|ESPN.com: NHL||[Print without images]|
|Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have been a lethal 1-2 punch for a long time.|
Former NHL coach Dale Hunter, who after a brief stint with the Washington Capitals returned to his post coaching the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, caught a glimpse recently of one of his former players on a highlight reel.
It was Corey Perry -- no surprise there -- as he managed to head-butt his way to a goal against the Vancouver Canucks in the Ducks' 3-1 win earlier this month. The puck glanced off defenseman Jason Garrison's skate and goaltender Eddie Lack's mask before Perry directed it with his helmet and tapped it past the goal line -- a lightning-quick play that left fans in awe and Hunter chuckling with delight as he recalled seeing it the next morning.
"That is Corey Perry, all the way," Hunter said. "He'll find a way."
Hunter coached Perry for four seasons in London, culminating with the Knights' Memorial Cup championship in 2005 after defeating Sidney Crosby's Rimouski Oceanic. Hunter witnessed firsthand so many times what the dynamic forward can do, that it no longer surprises him. Like everyone else, he just sits back and enjoys the show.
Whether it's a headbutt goal (not his first, by the way; he scored in a similar fashion against the Bruins a few years back on a shorthanded rush that had then-coach Randy Carlisle and teammate Teemu Selanne cracking up on the bench afterward), a stealthy swipe of an opponent's stick (worth watching purely for Alexander Semin's baffled reaction) or the mini-stick shootout goal that was a fan favorite in the skills competition of the 2012 All-Star game, Perry seems to be consistently in the center of all the action, and that has been a good thing for the Ducks.
Despite a difficult four-game road trip that ended 0-3-1 with a loss to Pittsburgh Monday night, Anaheim remains one of the elite teams in the league, and Perry is a big reason for that success. The 28-year-old Peterborough, Ontario, native is in the top 10 in the scoring race along with linemate Ryan Getzlaf. Eleven of those points have come in the last 10 games, as Perry has helped the Ducks stay in contention in an uber-competitive Pacific Division that also includes the dominant San Jose Sharks.
"He's our leader. Him and Getzie are our offensive leaders," coach Bruce Boudreau said of Perry at the tail end of the team's grueling eight-game road trip earlier this month. "You need those guys to play well if you want them to win.
"Corey's been very good for us."
Boudreau has employed that tandem -- one of the league's most fearsome duos -- with winger Dustin Penner for a vaunted first line that has given the team sustained production. Not only are Perry and Getzlaf among the league's scoring leaders; Penner is currently first in the NHL with a plus-16. The trio has been a daunting one for opponents to defend, with Perry and Getzlaf's undeniable chemistry and Penner's size shaping up as an effective complement. The chemistry between Perry and Getzlaf will likely be something that Hockey Canada considers when the management group narrows its choices and finalizes its rosters before Jan. 1.
"It can't hurt," Getzlaf said. "That's the thing. We've been together so long now that we know each other. It's nice to go through things like that."
Getzlaf and Perry both said their potential spots on the Canadian Olympic roster are secondary to their objective with the Ducks. But both players were members of the 2010 gold-medal-winning squad, and have good odds at making the cut again this year.
"To me, it's a great reward. As a Canadian, I would've killed to be on an Olympic team or wear the colors. I know they're very much like that," Boudreau told ESPN.com. "As their coach, I'd be the first one to go to bat for them. When the big stage comes, these guys don't get rattled. They just play."
Should Perry continue producing at the clip he is now, he will likely be penciled in to play on the right wing with one of the members of a talented crop of centers that includes Crosby, Jonathan Toews and John Tavares.
Perry said he only hopes to put himself in a good position by helping his Ducks squad each night.
"I'm not putting any extra pressure on myself or anything, but if I keep doing what I'm doing, hopefully I get that phone call and [I'll be] off to Russia," Perry told ESPN.com. "That's the exciting part. You get to play for a spot and keep doing that every single day and hopefully that's enough."
What coaches past and present have seen from Perry seems to be more than enough proof that he is the type of player you want to have out on the ice for one of the game's biggest stages. It was almost a decade ago, but Hunter still remembers his London Knights' triumphant shutout victory against the Oceanic that won them the Memorial Cup. It was Perry's performance that sealed the series, Hunter said. Not even Crosby, the most highly touted prospect in the world at the time, could overshadow the tall, skinny 19-year-old who had yet to fill out. "He had the skill, but it was the will to win more than anything else," Hunter said. "There was no fear in his game. He just wanted to win."
That was enough for Hunter, who still remembers Perry fondly as one of his favorite players. Would he choose him for the 2014 Olympic squad? Not even a question.
"He's a winner," Hunter said. "Wherever he goes, good things happen."