Elk River boys hockey head coach Ben Gustafson has nothing but praise for former Elks defenseman and current St. Cloud State junior defenseman Nick Perbix, who played for the Elks from 2013-2017.
Gustafson coached Perbix from 2013-14 through 2016-17. He said that Perbix is a special young man.
“He’s obviously a fantastic hockey player,” Gustafson said. “He obviously had a ton of success in Elk River, was a [Minnesota] Mr. Hockey finalist his senior year [2016-17]. He doing great things now at St. Cloud State, but he’s an even better person. He’s a great teammate. He was a captain for us. He was a tremendous leader. He always gives back to our youth players, spends time with them. He’s a great role model for them.”
During his four seasons with Elk River High School, Perbix played in blank games from 2013-14 to 2016-17. During those four seasons, he played in 104 regular-season and playoff games, scored 18 goals, tallied 60 assists and racked up 83 points.
Perbix was named National Collegiate Hockey Conference Player of the Week for games Monday, Dec. 14-Monday Dec. 21, 2020. He also picked up the NCHC Defenseman of the Week honor as well.
Perbix said he was honored to receive the award.
“It’s cool,” Perbix said. “I believe we’re in the toughest conference in hockey in the NCHC. Whether it’s a weekly thing or a yearly thing, it’s always a huge honor.”
St. Cloud State assistant coach Dave Shyiak said he knew about Perbix prior to his arrival at St. Cloud this fall. Shyiak is in his first season with the Huskies and previously served as head coach of Alaska-Anchorage from 2005-2013 and as an assistant coach with Western Michigan from 2014-2020. He said that Perbix can play in all three normal situations: 5-on-5, power-play and penalty kill.
“Obviously, he’s a very athletic defenseman,” Shyiak said. “He’s very gifted in a lot of areas,” Shyiak said. “I think our plan going into the season is he’s going to be a top performer and put in that role. He had [Jack] Ahcan as a [defensive] partner who was one of the better defensemen in the NCHC for the last couple of years. Nick was able to learn from him a little bit. We knew going into this year that he was going to be a top performer on the back end. He’s done a great job with that.
“It’s been great to see him develop into the defenseman that he is today. We’re only nine games in [to the season], but as a small sample in the pod with the nine games that we played there, I thought he performed very well and was one of the better defensemen on the ice on both teams in a lot of those games in Omaha.”
The Huskies opened the season with nine games from Dec. 3-Dec. 18 at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska, which is the home arena of the University of Nebraska-Omaha men’s hockey team. The Huskies went 6-3 against conference rivals Western Michigan University, Colorado College, University of Denver, University of Nebraska-Omaha and the University of North Dakota.
Shyiak said the National Hockey League defenseman that Perbix is most closely related to is John Carlson of the Washington Capitals. Carlson was a member of Washington’s 2017-18 Stanley Cup-winning team and scored the golden goal at the 2010 International Ice Hockey Federation’s World Junior Hockey Championship for Team USA against Team Canada on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2010.
“He really sees the ice,” Shyiak said. “He creates ice for himself. He creates ice for his teammates. He can thread long-distance passes, stretch passes. He can make short plays, breakouts of our own zone. He knows when to jump into the play. He can transport the puck. He’s very athletic in his maneuvers up and down the ice. He’s becoming more deceptive along the offensive blue line. I think his greatest strength is his athletic ability. At times, he can play the game effortlessly.”
Perbix has played for St. Cloud State since the 2018-19 season. He played in 39 games in 2018-19 with 5 goals, 15 assists and 20 points to his credit and added 52 blocked shots on defense. He was named to the 2019 NCHC All-Rookie team and the 2019 All-NCHC Academic Team.
In his sophomore 2019-20 season he was named to the 2019-20 All-NCHC Academic Team, named to the 2019 Mariucci Classic All-Tournament team and played in 34 games with 4 goals, 11 assists and 15 points.
Gustafson said his favorite memory of Perbix is how he competed at practices.
“When your best players are your hardest workers, that really makes for a good practice environment,” Gustafson said. “He’s got a high-compete level. He’s obviously very skilled. I just loved his passion for the game of hockey and how competitive he was.”
Perbix said he considers himself to be a well-rounded defenseman. The Elk River native and 2017 Elk River High School graduate was drafted in the sixth round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning with the 169th selection. The Lightning won the 2020 Stanley Cup on Sept. 22 by defeating the Dallas Stars in Game Six of the Stanley Cup final with a 2-0 win to capture its first Stanley Cup championship since 2004 and the second in franchise history.
“I would consider myself to be a well-rounded defenseman,” Perbix said. “Obviously, I’ve jumped up in the play a lot more and been involved in the offense. My biggest thing is to take care of the D-zone first. You can be giving up goals even if you are getting some. My number one job is a defenseman is to keep the puck out of the net, but I’m not afraid to jump up in the play.”
Shyiak said Perbix has impacted the team culture by being himself.
“He’s very coachable,” he said. “He wants to learn. He wants to get better. I think he leads by how he performs in practice and how he performs in games. He’s done a good job of that. He cares about his teammates. He cares about winning. He cares about doing things the right way. He carries himself professionally. That character leads onto the ice. We look upon him logging a lot of minutes. He carries the most minutes on our hockey team every game. Just him being himself and leading the right way and his character attracts other guys to increase their standard of play based on what they’re seeing from Perby.”