ST. CLOUD, Minn. — The last two seasons, the St. Cloud State men's hockey team has been giving tours of their locker room to area youth hockey teams. It gives the Huskies coaching staff and players a chance to interact with local players, encourage them to keep working toward their dreams and to give them all a behind-the-scenes look at the program.
When Nick Perbix is one of the players involved in a tour, he has a special message for the players.
"I was the last guy to make the B1 bantam (14-and-under travel) team and I've made some steps to make it to where I am," Perbix said of his first season in bantams. "I love talking to the kids. There will be a B1 team that comes through the locker room and they're pretty surprised to learn that I played B1 (youth hockey) every other year.
"Everyone develops at different stages and there's a lot of late bloomers out there. You've just got to stick with it and love hockey."
In youth hockey, the 'A' teams are typically the teams that have the top skill players in an association. Then it goes to 'B1', 'B2' and 'C' levels.
Perbix said that at the squirt (10-and-under), peewee (12-and-under) and bantam levels, his first seasons at those levels were each spent playing on 'B1' teams. Then he would play on the 'A' teams his second season at a level.
He has gone on to do some big things in the game since his youth hockey days. At Elk River High School, the defenseman was a finalist for the state's Mr. Hockey award as a senior in 2017. Perbix then was taken in the sixth round (169th overall) of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In junior hockey in 2018, he was named to the United States Hockey League Third All-Star Team after his season playing for the Omaha Lancers.
As a freshman at St. Cloud State in 2018-19, he was named to the NCHC All-Rookie Team. This season, he has been on the Huskies' top defensive pairing with Jack Ahcan. The Huskies appear to have played the last game of their season because the NCHC canceled its postseason tournament and the NCAA canceled all of its winter and spring sports tournaments on Thursday, March 12.
For Perbix, it has been a transition season. He and Ahcan were St. Cloud State's No. 2 defensive pairing in 2018-19. With the graduation of Jon Lizotte and Jimmy Schuldt, Ahcan and Perbix moved into the top spot, which took some adjustments.
"It's definitely been a growth year for me," said Perbix, who has 15 points and 25 penalty minutes in 34 games. "Jimmy and Jon definitely took more reps against other teams' top lines (in 2018-19) and we took on more of the second lines.
"This year with Ahcan, it was definitely different. I feel like after the (December) break, I've gotten more used to it and figured out how to play my role — when I can jump up into a play (offensively) and when I can't jump up in a play. I feel like I've gotten a lot better throughout the year."
The numbers agree with Perbix's assessment. In the Huskies' first 18 games, Perbix had eight points and was a minus-11. In the last 16 games, he has seven points and is a minus-1. Players receive a plus-1 for every even-strength goal their team scores and a minus-1 for every even-strength goal that opponents score.
"I think, like our team, Perbs has gotten more consistent with his play," said Huskies coach Brett Larson, whose team was 2-6-4 in its first 12 games and is 7-5-2 in its last 14 games. "His peaks and valleys were pretty high early. I think he's consistently been able to get to his game and play (recently).
"His patience with the puck, his vision and his ability to break pucks out and transition is really, really high end. He's got a calmness and patience with the puck that not a lot of 'D' have."
Some of that may be from his background as a center. That was where Perbix played in youth hockey until he was a bantam.
"My dad was a defenseman growing up, so I had some background on it," said Perbix, whose father played defense for Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota at the NCAA Division III level. "I do remember talking to him about it when I made the switch, different (defensive) reads.
"My first year of bantams, that's just where I fit in with that team."
He went on to lead Elk River in assists (35) and points (47) in 27 games as a senior. Perbix had 31 points in 60 games for Omaha before picking up 20 points and being a plus-24 in 39 games for the Huskies last season.
Perbix has been on a power-play unit for the Huskies both of his college seasons and is not afraid to lead a rush up the ice. But he continues to learn when he needs to pull back because Ahcan, the program's all-time leader in assists by a defenseman, is also offensive-minded.
"There are times when you can see that we were both forwards (growing up) because we both happen to be on the rush when we shouldn't be," Perbix said with a laugh. "I remember a couple weeks ago, we were on a 3-on-2 (rush) and I was in the middle and I looked over to the left and it was Jack. I thought, 'Oh no,' but I was already committed.
"I peeled out of there pretty quick after I made a pass to someone else."
NCHC, NCAA playoffs cancelled
St. Cloud State was in Kalamazoo, Mich., to play Western Michigan in the quarterfinals of the NCHC playoffs when the conference decided to cancel its playoffs on Thursday because of the coronavirus outbreak. The NCAA followed suit a few hours later and canceled all of its winter and spring playoffs.
"The health of our student-athletes, staff and fans are the No. 1 priority and we support the decision of the NCHC to cancel this year's Frozen Faceoff tournament," Larson said in a statement released by the university. "The Frozen Faceoff is one of the premiere events in college hockey, so it is disappointing to have the tournament cancelled. But we fully understand the need to take precautions during this difficult time.
"We appreciate the continued support of our fans and their understanding of this situation."
St. Cloud State is riding a bus back home from Kalamazoo.