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UMD’s Perunovich moves on to ‘Hobey Hat Trick’ as top three finisher for Hobey Baker

Minnesota Duluth defenseman Scott Perunovich controls the puck in January of 2019 at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. News Tribune file photo

DULUTH -- Long before the sky-blue waters of Northern Minnesota were discovered to be the perfect ingredient to brew award-winning beer, they became famous for producing some of North America’s finest hockey players.

The latest and greatest product from those waters is Minnesota Duluth junior defenseman Scott Perunovich, who on Thursday, April 2, was named one of the top three finishers for the 2020 Hobey Baker Memorial Award.

Joining the Hibbing, Minn., native in the ‘Hobey Hat Trick’ is North Dakota junior forward Jordan Kawaguchi and Maine junior goaltender Jeremy Swayman. The winner of the Hobey Baker will be announced on Saturday, April 11 during the 10 p.m. CT SportsCenter on ESPN.

“He’s a special player,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said when Perunovich was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker. “He’s got tremendous hockey IQ, instincts and vision. Offensively he’s like a fourth forward out there. He can change a game and we’ve seen that in his time here.”

If Perunovich wins the Hobey, he’ll be the sixth Bulldog to win the most prestigious individual award in college hockey, the 10th Minnesota native, the sixth born in the 218-area code and the first from Hibbing.

Since the award was first given to Minnesota center Neal Broten of Roseau in 1980-81, no school has produced more Hobey winners than UMD’s five. Tom Kurvers was the first in 1984, followed by Bill Watson in 1985. Chris Marinucci of Grand Rapids won in 1994, Junior Lessard won it in 2004 and Jack Connolly most recently won in 2012.

No city can claim more ties to Hobey winners than Duluth, with eight. That includes a record three natives — Gopher goalie Robb Stauber in 1988, Connolly and St. Cloud State’s Drew LeBlanc in 2013.

A soon-to-be three-time All-American, Perunovich is already among the likes of Norm Maciver, Brett Hull and Derek Plante as the 10th Hobey finalist in program history. Connolly was a finalist during the Bulldogs’ first ever national championship run in 2011 before winning the next year.

“Just to be in the conversation is a huge honor and privilege,” Perunovich said of being a finalist for the Hobey. “We’ve had a few Hobey Baker winners here and — man — just to be in the same category as some of those guys that we have would be insane.”

Perunovich, who last week agreed to a two-year entry-level contract with the St. Louis Blues, helped led UMD to its second and third NCAA titles in back-to-back fashion the previous two seasons, scoring 11 goals and 25 assists in 42 games as a freshman to be named the 2018 Tim Taylor Award winner as national rookie of the year. The Blues took him in the second round of the NHL Draft that spring, going 45th overall. He then went on to put up three goals and 26 assists in 39 games last year as a sophomore with an injured back.

The fast and feisty 5-foot-10, 175-pound puck-moving defenseman finished this pandemic-shortened junior season with six goals and 34 assists to slot him in a tie for 10th in the nation in scoring and second among all blue liners. His 19 assists and 22 points on the power play tied for tops in the nation among all scorers this year.

The three-time All-NCHC first-team selection and three-time NCHC Offensive Defenseman of the Year became the Bulldogs’ first NCHC Player of the Year last week after being the first defenseman to ever win the league’s scoring title. He was credited with a league-leading 28 assists and 32 points in 24 NCHC games, edging Kawaguchi’s 23 assists and 30 points in 22 league games..

“He’s an all-star out there every game. Game in and game out, he’s the one making plays” said UMD senior defenseman Nick Wolff. “That’s why we had so much success the past couple years, because of him. He’s deserved every accolade he’s gotten.”

Perunovich is the ninth Bulldog to be named conference player of the year with the previous eight all doing so during UMD’s 48 seasons in the WCHA. Of the eight Bulldogs to be named WCHA Player of the Year, five went on to win the Hobey Baker Memorial Award.

2020 Hobey Hat Trick

Jordan Kawaguchi, Jr., F, North Dakota

Scott Perunovich, Jr., D, Minnesota Duluth

Jeremy Swayman, Jr., G, Maine

UMD Hobey Baker finalists

Bold indicates winner

2020: Scott Perunovich

2012: Jack Connolly

2011: Jack Connolly

2004: Junior Lessard

1994: Chris Marinucci

1993: Derek Plante

1986: Brett Hull

1986: Norm Maciver

1985: Bill Watson

1984: Tom Kurvers

Northland natives to win the Hobey

2013: St. Cloud State forward Drew LeBlanc, Duluth

2012: Minnesota Duluth forward Jack Connolly, Duluth

1994: Minnesota Duluth forward Chris Marinucci, Grand Rapids

1988: Minnesota goaltender Robb Stauber, Duluth

Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

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