From pest to ‘sounding board,’ Chicago’s Corey Perry is hated and loved in NHL


TAMPA, Fla. — He’s actually very quiet, his sotto voce speaking style causing you to lean in just as much as his insightful words do. He’s a friendly guy, quick to buck up a teammate or crack a joke with reporters. He’s an ideal teammate, throwing himself with total abandon into any role, whether it’s a top guy on the top line or a depth scorer in the bottom six. Everywhere he’s been, he’s been beloved.
Who is this likable, affable, genial guy? Why, it’s Corey Perry, of course.
“Just a gem,” Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
“Awesome teammate,” Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy said.
“Endearing,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said.
Now, this other guy, he’s a raving lunatic — fierce and fiery. His eyes narrow and his eyebrows converge, fists and spittle ready to start flying at any moment. He’s an elite trash-talker, but he’s also so casually dismissive and, for lack of a better term, rude, that it somehow makes you even madder when he doesn’t yap at you. He skirts the line between hard to play against and flat-out dirty. He’s aggravatingly crafty. He’s the target of cross-checks from opponents and boos from opposing fans, and he earns every single one of them. He’s kind of a jerk, if we’re being honest.
Who is this irritating, irascible pain in the crease? Why, it’s Corey Perry, of course.
“(Expletive deleted),” hockey fans across North America said.
Perhaps no player in the league is as loved and as hated at the same time as Perry, the 38-year-old former Hart Trophy winner who joined the Blackhawks this season to help fill the leadership void left by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. He’s the player you love to hate, and the player you love to have.
Which is just the way he wants it.
“That’s a good thing, I don’t mind that,” Perry said about being despised by so many fan bases. “Those (compliments from teammates) are nice to hear, but once the puck drops, it’s all business for me. I’ve been on a few teams, I’ve met a lot of people along the way. But once the puck drops, it’s a new Corey.”
New Corey is the worst, man. Countless NHL defensemen have learned that 19 seasons into his remarkable career,
“He plays a lot around the net front, so as a defensive defenseman, you spend a lot of time there, too, battling with guys,” Murphy said. “He’s really good around the net and knows how to be in spots that are hard to get him out of. He’s good at using his position, too. So if you do give him a harder push, the only place he has to fall is by the goalie, so he ends up getting contact with the goalie and it makes the goalie’s night hard, too.”
Murphy then laughed.
“Everyone’s had to deal with him at some point.”
Perry has total self-awareness, knowing exactly what everyone on the ice thinks of him. And he uses that to his advantage. Intimidation is leverage. Lord help any poor baby-deer-legged rookie who finds himself in a puck battle or a net-front battle with Corey Freaking Perry.
“One hundred percent, absolutely,” Perry said when asked if his reputation helps him. “I’m a guy that wants to win each and every night, and to have that opportunity to win, I’ll do whatever it takes.”
Of course, those opportunities have come a little less frequently in Chicago than they did in his previous spots. After 14 seasons (and 11 playoff appearances) with the Anaheim Ducks, Perry reached three straight Stanley Cup finals with Dallas, Montreal and Tampa Bay. Those teams failed to win the championship, but Perry — who won it all with the Ducks in 2007, his second year in the league — has been in 196 playoff games in his career, tops among active players and 22nd all time, tied with Detroit legend Steve Yzerman.
In Chicago, the job is different. He’s not here to put the Blackhawks over the top at the end of their climb, he’s here to help the Blackhawks — particularly 18-year-old Connor Bedard — take their first steps up the mountain. It’s a different role, but one Perry seems to have embraced wholeheartedly.
“It’s a work in progress, obviously,” he said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. But at the same time, it’s the little things, day in and day out. What to do away from the rink, or things on the ice. Whatever it is, whatever he needs, I’ve told him just come see me. I’m a sounding board for him.”
In Chicago, part of Corey Perry’s job is to help the Blackhawks — particularly 18-year-old Connor Bedard — take their first steps up the mountain. (Michael Reaves / Getty Images)
Perry was one of the key veteran figures who staged a players-only meeting after what seemed like a routine loss to New Jersey on Sunday night, warning against complacency and preaching accountability and brotherhood. Life lessons like that go a long way on a team with a handful of rookies.
“The things that he says hold weight,” Murphy said. “He’s not just going to throw cliché terms and words out there. When he speaks about the game, it’s stuff that holds volume and playing the game the right way.”
That presence was felt just as strongly in Tampa, even among a decorated veteran group of All-Stars. Cooper needed to compose himself before even talking about Perry on Thursday morning. It sounded like he was talking about his own son.
“That’s a hard one to answer for me; I could be here all day,” Cooper said. “What he meant not only to this organization but to me personally. I don’t know where he’s going to end up in his career when he finally finishes, but I hope he’s back here with us. Because you’re not going to meet somebody more first class than Corey Perry — somebody that would just lay it all on the line to win. He was just a gem to have on this team, what he meant to the coaching staff and the bench. He was like an extension of us. He just gets it. Guys that get it, there’s not a ton of them out there. And he’s one of them, I’ll tell you that.”
Richardson had Perry as an assistant in Montreal and had a similar perspective on the cagey vet. Richardson told a story about how Perry “barked” at his teammates on the bench during a simple practice drill in which they were working on dump-ins. A couple of turnovers at the blue line set him off.
The standard is always the standard, no matter the situation.
“It makes the coach’s job a lot easier because I think the player will be a lot more fearful hearing from him than me,” Richardson said. “(It’s) like a parent, ‘Make your bed and take out the trash.’ It becomes like old hat. They don’t want to hear it anymore. But when your peer tells you to, you pick up your socks and you do it right the next time. That’s what he brings.”
If Richardson is Dad, Perry and fellow vet Nick Foligno are the young Blackhawks’ big brothers, pushing the kids along in their own way — often while doling out the hockey equivalent of noogies and dead-arms to their opponents.
“I just think it’s the way we were taught to play the game (and) I think it’s the right way to play the game,” Foligno said. “You should never be easy to play against.”
For nearly two decades now, Perry has been anything but easy to play against. Easy to hate? Sure. Easy to get mad at? Oh, yeah. Easy to take a retaliation penalty against? For sure.
Easy to love? Well, yeah, that, too. But only if you’re wearing the same jersey as he is.
(Top photos of Corey Perry and Brad Marchand: Michael Reaves / Getty Images and Bill Smith / NHLI via Getty Images)


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