By Mick Hatten
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Nick Perbix grew up in Elk River, but he spent most of last week rooting for the St. Cloud Cathedral boys hockey team.
In pro baseball, there’s the Curse of the Bambino that supposedly caused the Boston Red Sox to go 86 years between World Series titles. Then there was the Curse of the Billygoat that supposedly kept the Chicago Cubs from making the World Series for 71 years.
Perbix and his brother, Jack, thought there was a similar curse when they played for Elk River High School. So when their cousin, Blake, played in the Class A state tournament, Nick had a strong rooting interest.
“Luckily, they played morning games and so, even though we played a 4 (p.m. Saturday game vs. Minnesota Duluth), I sat in the lounge and watched,” Perbix said of Cathedral. Jack and I “always joked that we had a curse on our family because me and my brother never made the state tournament. Last year, (the Crusaders) were supposed to make it (to state) and they lost in the section championship.
“So (Blake) broke the curse,” Perbix said of Cathedral, which beat Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin in the title game. “It was good to see him have success.”
Perbix is hoping that good fortune transfers to him as he begins his first run in the college playoffs. Perbix, a freshman defenseman, and the top-ranked Huskies (27-4-3) play host to Miami (11-21-4) in the NCHC quarterfinals best-of-three series. The teams will play at 7:07 p.m. Friday at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
Perbix goes into the series on a bit of a roll. He had the first two-goal game of his college career Friday, which included the game-winner in overtime, in a win over Minnesota Duluth. And yes, the second goal was reviewed because it went off his skate, but it was declared a good goal because there was not a pendulum kicking motion.
“I’m not usually a huge goal scorer, so my family has been giving me crap for it,” Perbix said of his fourth and fifth goals of the season. “(The game-winner) went off my foot … they’re having good fun with it.”
In his last three games, he has five points and was named to the NCHC All-Rookie team this week. The 20-year-old, 6-foot-4, 200-pound defenseman, has 15 assists, 20 points and is a plus-21 this season. He is fourth on the team in plus/minus and tied for 14th in NCAA Division I in that category. Players receive a plus-1 for each even strength goal they are on the ice for and a minus-1 for each even strength goal against.
It is not a fluke that Perbix sits so high in the plus/minus category.
“His strength is reading a defensive situation,” said Mike Gibbons, St. Cloud State’s assistant coach who helps run the defensemen. “A lot of guys just react in a defensive situation.
“The biggest (plus) for me with him would be playing under control, his coolness, his low panic point… He’s just a chilled dude.”
Perbix has been locked into St. Cloud State’s No. 2 defensive pairing with junior Jack Ahcan for every game this season. Ahcan was named to the NCHC All-Rookie team and was on the gold medal winning U.S. team at the World Junior Championships his freshman season, so he knows something about early success.
“Coming in as a freshman and playing the minutes he has isn’t easy,” Ahcan said of Perbix. “He’s so smart with the puck. He makes plays that may look simple, but … he’ll put pucks between guys’ sticks and make a breakout pass. He’s in the offensive zone and dumping it in to a guy that they don’t even know is there.
“Little things like that separate him from other guys in all of the NCAA. He’s so confident with the puck. It’s tough to come in your freshman year and be as confident as he is with the puck.”
That’s part of what makes their pairing interesting. The last two seasons, Ahcan was paired mostly with the defensive-minded Will Borgen. Perbix is not afraid to jump into the offensive rush … like Ahcan does.
“Both me and Jack like to have the puck on our stick and make a play and not just flip it up off the glass,” Perbix said. “If you don’t have confidence when you have the puck, you’re not going to make the strongest play. You’re going to be second-guessing yourself. That’s when things go wrong.”
The pair also have a connection that neither of them realized until this season. Jay Perbix, Nick’s father, and Tim Ahcan, Jack’s father, were college hockey teammates at Division III Gustavus in the late 1980s. Jay was a defenseman, Tim was a forward.
“Pretty crazy,” Ahcan said of their fathers being former teammates. “We always go out after games to see our parents and (Jay) is always one of the first guys to tell me great game or something. There’s a great bond there.”
Brother headed to Gophers
That defensive bond that Perbix has with his father may be something that his younger brother, Jack, a forward, is a bit jealous of.
“My brother tried to play ‘D’ in squirts and he just ended up going end-to-end (with the puck) all the time,” Perbix said, laughing. “He still jokes about wanting to be a ‘D’ and my dad and I just say, ‘No, you’re a forward.'”
Both Perbix boys, though, are recognized as strong players. Nick, who played for the Omaha Lancers in junior hockey, was named to the All-USHL third team last season and was picked in the sixth round of the 2017 NHL Draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Jack, 18, is playing junior hockey with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL and was taken in the fourth round of the 2018 NHL Draft by the Anaheim Ducks. Jack has verbally committed to the University of Minnesota.
“I always give him crap about it and my mom gets on me for giving it to him too much,” Perbix said of Jack’s college choice. “I don’t care. He’s going to the Gophers and I’ll never let him live that down.
“It’s just good fun and we’re brothers and love each other and I’ll always support him. But it will be tough seeing him wear that Gophers jersey.”
Mick Hatten can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @MickHatten on Twitter, Instagram.