Tucson, AZ (KOLD) – Brendan Perlini never shied away from going against the grain. Take his favorite soccer team.
Perlini spent the first eleven years of his life growing up in Guildford, Surrey located 27 miles south of London proper. Being so close to the big city, many in Guildford root for the surrounding clubs. Chelsea. Arsenal. Tottenham Hotspur.
Not Perlini. He chose the team located nearly four hours north. Manchester United.
"I always wanted to be different," said Perlini. "They were so far away from us. That's ultimately why I started cheering for them. To be different from the other kids."
Or take playing hockey.
"For me, NHL games were on in the middle of the night. I never really got to watch them," he said, again emphasizing distance, this time between Guildford and North America. "That's why I was so intrigued. Playing hockey was different. Nobody really played."
Well, almost nobody. His father Fred played plenty.
Fred Perlini spent nearly twenty years as a professional hockey player. While he earned his stripes as an NHL forward for the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, his career took him to the UK where he spent most of his playing days.
By the time he hung up his cleats while suiting up for the Guildford Flames, the elder Perlini had amassed over 1,400 points.
"I was the normal kid going to school," said Perlini. "But around the hockey rink everyone always knew me as the kid whose father had played in the NHL. And everyone looked up to my dad. Almost like a god."
For Brendan, it would seem that playing hockey was a foregone conclusion and the experience of strapping up his skates in Guildford gave him an opportunity to expand his world view.
"In our area of Guildford, because it's so close to London, it was a main hub for kids from Canada, kids from the U.S. We'd go away to different parts of Europe. Belgian. Finland. Sweden. France. You get to experience so much in just a short span of your life. It was incredible."
In 2007, the Perlini's returned to their homeland, moving between the border - St. Marie, Ontario, and Detroit - as Fred built a business helping to train professional hockey players in North America. Five years later, his son took the next step in his own career. Brendan Perlini was drafted in the first round, 16th overall, by the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League, a sure sign that following his father's footsteps to the NHL was not a pipe dream.
Then, reality struck. 32 games. 1 goal. 1 assist. Halfway through his first season in his first year in the league, Barrie traded Perlini.
"I wasn't playing a lot. It was tough. I was a 16-year-old. I was a first round pick. There were a lot expectations."
"Turns out it was the best thing that could have happened. Because I go to Niagara."
The Niagara IceDogs sent forward Mitchell Theoret and a conditional 2nd round pick to the Colts in exchange for Perlini and a 6th round pick.
"There were a couple of guys there, Ryan Strome (now with the New York Islanders) and Brett Ritchie (now with the Dallas Stars), who I got to learn off of. For me, that was a real turning point."
Indeed it was. By the end of his first full season with Niagara ('13-'14), Perlini accumulated 34 goals and 31 assists through 58 games. Then in June, the newly branded Arizona Coyotes selected Perlini 12th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft.
"Ever since then I've had a little more grit, been a little more pissed off and definitely used it as motivation," said Perlini. "Every year I try to think about that. Never want to have that feeling of not playing again."
By the time the Coyotes called him up last December, the 20-year-old Perlini had 11 goals in 16 games with the Roadrunners, good enough to tie him for most goals in the American Hockey League. By the time the Coyotes sent him back down to Tucson, Perlini had netted 4 goals in 15 games.
"When I got called up to the NHL," said Perlini, "I was thinking about everything that has happened in my career to get to this point. It's just incredible, you know?"
Thursday morning, the Coyotes brought Perlini back up for another stint, two days after he netted his first professional career hat trick in Tucson.
"It was a rocky road to get here," said Perlini. "Some people, they look at you and think you've never had to do anything to get to this point. You know, everything's been earned."
When he makes his return in a Coyote jersey Friday night against Winnipeg, Perlini will have the distinction of being the only British-born player currently in the NHL.
In other words, he'll be different. Just the way he likes it.