ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Typically, if someone drives for more than 6 1/2 hours to get somewhere, they are going to talk to someone once they get to their destination.
But in the time of the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of things have changed.
On July 7, Blake Perbix and his parents drove to Marquette, Mich., to check out the Northern Michigan University campus. Because of current NCAA Division I recruiting regulations, Perbix and his family had to take a tour of the campus by themselves.
Chalk up the beauty of the campus and the job that head coach Grant Potulny and his staff did with getting a commitment from Perbix, a 2020 graduate of Cathedral High School in St. Cloud, Minn. Perbix, 18, verbally committed to play hockey for the Wildcats and made the announcement on Tuesday, July 14 on Twitter.
Honored and excited to announce my commitment to further my education and continue my hockey career at Northern Michigan University. Thank you to God, my family, friends, and coaches who have helped me along the way! #gocats href="https://t.co/YO5Ukspd9l">pic.twitter.com/YO5Ukspd9l— Blake Perbix™ (@b_perbix) July 14, 2020
"I've been talking to Mr. Potulny for a while, so I figured that I was going to go down there in a couple of months," Perbix said. "But we kind of wanted to speed up the process a little bit. So we went there and I loved the campus, loved the school and fell in love with it there.
"I talked with him a little bit (on the phone) and decided that was the best place for me."
Perbix said he also considered playing for two other NCAA Division I teams that his cousins play for. Forward Jack Perbix recently completed his freshman season at Minnesota. Jack's brother, Nick, a defenseman, recently completed his sophomore season at St. Cloud State.
Perbix said that Moorhead defenseman Luke Gramer became a good friend while the two played on the same Elite League team. The Elite League is a fall league for the top high school players in Minnesota and North Dakota and Gramer is committed to Northern Michigan. Warroad forward Grant Slukynsky has also committed to Northern Michigan.
"I have a couple buddies that are going who are really good hockey players and that excited me," Perbix said. "With Potulny coming in, he's picked up a lot of good recruits and he's turning the program around.
"I've been talking to Luke Gramer a lot about this and he was one of the first people I told. I don't know Grant Slukynsky a lot, but I was at the Mr. Hockey banquet with him and he's a great player and I'm excited to play with him."
All three players were finalists for the Mr. Hockey award, which goes to Minnesota's top high school player. Hermantown's Blake Biondi, a Minnesota Duluth recruit, won the honor in 2020.
But for the second straight season, Perbix led the Crusaders in assists and points. As a senior, Perbix had 30 goals, 62 assists and 92 points in 30 games and helped the Crusaders to a third-place finish in the Class A state tournament.
"He was just ultra consistent and a guy who, lucky for him, didn't get hurt," said Cathedral coach Derrick Brown, whose team battled a number of injuries. "He was always in the lineup, which was huge. He was a guy who could play with a lot of different people and still be productive.
"I think he grew a lot as a player. I think a lot of people used to give a lot of credit to (Minnesota Duluth recruit) Jack Smith, his linemate. Then Jack went down (with an injury) and Blake took off with two other kids. He really, really came along nicely. He was a Mr. Hockey candidate for a reason. Away from the rink, I saw him really grow as a person and I think that's really the most rewarding thing to see as a coach."
Growing as a player
As a junior, Perbix had 50 assists and 70 points in 31 games to help lead Cathedral to its first state title.
"I think I improved by showing up for every game," Perbix said, comparing his senior season to his junior season. "I needed to have that consistency every game and just show up and work as hard as I can. I feel like I worked pretty hard and it ended up pretty good."
So besides the points, what makes the 5-foot-9, 168-pound Perbix a Division I prospect?
"He's a rink rat kind of guy and he's got a way and a sense about him where he's always in the right spots," Brown said. "He's not going to stand out physically, because he's not the biggest kid in the world. He doesn't have ultra springs (in his feet), but he just finds ways to be in good areas.
"He works well with different players. His vision is one of the best I've seen. I just think he's able to adapt to situations. I've watched him play (High Performance) and Elite League and I've watched him here at Cathedral — it doesn't matter where you put him. He's consistently productive and he's got a good sense of what he wants to do. He really picks up on the nuances of his linemates ... He's able to put guys in really good spots and really good players like playing with Blake because he's not selfish and he can make a play, too."
Perbix plans on playing junior hockey this season with the Omaha Lancers, who drafted him in the 2018 United States Hockey League draft. He said that he has been training and skating 2-3 times a week in preparation for the Lancers' main training camp, which will be held Aug. 9-12.
Perbix is the fourth Cathedral senior to commit to a Division I program. The other three are Smith, forward Nate Warner (Minnesota) and defenseman Reid Bogenholm (Air Force). Brown said he does not think that Perbix is the last player from his graduating class who will end up playing Division I hockey.