ELK RIVER, Minn. — A season in the United States Hockey League is often the prep work hockey players need to adjust to the on-ice world of college hockey.
For Minnesota Gophers sophomore-to-be Jack Perbix, the year he spent taking online classes when he played in the USHL was also perfect preparation for the remote schooling he and his teammates are doing, with campuses shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I did online classes for my senior year (of high school) when I played in Green Bay and Des Moines, so I’m pretty used to the online school,” he said this week from his family’s home in Elk River, Minn. “For some other guys it’s probably newer for them, but I learned my lessons about procrastination as a senior. That definitely does not work in online school, so I’ve benefited from that.”
The down time has also allowed his body to rest and recover from the season-ending leg injury Perbix suffered in the Gophers’ playoff opener on March 6 in Minneapolis.
In the third period of a 1-0 loss to the Irish, Perbix was hit from behind by Notre Dame’s Spencer Stastney in the corner behind the Irish net and went down awkwardly, hitting the boards. While he was helped from the ice, favoring his left leg, Stastney was ejected from the game after receiving a major penalty for checking from behind. After the Gophers rallied to win the playoff series, coach Bob Motzko acknowledged that Perbix was done for the season.
The entire college hockey season would be cancelled due to the virus less than a week after Perbix’s injury, so he only ended up missing two games. He finished his rookie season of college hockey with two goals and seven assists in 35 games, and admits that the Big Ten was a notable jump up from high school or the USHL.
“It’s grown men. You’re facing up against someone who might have a full-grown beard, and it’s like, ‘Oh (crap), it’s time to play,’” Perbix said. “You know that nobody is going to take it easy on you, so you have to look across at the other team and say, ‘I’m going to be better than you.’”
In addition to taking classes at home, he has been rehabbing the leg under the remote direction of Gophers team trainer Jeff Winslow, who has learned how to stay in touch with players via Zoom and other video conferencing tools.
“It’s been an adjustment. The first week of quarantine was a real learning curve,” Winslow said, noting that most non-urgent x-rays and clinic visits have been put on hold in hopes of controlling the spread of coronavirus. “If it’s not something I’m really concerned with, I’m trying not to send people to healthcare facilities where they might get exposed to something else.”
Walking along with some friends while they play golf (but not golfing himself) this week, Perbix said the leg feels like he should be ready to go whenever the Gophers get clearance to get back on the ice.
“It’s a lot better. I have a lot of mobility and I’m almost close to 100 percent, I think. I’m not quite able to work out yet, but I’m getting there,” said Perbix, who did not have surgery on the leg. “Jeff gave me a lot of different movements I can do to make it better. I iced three times a day for a good month and then stretched right afterward to try to get as much movement back into it as I could.
"I think I’ve got most of my movement back, but Jeff doesn’t want me running on it just yet. I like to run to get conditioned.”
Instead, Jack has been passing the time with less physical pursuits. Jack and his cousin Blake Perbix — a standout forward on St. Cloud Cathedral’s state tournament team this season — have been taking advantage of the spring weather by getting out to hunt wild turkeys near Princeton on some April afternoons.
Jack’s brother, Nick, who will be a junior at St Cloud State next season, is also home taking online classes. The younger brother has not been shy about mentioning the Gophers’ 4-1 win over the Huskies in the championship of the Mariucci Classic last December.
“There’s a lot of bickering about which team is better, but the scoreboard showed it this year,” Jack said.