High-energy agitator Joe Pereira scored a career-high 21 points last year in his junior season at Boston University. Already a national champion, he’s certainly a collegiate player worthy of envy.
Just not too much envy. At least, not from his kid brother.
"I wanted to start my own trail… and break out of my brother’s shell," said Mike Pereira, draft-eligible this year. He turned down BU to attend the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
Fortunately for the nearly 6’0, 170-pounder, he has more than enough juice in his blades to set his own pace.
"Probably his greatest skill is his skating ability and the speed that he possesses,” said Avon Old Farms coach John Gardner, who guided the younger Pereira this season. “He’s able to turn it on and has that burst that you need to get by defensemen. He’s also pretty patient with the puck, and he has good vision. He really worked on making the people around him better this year."
The left wing out of West Haven, Conn. scored 28 goals and racked up 64 points for the New England Division I Prep champs, but the pop that drew the most notice from pro scouts wasn’t from his stick: it was in his skating ability.
"I liked to use him a lot on the man-down because he could put pressure on the puck," said Gardner. "He would be disruptive to the opposition’s power play… because of his quickness."
Gardner’s starting five are all going D-I, with Pereira’s linemates Kevin Tiefenwerth and Quinn Smith each committing to Boston College, and starting blue-liners Patrick McGregor (BU) and Kyle Quick (Brown) making the leap as well.
"It was definitely fun playing with and against those guys, not only in games, but in practices. They really made me better," said Pereira, who is giddy about the draft, but he is also aware that he has a lot of work to do if he hopes to make the NHL.
"It would be an honor [to be drafted]. It’s something you dream of as a little kid, and to have it maybe come true is beyond belief. I didn’t really think this would ever really happen, and the next thing you know, it’s becoming a reality.
"[Skating] has been a natural thing for me. I know both offensively and defensively in the corners, I’ve gotten a lot better. My shot has gotten a little better since I started in high school. It’s not hard, but it gets to where it has to go. It’s pretty accurate."
Ranked 63rd among North American skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting service, Pereira made a 14-point jump from 77th in Central Scouting’s mid-term report. Speed and leadership aside, part of the reason for the beneficial bump may be due to his enthusiasm and creativity: both crucial components to an 18-year-old prospect.
"Coming down in a three-on-two or a two-on-one with speed on my off wing is pretty fun," Pereira said, "because you can cut in, sometimes I stop, sometimes I button-hook, sometimes I drop back. You get a lot of opportunities to do a lot of different things and I think that’s pretty fun."
Pereira knows he has the support of his tight-knit family. Not only is his big brother an easy resource for advice, but his father has been there at every turn as well.
"My dad’s at every game. He’s been to just about every one of my and my brother’s games; I don’t know how he does it," Pereira said. "Somehow he finds the time, and he comes to every one of our games. My mom comes to the ones that she can — and she comes to a lot — but my dad’s been to every one, and I’ve got to give him credit. He’s the one who took me to practice every morning, and then he comes to every one of my games for my whole life, so it’s pretty neat."
Pereira said that Coach Gardner has also had a salient impact on his development, despite the lone season of cooperation.
"He’s a great coach. His advice… has helped me become the player I am today, and I’m grateful that he gave me the opportunity to come play here."
For his part, the coach sees high potential in the versatile forward, so long as he can keep his energy up.
"He’s certainly not going to go in and run people into the boards — although he can. He’s not going to run Zdeno Chara around, because not many people can. But I think he can use his speed on the forecheck and use the angle, and he’s strong enough that he can get in the road and make a difference.
"The one thing that Mike has to do is be consistent. He was pretty consistent for us this year, but if he’s going to be an effective collegiate player in Hockey East, he’s got to become a threat every time he gets on the ice. He’s got to be one of those guys that the other team worries about. To do that, you’ve got to prove yourself, and it’s tough to prove yourself the first year," continued Gardner, who equated the situation to that of BC’s Cam Atkinson, a former player at Avon. A seven-goal scorer in 36 games his freshman year, Atkinson exploded for 30 goals and 53 points this past season, as the Eagles won the national title.
From the New Haven peewee league, to the Southern Connecticut Stars; through Meriden, to South Kent, to Avon, Pereira has done a lot of packing during his youth career. With four years in Amherst beckoning, the forward is eager to begin a new stage of his hockey career.
"I felt at home," he said of visiting Don ‘Toot’ Cahoon’s UMass program.
What remains to be seen is where on the Hockey East leaderboard will Pereira make his second home, and what NHL franchise will offer him his ultimate place of residence.