish it off with a gold medal and come home with that and be a world champion, is something pretty special. It was just a perfect way to end off this first year of pro and this amazing journey that I’ve been on.
“Being on the ice was crazy. I remember, I couldn’t get over the boards fast enough when (Nick Paul) scored. I was just dying to get over the boards, throw my gloves up in the air and start celebrating. There was so much excitement, so much joy. It was unbelievable. Winning never gets old and I haven’t done that in a couple years so that was a pretty cool feeling, to finally get a gold medal and win with Hockey Canada.”