WINNIPEG, MB – After spending the past two years playing pro hockey, Cole Perfetti is ready to lead Canada in his last hurrah in junior hockey. He hopes his time playing with Winnipeg and Manitoba will help him be a leader on the international stage.
Let’s just do a recap of the past 18 months for Cole Perfetti.
His OHL season was delayed, preventing him from playing his Draft+1 year. Then, he made Canada’s World Junior Selection Camp roster, and that too had a two-week delay due to positive COVID-19 cases within the team. He made the team, but Canada came up short, and Perfetti didn’t play a prominent offensive role.
Then, he got the unique experience of playing in the AHL for the rest of the season, something that typically isn’t allowed for U-20 North American prospects belonging to CHL teams. He then finished things off by playing as Canada’s 13th forward at the men’s World Championship, winning gold.
Now, he has two NHL games under his belt with Winnipeg and is a key offensive contributor for the Manitoba Moose, entering Canada’s camp after leading Manitoba with 15 points in 17 games. But right now, his focus is on helping Canada win gold at the World Junior Championship, something he came short of last year in Edmonton.
Clearly, a lot has happened since that point. And the goal-scoring winger hopes it translates into the more coveted piece of hardware around his neck when the tournament comes to a close.
This is actually Perfetti’s third camp appearance after failing to make the team in 2020. So, in a way, the 19-year-old is like a seasoned veteran. And the experience of playing against men over the past two years is something Perfetti finds valuable heading into his second tournament appearance.
“It’s been great for me,” Perfetti said about his experience in pro hockey. “It’s hard to explain just how the adjustment period works. It’s different for everyone, but I think the only way to get better is to experience the next level. Being thrown into the AHL last year was really good for me in the sense that I got used to playing against men. The speed, the size, the physicality, the skill. Everything is just at another level.
“Being adapted to the pro game and the pro style at a young age, it’s extremely helpful and beneficial.”
Perfetti was awarded that opportunity because the AHL allowed players that were still junior-eligible the chance to play in the league while the CHL sat out of commission during COVID-19. That’s usually not an option for players heading into this tournament, but 13 players – including undrafted goaltender Brett Brochu – have played at least one AHL game to date on Canada’s world junior team.
So Perfetti isn’t alone, but he’s definitely had the most success. Perfetti is the only forward with at least 15 games played in the AHL and is the only player to have double-digit points with 41 in 49 career games. There wasn’t much for Perfetti to accomplish in Saginaw, anyways: in his draft year, Perfetti had 111 points in 61 games. Had Perfetti been forced to remain in the OHL, they’d essentially be legalizing torture at the hands of Perfetti, who turns 20 just before the quarter-final kicks off.
“It’s a little more of a heavier game,” Perfetti said about the AHL compared to the OHL. “There’s certain things you can, at both levels, that might not work. The mindset should never change. My mindset is kind of the same, play the best hockey that I can and have fun and be the best player I can be.”
On top of having that pro experience, Perfetti also knows what it’s like to lose on the international stage. After rolling through the first six games with ease, Canada ultimately lost the gold to the United States in the championship game. Having later won gold at the men’s World Championship, Perfetti takes that losing experience in stride for his second go-around at the title in Alberta.
“It sucks to lose,” Perfetti said. “Getting the experience at the men’s worlds this year and winning, it’s having both ends of the spectrum. You want to be on that winning side, it’s something you’ll never forget. It’s a new year this year, it’s a fresh group, lot’s of new faces and I think everyone’s really hungry and looking forward to it.”
As for where Perfetti’s season takes him next, he said he hasn’t had talks with the Jets on whether or not he’ll head to the NHL after the tournament. Perfetti got two games of action early in the season but has since been Manitoba’s best player in the AHL. His play is worthy of a call-up, but it’s unclear whether the Jets believe it’s best for his development to bring him back up to the big club, especially as the team struggles to find its groove right now.
That’s for future Cole to worry about. Current Cole has a goal in mind: score many of them, and, hopefully, have a big reason to celebrate in front of a full Rogers Place on Jan. 5.