Vicki Perlini is her son Brendan’s biggest cheerleader and one of his harshest critics. She has earned the right to be.
For the first six years of Brendan’s hockey life, Vicki was his team’s coach — although not necessarily by choice.
Vicki’s husband, Fred, was the director of youth hockey in Guildford, England, while she handled the business side of operations. During a practice in 2002, Fred was trying to give instructions when Brendan, who was 6 at the time, got frustrated and threw his stick.
‘‘Brendan was a handful when he was young,’’ Vicki recalled with a laugh. ‘‘He was one of those little characters, and he basically said: ‘You know what? Screw you. You do it.’ ’’
Brendan skated off the ice, while Fred stood there in disbelief.
‘‘From that moment on, Fred was like, ‘OK, you’re in charge of coaching Brendan,’ ’’ Vicki said, because Brendan knew he couldn’t sass her like that.
The family looks back at that moment and laughs. To be clear, Brendan wasn’t more ornery than the other 6-year-olds, but he was way more competitive than his peers. He gets that from his mother, who always has had fierce internal drive.
‘‘She always has high expectations for herself,’’ Brendan said. ‘‘And she expected the same for us.’’
Vicki never has been a big fan of participation trophies. She used to tell her students: “Have fun, but do it to the best of your abilities because we want to win. We want to get better.’’
A lot of Vicki’s determination has to do with the way she was raised.
Vicki describes herself as a ‘‘good ol’ northern Ontario, Canadian girl’’ who was ‘‘born and bred in the hockey world.’’ Growing up, she said there were eight months of snow and outdoor ice rinks around every corner. She remembers lacing her skates at her house and gliding to the schoolyard.
Vicki was always at the rink because her two older brothers played hockey. She used to sit in the stands and dream about joining in the fun, but there weren’t any organized girls leagues back then. Her mom tried putting Vicki in figure skating, but it wasn’t for her.
‘‘I guess I was born in the wrong era,’’ Vicki said. ‘‘Hockey has always been in my blood.’’
Fred’s pro hockey career led Vicki to Great Britain, aka the land of soccer. But Vicki knew one day they likely would move back to Canada. And with ice time a rarity in England, she feared the hockey development of sons Brett and Brendan would be behind that of the Canadian boys. So from the moment the boys could walk, Vicki and Fred had them in inline skates with a stick in one hand.
Fred was more the boys’ skills coach, and Vicki focused on their skating.
‘‘I take great passion in studying skating strides and learning what’s the difference between a [Connor] McDavid skater, a Dylan Larkin skater and a Brendan Perlini skater,’’ Vicki said.
Vicki never had the opportunity to play competitive hockey growing up, but she has been teaching hockey players of different calibers — from beginners to professionals — how to improve their power skating and edge work for more than 30 years.
‘‘I look at, ‘How can we make him a better skater?’ ’’ Vicki said. ‘‘We’re students of the game.’’
During the offseason, Vicki works with various NHL players in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Through the years, she has trained Knights defenseman Colin Miller, Red Wings defenseman Trevor Daley, Jets forward Kyle Connor and Maple Leafs forward Mitchell Marner, among others.
‘‘We like to find new, fresh stuff, new ideas of how to improve guys,’’ Vicki said. ‘‘That’s our passion now.’’
Oh, and she trains Brendan, too.
When they’re on the ice together, Brendan said she’s not his mother but his coach.
‘‘She’s so compassionate and will help out with any situation,’’ Brendan said. ‘‘We’re very tight that way.’’
During the season, Fred rarely critiques Brendan. But Vicki has no problem sharing ways he can improve.
‘‘She’s actually a lot tougher on me than my dad,’’ Brendan said. ‘‘When I’m not playing well, she can give me a good kick in the ass and say, ‘Hey, let’s get going here.’
‘‘But it’s good. I know I always have their support, and I’ll be supported if I’m an NHL player with an awesome career or if I’m a garbageman picking up garbage. They’re always going to push me to do my best.’’