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Minnesota Duluth’s Scott Perunovich wins Hobey Baker Award

Scott Perunovich, a junior defenseman from Minnesota Duluth, has won the 2020 Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the top NCAA men’s ice hockey player.

“I’m extremely honored and humbled to be this year’s Hobey Baker Award recipient,” Perunovich said during an interview with SportsCenter.

Perunovich is the sixth Minnesota Duluth player to win the Hobey Baker Award, joining defenseman Tom Kurvers (1984), right wing Bill Watson (1985), left wing Chris Marinucci (1994), right wing Junior Lessard (2004) and center Jack Connolly (2012).

Perunovich called it a “privilege to join them.”

A vote by all 60 Division I hockey head coaches and fan balloting created a field of 10 finalists for the award. Three players from that group were selected by a 30-member selection committee and additional fan voting for the “Hobey Baker Hat Trick” of finalists.

Along with Perunovich, the finalists were Jordan Kawaguchi, a junior forward from the University of North Dakota, and Jeremy Swayman, a junior goaltender from the University of Maine.

Perunovich helped the Bulldogs to back-to-back NCAA national championships as a freshman and sophomore. His team was ranked fifth in the nation when the NCAA season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Bulldogs were seeking the first three-peat since Michigan’s in 1951-53.

“The expectation is always a national championship, and I have been fortunate enough to be a part of two of them,” Perunovich told SportsCenter.

He said it was “obviously not the end of the season we wanted,” but he acknowledged the “much bigger picture” of the COVID-19 crisis and expressed gratitude for all the “frontline men and women in this battle.”

Perunovich had 40 points in 34 games this season, the second-most points by a defenseman in the NCAA. He had 105 points in 115 career games. He was a first-team All-American as a freshman and a second-team All-American as a sophomore, and he looks to be one again as a junior — a rare feat for a college defenseman.

“He is a difference-maker, that’s for sure,” Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said in a statement. “He’s the type of impact player who can take control of a game. He’s had a tremendous season — and a tremendous three-year career here — and is certainly deserving of this award.”

The Hibbing, Minnesota, native was selected 45th overall by the St. Louis Blues in the 2018 NHL draft. He agreed to a two-year entry-level contract with the Blues in March. If the NHL restarts its regular season, his contract would start this season; if not, it will start next season. If he hadn’t signed with St. Louis, Perunovich would have been eligible to become a free agent on Aug. 15.

ESPN college hockey analyst Chris Peters ranked the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Perunovich 45th on his list of the top 50 NHL-affiliated prospects.

Wrote Peters in his scouting report: “Perunovich has the ability to control shifts at the collegiate level and makes one of the nation’s best teams better when he’s on the ice. He takes care of his own zone and has an aggressive game at both ends of the ice. His skating is his best asset, as he can escape pressure and get pucks up ice quickly. He sees the ice well and has a great feel for the game in transition. Perunovich will look for the pass long before he considers a shot and distributes extremely well. Concerns about his size have been diminished due to his skating, hockey sense and improved physical strength. He was more physical this season and gave opposing players more problems in the physical game. There wasn’t a skater in the NCAA who had a higher impact on his team’s success than Perunovich did this season. He could be an NHL contributor immediately if the Blues need him.”

Sports report