Conor Sheary had a breakout season last year for the University of Massachusetts hockey team. But with a new coach and system in place, he could be poised to have another big season for the Minutemen.
Sheary is the leading scorer of returning Minutemen players. In 35 games last season, Sheary scored 12 goals and had 23 assists. He was only one point shy of being a point-per-game player.
“You always want to improve from the year before, so obviously coming back I want to do better than I did last season,” Sheary said. “Whether it is point wise, leadership wise, or team wise I just want to improve.”
New UMass hockey coach John Micheletto has implemented a new system that is designed to benefit a player with Sheary’s abilities.
“[The system] benefits his style of play,” Micheletto said. “He has great explosive quickness, and he can separate himself from defensive players. He also has an incredibly quick release, so he has natural elements in his game that we want.”
Sheary also has other elements to his game that allowed he and T.J. Syner to become one of the biggest threats when paired together last season in Hockey East.
“Having T.J. as my captain and linemate allowed me to make that huge jump last season,” Sheary said. “Just being on the ice at the same time as him is jaw dropping. Some of the things he does like the way he uses his speed and his shot have been something I have tried to put into my game.”
Although Sheary’s speed may be one of his best assets, UMass wants him to be able to decipher when the game needs to be slowed down.
“For a player like Conor we want to encourage him to not only play fast but also when it is appropriate to slow it down, and to just allow the play to happen,” Micheletto said.
Although Sheary is only 5'9”, most would not be able to tell by the way he plays the game.
“Sheary is obviously not very tall, and he isn’t a bruiser,” Micheletto said. “But he plays hard, and he has great physical strength. He has one of the stronger sticks on our team; it is very hard to knock him off the puck. Although his stature may not be very big he has learned to play big.”
Hockey East has developed several undersized players that have become successful in the NHL like Nathan Gerbe and Brian Gionta. Gionta is someone that Sheary watched closely as a kid dating back to when Gionta played at Boston College.
“Now that Gionta is in the NHL, watching how he plays the game has been a huge development for my own game,” Sheary said. “Someone is always going to have something to say about my height and weight. It is obviously motivating for me to do better because of the doubt.”
Something else that has motivated Sheary to up his game is that he came into UMass as an unknown player. Despite having a great season last year he wasn’t invited to an NHL development camp this past summer like several of his teammates were.
“I think I’m doing a good job [of taking my game to the next level], but I don’t think I am anywhere near where I want to be yet,” Sheary said.
“I was a little bit of an unknown coming to UMass straight from high school, but I took a huge step last season. I have always liked being an underdog because it is something that keeps me going, knowing that some people don’t think so highly of me.”
Sheary may be one of the fastest players on the UMass team, but there are still some mechanics he is trying to improve in his skating.
“I am a fast skater, but I think my edge work could use some improvement,” Sheary said. “It is sort of a little thing that many people don’t notice, but it is something I am working on.”
Sheary plans to stay at UMass for all four years, but when it does come time for graduation, he should be able to use his assets to become a success at the professional level.
“Conor is on the right path (for the professional level), his work ethic will be what gets him there,” Micheletto said. “He has so many natural gifts that the only way he couldn’t make it, is if he didn’t work, but that’s not the case for him. I have real high hopes for Conor.”
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