BUFFALO, N.Y. — For the first time in his young life, Scott Perunovich didn’t get the chance to spend the Christmas holiday with his family.
But the former Hibbing Bluejacket and current University of Minnesota-Duluth defenseman, has a good reason for being absent — he’s a part of the United States World Junior Hockey team, which opens play today, beginning at 8 p.m., against Denmark in Buffalo, N.Y.
Perunovich made it through a tryout camp just days after completing his college finals.
“We had to take all of our finals early, then flyout on a Thursday morning,” Perunovich said. “I had to wake up at 4:30 a.m., for my flight out of Duluth.”
Perunovich, and four of his Bulldog teammates, Dylan Samberg, Joey Anderson, who was named captain of the team, Mikey Anderson and Riley Tufte, who are also on the team, flew to Columbus, Ohio, and spent a few days there, before heading to Jamestown, N.Y., for a scrimmage against Belarus, which they won 14-0.
They traveled to Erie, Penn., and played against Sweden, winning 3-1.
What were the odds that Perunovich would make the team?
“I didn’t know if I was going to make it because all of the defensemen are really, really solid,” Perunovich said. “Any one of them could have made it. It was nerve racking. I just went out there and played my game, and whatever happened, happened.”
Against Belarus, Perunovich said it was hard to showcase anything because of the talent separation.
“There’s not much you can do in that type of a game, but work on systems and the penalty kill,” Perunovich said. “Against Sweden, they have the projected No. 1 pick, so it was a lot better competition.
“It was a better game, for sure. I didn’t do much against Belarus, but I played with more confidence against Sweden.”
That’s when the waiting game began.
Would he make it? Only time would tell.
One thing is certain, Perunovich had a sleepless night.
“We thought they were going to announce it in the morning, so I didn’t get much sleep,” he said. “When they came in and announced the final roster (later that day), I just happened to be on it. It was nice to hear.
“It’s a huge honor to represent your country and be on this team.”
Since the announcement, the teams’ schedule has included breakfast, then then practice. After lunch, they have some down time until dinner.
On Christmas day, the team exchanged gifts, which was a little out of character for Perunovich, who had never missed a holiday season with his family.
“This is the first Christmas I haven’t been with my whole family,” he said. “It’s sad because I haven’t seen my family in awhile, but my parents and sister are flying out today. It’ll be nice to see them, and have them so close.”
The United States opens with Denmark.
What kind of emotions will Perunovich be feeling before that game?
“I’ll probably be more nervous than I was before a college game because I haven’t played in as many international tournaments,” Perunovich said. “I’ll probably have a few nerves right away, but once I get a few shifts in, I will settle down a little bit.”
On Dec. 29, the team will play Canada on an outdoor rink.
According to Perunovich, a good number of tickets have already been sold for that game.
“I’ve never played in a game like that before, so it’s going to be nice, and there’s going to be a good crowd,” Perunovich said.
It’s also helps to have Samberg, the two Andersons and Tufte on the team.
“I haven’t played with many of the kids on this team before, so it was a little uncomfortable at first,” Perunovich said. “It’s nice to have four teammates on the team.”
It’s also nice to be teammates with the rest of the United States team, which is being coached by St. Cloud State mentor Bob Motzko.
“This is definitely the most skilled team I’ve been a part of,” Perunovich said. “I hope I get a lot of ice time, but if that’s not my role, I’ll take it. I’m excited to see how the tournament goes.”
The tournament runs through Jan. 5, in Buffalo. N.Y.
Minnesota is represented by 10 players on the team.