ST. CLOUD, Minn. — There are plays that can define a player. For St. Cloud Cathedral boys hockey coach Derrick Brown, when he thinks of Blake Perbix this season, there is one that quickly comes to mind.
The Crusaders beat Andover 2-1 in a nonconference road game on Jan. 7. Perbix, a senior right wing, scored a short-handed goal to tie that game 1-1 in the second period.
"Wyatt Kaiser, the top-rated NHL prospect in the state, has got the puck and Blake chases him behind the net, picks his pocket and scores short-handed," Brown said. "That's against the best. To me, that (Kaiser) kid is the best player in the state, Mr. Hockey.
"(Perbix) is a great player. He's gritty, he's scrappy and when he gets the puck around the net, he's a really good finisher."
The Crusaders, the defending Class A state champions, have needed him to finish a bit more of late. Jack Smith, a Minnesota Duluth recruit who has been a linemate of Perbix's, has been out for almost three weeks with an upper body injury. The hope is that Smith can get healthy enough to return to the lineup before the playoffs.
Cathedral (12-1-1) is scheduled to play road games on Friday (at Alexandria) and Saturday (at East Grand Forks).
Smith's injury is not the lone setback that the Crusaders have had to battle through this season. Nate Warner, a University of Minnesota recruit, missed the first two games as he recovered from offseason surgery.
Critique taken to heart
Perbix has often been overshadowed by Warner and Smith, but he led the Crusaders in assists (50) and points (70) in 31 games last season. Despite those big numbers, Perbix said he was not receiving a lot of interest from NCAA Division I colleges. He's 5-foot-9 and 168 pounds, but it was not his size that was keeping offers from coming in.
"The biggest thing I took away from last year was that I need to work harder, get in the dirty areas and that's been a big part of my game that's been added," he said of his senior season. "I got feedback from a lot of different people and coaches. They always said that they loved how I played, but I'd take some shifts off and I took that to heart.
"I'm trying to give it everything I've got every shift. Move pucks, get to the dirty areas and grind for my teammates. The defensive zone has been a problem for me in the past, but I've been really working on the 'D' zone and trying to help everyone on the ice."
It has been a process for Perbix, learning what he needs to do to play at the next level.
"It's been tough, but I realized that if I wanted to play hockey beyond high school, I'm going to have to add to my game," he said. "I worked pretty hard during the summer and it's been paying off.
"Before my sophomore year, I hadn't worked out (in the offseason). I never really got the opportunity to do it," said Perbix, who is in his third varsity season.
Division I cousins
Perbix said he also had an eye-opening experience when he went to junior hockey camp in the summer with the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League.
"Last year, in late March, I (also) went down and played two games in the USHL with them," said Perbix, a 2018 Lancers draft pick. "It was really fun, but the pace was a lot different. I'm going to have to get used to that. But the atmosphere there is great and I'm excited for next year."
In case he has any USHL questions, Perbix has a couple of relatives he can give a call to. Brothers Jack and Nick Perbix of Elk River, Minn., are his cousins. Jack, a forward, played junior hockey for the Green Bay Gamblers and Des Moines Buccaneers and is a freshman for the University of Minnesota. Nick, a defenseman, played for the Omaha Lancers and is a sophomore for St. Cloud State.
"I'm really close with them," he said of his cousins. "Me and Jack are more alike: outgoing and talkative. Nick is quiet, but he always keeps us in line with what we're doing. But I love them both and we're all pretty tight. Not a lot of cousins are like that."
Like his cousins, Perbix is starting to get some college recruiting interest. He said that he has talked to coaches from Bemidji State, Minnesota State University-Mankato, St. Cloud State and Minnesota. But he's trying not to let recruiting affect him.
"I can't worry about that right now," he said. "I've just got to keep playing with my teammates and, hopefully, that will come. I've got to stay focused and not let that get to me."
Brown said that Perbix's improved focus has been noticeable, particularly since Smith went down with his injury. In the eight games without Smith, Perbix has 10 goals and 23 points.
"He's been unbelievable," Brown said. "He's been ultra-productive and really stepped up for us. Sometimes, people have had the theory that it's just been Jack is that good. I'm not taking away from anything with Jack, but (Perbix) has really come out of that shadow and stepped up his game.
"When he's on his game, he's just a pest. He's never out of a play."