There will undoubtedly be many other special days in the professional hockey career of Winnipeg Jets rookie forward Cole Perfetti. Like Wednesday night, when he actually makes his NHL debut in the season opener against the Anaheim Ducks, when he eventually scores his first NHL goal or suits up for his first Stanley Cup playoff series.
But for right here, right now — Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021, will sit at the top of that list. Following the Jets’ final practice at Canada Life Center before boarding the charter flight for Anaheim, the 19-year-old from Whitby, Ont. was pulled aside by Head Coach Paul Maurice, and in a short conversation heard the words he’d been dreaming to hear all of his young life.
“He kinda just said, ‘when I get off the ice, go call my parents because I’m playing tomorrow night.’ That was pretty special to hear that,” shared the Jets 2020 first-round draft pick when asked what was said during that on-ice chat.
Maurice said those conversations just never get old, no matter how many times this ritual plays out.
“So when I’m telling the guy, I think of his Mom and Dad. I think there’s a phone call that’s happened in the last hour,” said the veteran Bench Boss who is respected as much by his players for the way he treats them as he is for his coaching ability.
“I’m in that house for what it’s like today and tomorrow — trying to get there. But every crappy cup of coffee in every small rink, that we’ve all had a thousand of. Kid’s playing his first NHL game. That’s gotta be awesome in that house. That’s the part I get a kick out of.”
Maurice was right on the money about the phone call. Perfetti says his dad, Angelo, got quite emotional after hearing the good news.
“My dad almost started crying on the phone. It’s a special day, it’s a whole family day. Everyone put the effort in,” said the well-spoken former CHL Scholastic Player of the Year Award winner. “My dad said, ‘okay, I’m going to look at flights’ — and hung up the phone.”
Perfetti said his mom, Sandra, wasn’t on the phone call home, so he had to leave her a text message. But displaying the maturity that has been extremely noticeable during media news conferences since the day he was drafted, the OHL Saginaw Spirit grad put his proud moment in perspective.
“It’s only a start. There’s a long season ahead so to make it out of Day One, it’s something I worked for all summer,” said the 5’11” and 177 pound forward who is expected to play right wing on a line with Adam Lowry and Jansen Harkins in his first-ever NHL game on Wednesday.
“It makes me feel pretty good, just looking forward to it and my first NHL road trip.”
Watching all of this take place at the podium in the Matt Frost Media Centre was star goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who almost had the look of a proud father himself while Perfetti answered questions about his magic moment.
“I remember when I was getting my first call and making my first call to my parents,” said the 2020 Vezina winner. “Hearing him talk about it is bringing back all those memories, and it is an exciting time. So enjoy the butterflies and enjoy the entire process of it.”
It was a process in itself for Perfetti to go from Day One of the Mini Pro Camp on Sept. 16 to get to where he is today.
“You know, I thought I had a pretty good camp and showed well in the exhibition games. Obviously, there’s lots to improve on and lots to learn every single day. And this is a great group to learn it from, you can learn from anyone in the lineup,” said Perfetti.
So what tipped the scales in Cole Perfetti’s favour from Thanksgiving Monday to “getaway” Tuesday?
Maurice was asked that very question and responded with, “You think you see something you might like. It takes a while. The player that started at training camp is a different player by the end of the training camp, so you gotta wait to see, is this guy getting stronger or is he falling off,” explained the Coach who also referenced the one-game suspension to Mark Scheifele as a factor in the overall decision making process on Perfetti.
“Scheif’s out, we got to get a little different thing going on. That’s almost like the triage of your normal NHL day. Who’s hurt, who’s not. Who’s playing, who’s available. Who we’re playing against. All those kinds of things.”
That last statement will factor into a brand new storyline for Saturday night in San Jose, when Scheifele returns from serving the fourth and final game of his suspension for a late hit on Montreal forward Jake Evans during the series opener of last spring’s North Division Final, which the Canadiens swept in four games.
Winnipeg’s number one center will return to the lineup and there will be more salary-cap gymnastics to navigate for General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his front office team.
But none of that will take the shine off the night, or the smile off the face of the kid wearing jersey #91 for the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday night.
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