Perepeluk thankful for Brandon experience
Courtesy of Perry Bergson, The Brandon Sun
Reid Perepeluk’s Western Hockey League career started later than many players, but he’s more focused on how happy he is with the way it’s ending.
The Brandon Wheat Kings overage forward said the deal that brought the Yorkton product to Manitoba from the Prince George Cougars a year ago has made hockey a lot sweeter.
“It’s a really good feeling to know that when I hit, that opens up the ice for other guys to win the game for us,” Perepeluk said. “It opens up the ice for guys to score and to know that means something, other than playing in PG and always losing by one goal. That’s something to look forward to every day when you come to the rink.”
Perepeluk and the Wheat Kings beat the Regina Pats 5-1 late Sunday to win the East Division title
The WHL announced last week there won’t be league playoffs.
Brandon has come a long way since they went 3-2-1-0 out of the gate, but has played better and better as the season has gone on.
“We have a veteran group that is really deep,” Perepeluk said. “Everyone has a role on the team, and they have accepted it for the short amount of time that we are here. Everyone is listening to the system and playing the system. Everyone is just buying into the program of what the coaches want.”
One change for Perepeluk this season is the head coach. Former assistant Don MacGillivray moved into the top job after Dave Lowry left for the Winnipeg Jets, but Perepeluk said it wasn’t a massive transition for the players.
“It hasn’t been that big of an adjustment because Donny was there last year and he’s putting some of the things in that Dave implemented last year,” Perepeluk said. “It’s just little details that are a little different.”
The Yorkton product arrived in Brandon on Jan. 9, 2020 when the Wheat Kings sent forward Jonny Hooker to the Prince George Cougars in a one-for-one deal. In 23 games in Brandon last season, Perepeluk contributed two goals, five assists and 13 penalty minutes while offering a robust physical presence.
In 19 games this season, the six-foot-three, 215-pound forward has four goals, an assist, 38 penalty minutes and 40 shots on net.
On his best nights, Perepeluk has been a difference maker for the Wheat Kings, using his speed on the forecheck to wreak havoc with his big hits.
He’s happy with how his season has gone.
“I’m just trying to make a difference and an impact every time I’ve been out there,” Perepeluk said. “I’m trying to be a physical, intimidating force and make room for Ridly Greig and the top players on our team. I’m trying to play a role so that everyone can get noticed. With us winning games, you can’t tell me other guys on the team aren’t getting noticed, including myself. If I buy into my role, and maybe it’s not the most favourable role finishing checks, but if I finish my checks to perfection that definitely helps everyone out for the next level.”
MacGillivray appreciates what Perepeluk brings.
“He’s been pretty good for us,” MacGillivray said. “He’s a big, physical guy and he gets emotionally engaged in the game. At times he has a tendency to maybe over-forecheck or overdo things that gets him in trouble, but he plays hard. He gives you everything he’s got.
“You know some nights aren’t going to be as good as others but he’s been a real effective player for us.”
Perepeluk came into camp in shape, but the lack of exercise before he arrived in Regina and then during the quarantine phase in the hub as they waited for their COVID-19 test results set him back. He felt it as soon as the team hit the ice for their first practice.
“My lungs were totally gone,” Perepeluk said. “All we did was sit for two weeks straight. When we went to practice, my body wanted to keep going as much as it could, but my lungs couldn’t keep up. The first three days of practice, I was throwing up every single time after. I was going so hard but my lungs couldn’t keep up to my body so I was getting lightheaded right away.”
He said he was fine on the fourth day, and has been a destructive force on the ice ever since.
While Perepeluk wasn’t a big fan of the food at the start — “The food’s a lot better now and everyone has a better attitude” — he has embraced the experience.
A big part of it is living in the University of Regina’s Paskwaw Tower in a room with fellow overager Marcus Sekundiak, defenceman Jonny Lambos and second-year forward Jake Chiasson.
“It’s been really good,” Perepeluk said. “We’re all getting along good, sharing food and everything, and it’s been a really good time.”
He has received several care packages from his parents, as have the others, all of whom also brought a lot of snacks with them.
As an older player on a team with eight rookies, Perepeluk has taken the job of mentoring the youngsters seriously.
He uses his own career as a good teaching point.
Perepeluk was picked in the sixth round of the WHL draft in 2015 by Prince George. He played 10 games with the Cougars in the 2017-18 season, also spending time with the B.C. Hockey League’s Prince George Spruce Kings.
He played most of that season in the Junior B Kootenay International Junior Hockey League, earning 26 points in 24 games.
In 2018-19 in his 18-year-old season, he earned a full-time role with the Cougars, appearing in 55 games and posting two goals, five assists and 58 penalty minutes.
In 31 games last season with Prince George, he had four goals, five assists and 51 penalty minutes before the trade to Brandon.
“These kids are all 16 years old, 17 years old, I didn’t come into the league until I was 18 and I made it as a 20-year-old,” Perepeluk said. “I just tell them that they have lots and lots and lots of time to develop. Just listen to your coach and keep moving forward and it will be positive.”
There is a big difference between Perepeluk and Brandon’s three youngest forwards up front, Nate Danielson, Rylen Roersma and Tyson Zimmer, all of whom are in their 16-year-old seasons.
The three first-rounders were picked for their elite skill level, while Perepeluk offers far more of a physical presence.
Perepeluk played Junior A and B hockey, and he said that helped him to make the jump to the WHL at 18. His style of play also eased the transition.
“Being a physical guy, it wasn’t that much of a difference,” Perepeluk said. “I was just doing the same things I would do in Junior A anyway. I don’t have that crazy role where I have to put up a bunch of points. I’m out there to finish checks and just fly around out there and make room for other players.”
He said his game has undergone one major evolution since he was 17. It comes down to his approach, which he said wasn’t tough enough initially.
“I didn’t play hard enough, and that’s why I wasn’t in the league at 17, I was just scared,” Perepeluk said. “Now I’m more mature and I’m ready to play this type of role that I have now in this league. I’m not scared to fight anymore, I’m not scared to get cut or bleed or anything.”
He said he’s also better equipped to deal with negativity, not getting as low when bad things happen.
While 20-year-old forwards are quite often big scorers or indispensable glue guys, the newcomer Perepeluk claimed an overage spot with his take-no-prisoners approach to hockey. He’s proud of being one of his team’s overage players.
“It means a lot to know that my intimidation and my physicality that I bring are of big importance to the team and to know that my role is appreciated,” Perepeluk said. “A 20-year-old spot, that means a lot for sure in the Western Hockey League. You need to have something going for yourself in the Western Hockey League at 20 or you’re just not going to be here.”