Former teammates Perfetti and O’Rourke enjoy competitive friendship

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Cole Perfetti is a strong two-way forward with Mitch Marner-like hockey sense. The Saginaw Spirit’s leading scorer boasts a high compete level and an impressive shot that makes him a real threat in the offensive zone.

One of the most anticipated picks at the upcoming NHL Draft, his playmaking and goal scoring abilities continue to turn heads.

Backing the blueline for the Soo Greyhounds, Ryan O’Rourke can be described a tough two-way defenceman. He can join up on the rush, make effective plays, and play a physical game similar to that of Duncan Keith. He may be a self-described laid back person, ‘but you wouldn’t know it on the ice,’ the Pickering, Ont. native admits.

Playing in the OHL’s West Division, both Perfetti and O’Rourke see a lot of each other. When Perfetti is flying up the wing, O’Rourke has the book on him. And while he’s tough to beat one-on-one in the corner, Perfetti has a knack for knowing O’Rourke’s tendencies.

The division rivals make for a good matchup, and they credit it to years of playing minor hockey together.

“He knows my moves. He’s been seeing them for years,” said Perfetti of his former teammate.

The two OHLers played with the OMHA’s Whitby Wildcats over the course of the 2016-2017 season, where they’d finish as league champions and later appear in the 2017 OHL Cup’s Quarter-Finals, falling at the hands of the Toronto Nationals.

It’s a year O’Rourke remembers fondly, musing on the large crowds, the amount of pressure he felt in the tournament, and the preparation he gained going into his next season.

“That was a really fun team to play on in Whitby,” he recalled.

He and Perfetti would spend the next year with the GTHL’s Vaughan Kings Minor Midget Squad and earn another berth to the OHL Cup. This time, they’d lose in the finals to the Toronto Jr. Canadiens.

“It prepared us for what it was like to come in the OHL,” Perfetti said of the experience.

Two OHL Cup appearances isn’t something a lot of players get to experience, and now, in the latter half of their second OHL stint, it’s a feat they cherish greatly.

“We knew we were coming back the next year and there was a lot to learn, and playing in front of a big crowd…it was kind of the first time we’d ever done that,” said Perfetti.

“It was a great tournament, a great experience and a great place to showcase our talent.”

Now, the two NHL Draft eligible skaters continue to share the ice frequently, except this time it’s on opposite ends. Drafted fifth and 20th overall in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection respectively, Perfetti and O’Rourke now face off eight times throughout the regular season as opponents.

“It was weird seeing him on the other team for a change,” said Perfetti. “It’s been a nice competition going up against him and every time we go in the corner, we battle extra hard against each other.”

The Spirit opened the 2018-19 season against the visiting Greyhounds, facing off against each other in their OHL debuts. They’d both open the scoring with their first OHL goals.

Today, Perfetti sits second among his fellow OHL skaters with 102 points (35-67—102) on the year. Having familiarized themselves with each other’s on-ice product up until now and having shared numerous career milestones together – some as finite as scoring their first goals in the same contest and some as broad as anticipating their names called at the NHL Draft this summer – both players are now enjoying yet another mutual experience: having a close friend as a newfound rival.

“We’re always in each other’s ears but that’s just good competition and a good friendship that we’ve had for years,” Perfetti said. “It’s been a lot of fun playing with him and now playing against him.”

And perhaps with a mutual sense of rivalry comes an even stronger appreciation for the opportunities and talents they’ve been able to accomplish together.

“He’s a pretty special player,” said O’Rourke. “Playing with him in minor hockey, you kind of knew that, too.”

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