Scott Perunovich becomes the sixth UMD Bulldog to win Hobey Baker

Minnesota Duluth junior defenseman joins Tom Kurvers, Bill Watson, Chris Marinucci, Junior Lessard and Jack Connolly after helping transform the reputation of the UMD program as more than just a producer of Hobey winners, but national championships

Minnesota Duluth defenseman Scott Perunovich controls the puck against Western Michigan at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. Perunovich is a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. (Clint Austin /

DULUTH, Minn. -- The COVID-19 pandemic may have derailed Minnesota Duluth’s run at a historic third-straight NCAA championship in 2019-20.

Like everyone else in college hockey, however, it couldn’t stop Bulldogs junior defenseman Scott Perunovich, who late Saturday, April 11, was named a three-time All-American and the 40th recipient of the Hobey Baker Memorial Award as national player of the year.

The fast and fiesty puck-mover from Hibbing, Minn., beat out fellow Hobey Hat Trick finishers Jordan Kawaguchi, the junior forward from North Dakota, and Maine junior goaltender Jeremy Swayman.

The sixth Bulldog to claim the most prestigious individual award in NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey, Perunovich helped transform the reputation of the program in his three seasons by fueling UMD to back-to-back national championships as a freshman in 2018 and sophomore in 2019. The Bulldogs were in a strong position to three-peat at No. 4 in the Pairwise rankings this year when the season was shut down by the coronavirus.

As was made clear this week by the 2004 Hobey Baker winner from UMD, Junior Lessard, no longer can anyone say, “ ‘That’s the school with the most Hobey Bakers, but what have they won?’ ”


And Perunovich is a big reason why, the Bulldogs’ Hobey fraternity said throughout the week in the lead up to the award presentation.

“They’ll look back and Scotty Perunovich is going to be one of the greatest Bulldogs to ever play. Period,” said Bill Watson, the 1985 Hobey Baker winner from UMD. “He has had such a marvelous career here at UMD. When you look back at our Hobey Baker winners, that’s how they’re looked at. It’s cool to see Scotty held up in that regard because he’s meant that much to our program.”

Perunovich is the 10th Minnesota native and the sixth born in the 218 area code to win the Hobey. He’s the first from Hibbing.

Since the award was first given to Minnesota center Neal Broten of Roseau in 1981, no school has produced more Hobey winners than UMD, which is now two clear of Minnesota’s and Harvard’s four Hobeys.

Tom Kurvers was the first Bulldog to win the Hobey in 1984, when the award was just four years old. Watson made it back-to-back for UMD in 1985, with Maine being the only other school to do so since, with Scott Pellerin winning in 1992 and Paul Kariya in 1993.

Chris Marinucci of Grand Rapids became UMD’s third winner in 1994 and Lessard was the fourth in 2004, tying the Bulldogs with the rival Gophers.

Duluth native Jack Connolly became the record-setting fifth winner in 2012, a year after being named a finalist and leading UMD to its first NCAA title in 2011 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin, who has now coached three Hobey winners in his 20 seasons at UMD, compared the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Perunovich to the 5-8, 160-pound Connolly this week. Smart players find a way to succeed with their skillset, no matter their size. Perunovich fit that mold, just like Connolly did, the three-time national championship coach said.


“Part of his success is being competitive,” Sandelin said of Perunovich. “He certainly deserves (the Hobey). We’ve seen a lot of players, a lot of good players. What he’s done and the kind of year he’s had this year is special. It’s unfortunate that it couldn’t have gone a little farther to see him work his magic in the playoffs.”

Perunovich led UMD in scoring as a freshman and junior, and was the leader in assists in all three seasons. He recorded 11 goals and 25 assists in 42 games in 2017-18 and was named the 2018 Tim Taylor Award winner as national rookie of the year. He then went on to put up three goals and 26 assists in 39 games last year with an injured back.

A three-time All-NCHC selection and the first Bulldog to be named NCHC Player of the Year, Perunovich posted six goals and 34 assists in the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season to slot him in a tie for 10th in the nation in scoring and second among all blue liners. His 19 assists and 22 points on the power play tied for tops in the nation among all scorers this year.

“He was the best player in college hockey, from a dominant level controlling a hockey game,” said Minnesota’s Bob Motzko, the former St. Cloud State bench boss who also coached Perunovich on the 2018 U.S. National Junior Team at the World Junior Championship. “He had that ‘it’ factor that doesn’t come around too often.”

The St. Louis Blues selected Perunovich in the second round, No. 45 overall, in 2018 after he’d been passed over in the two previous NHL drafts. Last month, the 21-year-old agreed to a pair of two-year entry level deals — one that would allow him to play in the NHL this year should the 2019-20 season restart, and if not, another contract that would begin in 2020-21.

Blues development coach Glen Wesley, a 20-year defenseman in the NHL, has watched Perunovich play a lot for the Bulldogs the last two seasons. Wesley became a fixture at UMD games, home and away this season, with Perunovich previously eligible to become a free agent on June 1.

Wesley said the three-time NCHC Offensive Defenseman of the Year and first defenseman to ever win the NCHC’s scoring title proved this season he’s much more than a playmaker and puck mover.

“There’s not a lot of guys in college hockey that have all those tools to be able to do what he can do,” Wesley said. “Everybody talks about his skills and vision and what he can do with the puck. For me personally, his defensive game and how much that’s improved from last year to this year stands out. That’s one of the things for a younger defenseman, it’s such a difficult position to play. As you learn and grow playing the position and where to be fundamentally in the right places at the right time, boxing out, tying up sticks, being smart below the goal line, not chasing guys out, that’s one of the things that Scott has done a phenomenal job working on and improving month-by-month, especially this past year.”


UMD Hobey Baker finalists and winners

Bold indicates winner

2020: Scott Perunovich

2012: Jack Connolly

2011: Jack Connolly

2004: Junior Lessard

1994: Chris Marinucci

1993: Derek Plante

1986: Brett Hull


1986: Norm Maciver

1985: Bill Watson

1984: Tom Kurvers

Northland natives to win the Hobey

2020: Minnesota Duluth defenseman Scott Perunovich, Hibbing

2013: St. Cloud State forward Drew LeBlanc, Duluth

2012: Minnesota Duluth forward Jack Connolly, Duluth

1994: Minnesota Duluth forward Chris Marinucci, Grand Rapids

1988: Minnesota goaltender Robb Stauber, Duluth


Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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