For UND commit Jayden Perron, sister's love motivates him to play and be his best
Desirae Perron, 14, has autism and struggles with large crowds. Still, her desire to watch her brother play for the Chicago Steel is providing the drive for Jayden to work his way to the NHL.
CHICAGO — Jayden Perron looked up to the suites at Fox Valley Ice Arena in early October and saw his motivation. In the balcony was the 14-year-old sister of the Chicago Steel forward and University of North Dakota commit. She was there to watch her brother play in the USHL matchup. Desirae had not seen him play in years, as she is autistic and struggles with larger crowds and new environments.
At home in Winnipeg, she points at the TV or computer whenever a hockey game is on and yells his name. Whether it’s the Winnipeg Jets on the TV or the Steel on a livestream, she’s yelling for Jayden. Sometimes she’s right, sometimes she’s wrong. But on that October night, she was able to point at him and yell for him.
One day, she could be correct when she points at the TV of an NHL game and says Jayden’s name. One day, she could be at an NHL game watching her brother play live.
Both are working toward just that.
“That is what motivates me, that thought,” Jayden said. “I’m extremely grateful for her. We have a really good bond. We’re extremely close. Being away from home and her was one of the toughest parts when I moved away. She means the world to me.”
For Desirae, the work involves handling surroundings. According to her mother, Doreen Perron, she has the instincts of a 3-year-old. Doreen had the help of multiple hockey moms to make sure Desirae didn’t run off at games when Jayden was younger, but as the arenas have grown for Jayden, the challenges have done the same for Desirae.
“Every summer I come home there’s so many new things I’m learning about her that she’s learned over the past winter,” Jayden said. “It’s amazing seeing all the progress. And I'm extremely proud of her and my mom.”
For Jayden, the work began when he could barely walk, using two Kleenex boxes as skates and the hardwood floor as ice around the family home just outside of Winnipeg. The difficulty of actual skating took Jayden by surprise, so much so he wanted to quit after the first two attempts. He had watched his older brother, David, play hockey and couldn’t believe he wasn’t able to skate like him. After Jayden’s third time on the ice, an obsession was born.
“It’s kind of surreal. It’s so unlike anything else,” Jayden said. “I could have no stick and I would just have fun skating around. I know a lot of people who get annoyed at public skating, where you just go in circles. I’m the complete opposite.”
By the time Jayden was 5, coaches had him teaching skating drills. And now, as he awaits to see where his name falls at the NHL Draft in July, he sits fifth in the USHL in scoring with 28 points in 25 games.
“I feel like every day he does something on the ice that you can’t believe,” Steel coach Mike Garman said. “And his teammates will speak to that. And they are elite, so that says a lot about him.”
Doreen said Jayden had to grow up fast in life, doing odd jobs to help her run her resort a few hours from home and take care of Desirae. It was up to him to get himself to hockey events and push himself to go shoot pucks in the shed or challenge his brother on the pond.
“I definitely had to mature quickly, even if I wanted to or not,” Jayden said. “I’m very thankful for how it worked out. It’s made me the person I am today. Not having anyone to hold your hand through everything and be independent growing up, it helped me a lot. No one made me do anything. I did it myself.”
At 5-foot-9, the knock on Jayden is his size, but he knocks back with his skating, hands and intelligence. Garman says Jayden is comparable to former Steel forward and current Fighting Hawk Jackson Blake in terms of their hockey IQ. But there is a difference.
“Blake knew what you were going to do before you did,” Garman said. “I feel like he was always ahead of you. I would say Jayden not only has that ability, but can also manipulate the defensive player because he’s so creative and elusive. And he’s incredibly young. A first-year draft player to have that poise and confidence is pretty exceptional.”
Garman cleared his office, which overlooks the ice at Fox Valley Ice Arena, for that October moment. It gave Desirae a place to not feel overwhelmed.
I’m extremely grateful for her. We have a really good bond. We’re extremely close. Being away from home and her was one of the toughest parts when I moved away. She means the world to me.
“It was one of the first times she sat through a game,” Doreen said. “It was exciting.”
When Jayden looked up to that on that October night, in the balcony he saw his inspiration in his mother, his admiration in his brother and his motivation in his sister.
Next stop is UND and then perhaps a larger arena. He hopes to hear Desirae’s yell at every stop.
“I would not be the person I am today without her,” Jayden said.