WINNIPEG - Cole Perfetti has found himself scrolling through photos on his phone ever since he was part of the gold-medal winning Team Canada squad just four days ago.
"It brings a smile to my face. Just looking back already on the tournament, it was so fun," Perfetti said of the 2021 IIHF World Hockey Championship in Latvia.
"I remember I couldn't get over the boards fast enough when (Nick Paul) scored. I was dying to get over the boards, throw my gloves ups in the air and start celebrating."
The Canadians beat Finland 3-2 in overtime on June 6 to earn that gold medal. Perhaps what made it even sweeter was the fact it didn't come easy.
The group started the tournament 0-3 after losses to Latvia, USA, and Germany.
They were the first Canadian team to start the tournament with two consecutive losses, let alone three. But they used it as motivation and squeaked into the medal round. Their first match-up was against the top seeded Russian squad in the quarterfinal.
"They had just got some big starts like (Sergei) Bobrovsky and (Vladimir) Tarasenko in their line-up. We just formed together and used that as motivation," said Perfetti. "Once we beat Russia, we knew we had what it takes and we had our groove going. I don't think there was any individual moment, just kind of over time the progression of how much people were doubting us and writing us off, we used it as motivation and that seemed to turn everything around."
The gold medal was even sweeter for Perfetti after the disappointment he felt following the World Junior Hockey Championship, when the Canadians lost the gold medal game to the United States in January.
His 2020-21 season, which included 26 points in 32 AHL games with the Manitoba Moose - bookended by IIHF events - gave Perfetti something else as well.
"This whole year has been major for me," said Perfetti, who was drafted 10th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in October of 2020. "It made me realize that there is lots of work to do, but I'm not as far away as I thought I was, I don't think. I proved myself. I proved a lot to myself. I showed that I can play with the physicality of men all year, the strength, the speed, can make plays."
Perfetti scored twice in 10 games at the World Championship and had nine goals and 26 points in 32 games with the Moose. He was also the CCM/AHL Rookie of the Month for April.
At each level, he found he could go in the corners, win puck battles, and make plays.
"I wouldn't be in the position I am if I was playing in the OHL still. Don't get me wrong, the OHL is an amazing league and I wouldn't be where I am today without it," said Perfetti. "But it's just something about playing against men with that strength and that speed, you have to experience it."
Speaking of the OHL, Perfetti is also very aware of how lucky he was to even have a hockey season.
Sure, he had to quarantine a number of times - whether that was at World Junior Selection Camp in November or in preparation for the Worlds - but he also had a lot off opportunities.
He won a gold medal with Hockey Canada, he got to play his first season of pro hockey, and he spent time with the Winnipeg Jets on the taxi squad.
He knows he's one of the lucky ones.
"A lot of my close friends from Saginaw, the OHL, they lost a whole year of development," said Perfetti. "I'm very appreciative of it. I realize that each step of the way, during World Juniors I was like 'Wow I'm pretty lucky to be playing right now.' Throughout the AHL I was saying to myself that not a lot of kids are getting this opportunity. Then obviously at Worlds, it was the same thing."
Now Perfetti's focus is on the off-season.
He hasn't spent much time with his family over the past number of months, so he's embracing that time now, with an eye on training camp in the fall.
"Obviously it's just going to be becoming a man and getting more strength, getting that natural strength, that's going to come with being in the gym," said Perfetti. "It was a big year for me confidence-wise in realizing where I am and how much work needs to be done.
"I definitely know what I need to work on in the next couple months here before I head to Jets camp."