There was Winnipeg Jets prized forward prospect Cole Perfetti on Sunday night, still just a teen but knee deep in the hoopla with a bunch of NHL veterans at a hotel lounge in Latvia.
All with gold medals draped around their necks.
"Amazing night, just unbelievable. One of those nights you'll never forget," Perfetti mused during a chat Tuesday afternoon with the Free Press. "It was ridiculous, just so much fun. We didn't really go to bed that night. We had an early flight, anyway. We just hung around with the trophy all night. When I had it, I couldn't let go of it."
Props to the Jets' 2020 first-round draft pick and his teammates on a Canadian squad that prevailed at the IIHF world men's hockey championship.
Despite a brutal 0-3 start in the tournament, the Canadians won three of their next four games to squeeze into the playoff and then disposed of ROC (Russia) and the United States to reach the final against Finland.
Ottawa forward Connor Brown set up his Senators teammate, Nick Paul, for the overtime winner as Canada earned a 3-2 victory.
Only months before, Perfetti was part of a Canadian crew that felt the searing pain of losing the world junior final 2-0 to the U.S. in the Edmonton bubble.
"That's my first gold medal. To win a world men's (title) before a world junior or a Hlinka (under-18 tournament) is kind of crazy. I've never been so nervous in a final," Perfetti said. "I know what it feels like to lose the gold and that's the lowest of the lows. It sucks.
"Winning is hard to explain, I still can't believe it. I can't stop looking at the medal."
Perfetti suited up for all 10 contests for Canada, although he played just a few minutes in each of the semifinal and championship tilts. He wasn't a major contributor but scored goals in victories over Italy and Kazakhstan, and gained a mound of experience.
"They were all such great guys. Some of the guys have played a long time in the NHL and some were fresh, first-year guys. Every guy was different, every guy you could learn from," Perfetti said. "I played pro in the (American Hockey League) this year, but this was my first time experiencing kind of that NHL lifestyle and what it's like, and it's pretty cool."
It's just the latest accomplishment in a season to savour for the 19-year-old from Whitby, Ont., who was selected 10th overall by Winnipeg in the NHL Draft in October.
Under normal circumstances, Perfetti would have been a driving force the Saginaw Spirit for a third consecutive Ontario Hockey League season. He's already compiled back-to-back 37-goal seasons, while finishing second in points (111) in 61 games in his draft year.
But the junior loop didn't stage a single game, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That opened the door for him to suit up with the Jets' AHL affilaite, the Manitoba Moose, and work closely with the organization’s coaches while management monitored his development. In 32 outings, he posted 26 points (9G, 17A) to finish second behind Nathan Todd (12G, 20A) in point production with Manitoba.
Perfetti admitted spending a year under coach Pascal Vincent and competing at the pro level was far more beneficial to his development than another year dominating in junior.
"I feel so much better on the ice and so much more confident after the season (with Manitoba). (The coaches) are so great and really cared about me and my growth as a player. They wanted me to get better, spending a lot of extra time with me on the ice and in video," he said. "The big part for me is speed and strength, which, obviously, will be an important part for a long time to come.
"The defensive side of the game is always something I took seriously but at the pro level it's just so much harder. I learned a lot and I felt like I'm a much better 200-foot player now, focusing on the D-side of things and how important it is."
Perfetti worked out at his gym in mom and dad's basement Tuesday and then played his first golf game of the season, a not-so-shabby 86 at the Oshawa Golf and Curling Club. The leftie plans to play a lot in the coming weeks, and will resume skating around the July long weekend.
He is already pumped for Winnipeg's annual rookie camp, followed by a seemingly guaranteed invite to main camp.
"I'm really excited for the fall. I'm glad I'm home right now, and I'm going to take this summer to really spend a lot of time in the gym," he said. "That's my mindset, and, hopefully, September or whenever I go back to Winnipeg for camp, everything I've done will help me crack the lineup."
Jets head coach Paul Maurice was asked Monday afternoon for his take on how a hectic but productive 2021 schedule was a blessing for the talented teen.
"To win a world championship, if you go back 16 months for that young man he couldn’t have predicted what he would end up doing," said Maurice, prior to Game 4 of the NHL's North Division final between Winnipeg and the Montreal Canadiens.
Tyler Toffoli's goal just 93 seconds into overtime lifted the home-town Habs to a 3-2 triumph and a sweep of the best-of-seven series and end the Jets season.
"(Perfetti) developed in (the AHL) and that was good for him," added Maurice. "He learned a lot, he got stronger as it went on and he gets an opportunity to play with some pretty darn good players at the world championship and win a medal, that’s great for him."
Assistant sports editor
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