Corey Perry: Hart of a champion

Ducks forward Corey Perry celebrates a goal against the Sharks at the Honda Center in Anaheim,...

Ducks forward Corey Perry celebrates a goal against the Sharks at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., April 6, 2011. (JEFF GROSS/Getty Images/AFP)

MIKE DAVIES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:24 PM ET

PETERBOROUGH, ONT. - Corey Perry will have his name engraved on a trophy no other kid from Peterborough has ever won.

As the winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy last week, Perry earned the distinction of being the NHL's top player in 2010-11. The names on that trophy are the greatest the game has ever known ­ Gretzky, Howe, Orr, Richard, Lemieux, Hull, Crosby Ovechkin, just to name a few.

It's the latest honour for a player who has won almost everything there is to win in hockey and done so by the age of 26. His championships include a Stanley Cup, Olympic gold medal, World Junior Hockey Championship, Memorial Cup, OHL championship and OHL Cup bantam championship. He earned MVP awards in the Memorial Cup, OHL regular season and playoffs and the OHL Cup. He also won the NHL's Rocket Richard Trophy this year as the league's top goal scorer with 50. His 98 points were second only to Vancouver's Daniel Sedin.

Unlike Gretzky, Orr, Lemieux or Crosby, Perry wasn't anointed as the “next big thing” coming up the hockey ranks. Yes, he was always an outstanding player, usually the best on his team and he was a first-round pick in the OHL and NHL drafts, but he was never the top pick.

Nobody saw a Hart Trophy in his future, even his biggest supporters. Not his father Geoff, not the Anaheim Ducks who drafted him, not Mark Hunter who drafted him to the London Knights, not his minor hockey coaches or childhood teammates.

But, yes, they all saw tremendous potential.

Anaheim scout Jeff Crisp says the Ducks thought enough of Perry to trade up to select him 28th overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Not all NHL teams realized Perry's full potential and in fact some scouts doubted if he could play in the NHL full-time.

“The Ducks thought he was an elite player,” Crisp said, “but I think some other organizations, to be honest, were, probably, worried about his skating and his strength and whether those two would come far enough that they needed to for him to be able to use his competitiveness, his hands and his hockey sense at the NHL level.”

What Perry revealed to the Ducks was a drive to succeed and do whatever was asked of him.

“His will to win is elite,” said Crisp. “There is no doubt about it. It's his will to impact a game positively. He won't be denied and that's the thing we love about having him in a Ducks' uniform. He'll do whatever he can to help the Ducks win. I think that's what all the voters saw in him rounding out his game and becoming a more complete player this year.”

Perry has always been an agitator on the ice, but this year he reduced his penalty minutes and skated away from more scrums.

It was at coach Randy Carlyle's request, said Crisp.

“He's a complete player now. He's turned himself into more than just a scorer, which is what some people thought he might be. Randy had long talks with him about being a penalty killer and staying on the ice more and bringing his penalty minutes down. Now he's on a penalty-killing unit that was a big part of some of our wins this year which, maybe, people wouldn't recognize in a 50-goal scorer. He was the best player in the game this year and has the Hart Trophy to show for it.”

Hunter, who drafted Perry fifth overall to the Knight, says no one could have foreseen the scrawny 15-year-old would grow into a solid six-foot-three, 210-pounds.

Hart Trophy? No, but Hunter did know there were some special qualities which were going to make Perry successful.

“The one thing he's constantly done to his game is each year he's gotten better,” said Hunter. “When you put everything together with how bad he wants to be a player and to win, he has the right thoughts of how to get it down. While some guys kind of think selfishly sometimes about getting their own stats, Corey worries about winning. That's why he's a winner.”

Hunter says Perry's parents Geoff and Nancy deserve credit for instilling some of those values in him. He says Perry has also proven to be a very driven young man.

“At every level he's won. One of his biggest accomplishments is the team he had in major bantam, which won the OHL Cup. Not a lot of those young men played junior A. He beat a lot of good teams out and, personally, did that himself.”

Geoff Perry believes the Hunters, Mark who was the Knights' GM and his brother Dale who was head coach, have been the greatest influence on his son's development.

“The more they asked Corey to do, the more he gave,” Geoff Perry said. “He always wanted to be a winner and he performed at the level Dale required him to perform at. He gave Corey that little extra freedom on the ice to go beyond that.”

He says Corey has always been willing to listen and learn and do what is asked of him. It's continued on at the NHL level where he's continued to watch his son grow by leaps and bounds.

“He's bigger. He's stronger. He's matured. He's won the confidence of the coaching. They've given him that freedom to play at the level he's capable of. They keep asking him for more and he keeps giving it,” said Geoff.

To sit in the audience in Las Vegas at the NHL awards and see his son accept the trophy was a special moment.

“The nomination and being one of the three finalists was an unbelievable feeling. For him to actually win it was beyond that,” he said.

It was also a special moment for those who were a part of Perry's minor hockey days in Peterborough including his former coach Steve Self who Perry listed on his Olympic profile page as his favourite minor hockey coach.

Perry was far too young to be predicting Hart Trophies in his future, but Self says he saw things in Perry which convinced him he'd be a very good professional hockey player.

“He practised like a pro and prepared like a pro,” said Self, a former

Washington Capitals draft pick and pro player. “He practised probably harder than he played the games. His work ethic and pre-game preparation I just found to be at another level. The other kids were very good. That was a great team, but Corey was just at another level.”

He said Perry also possessed tremendous skill and hockey sense

“Only so many kids get those soft kind of hands,” Self said.

In minor hockey, Perry earned the nickname CP in order to distinguish him from his linemate Cory Vitarelli. Vitarelli, who now plays pro lacrosse for the Rochester Knighthawks and stars for his hometown Lakers, says Perry was special.

“He'd score goals and do moves that would make you take notice,” Vitarelli said. “He was a good enough player I thought he'd play in the NHL, but it's kind of hard to believe he's MVP of the NHL. He's such a good player and he's always excelled. Every team he's played on he's won and he's always been the best player. I suppose it was kind of just destiny he would eventually do it in the NHL, too.”

One thing Vitarelli said he admired about Perry is how down to Earth he remained despite his success.

“He was always a quiet kid who went about his own business and always had the hunger to do the best he could. I think that's likely why he's always done so well, just having that drive and push,” said Vitarelli.

Mike Rochetta, goalie of that bantam team, remains a close friend with Perry today. He too credits the Hunters with helping Perry take his game to new heights.

“When he went away to London with the Hunter boys that's when things really started to progress,” said Rochetta. “He always had the skill level, but the way he started playing when he was in London, he wasn't afraid to go in the corners. His positioning was always the right place at the right time.”

Rochetta also believes playing in Anaheim has contributed to his success.

It's an area where Hollywood stars dominate the headlines not hockey players.

“He's not so much of a celebrity,” said Rochetta. “He can do his own thing. Hockey down there is more fun for them compared to being up here in Toronto where every move they make is critiqued. Down there, he's just another person making a living.”

While there isn't much his son hasn't won, Geoff Perry says there is one championship Corey would still like to add to his collection.

“Eventually, he'd love to win that fifth ring and win the world championship,” Geoff said. “That's the only one he's missing. There are only so many in the world who have all five rings.”

mikedavies@peterboroughexaminer.com


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