Despite being included in the Central Scouting draft rankings multiple times and going undrafted, University of Massachusetts forward Mike Pereira has evolved into one of the strongest two-way players in Hockey East.
Heading into his first season with UMass he hoped to be selected at the 2010 NHL Draft as he was ranked 63rd among North American skaters in the CSS rankings.
“Playing college hockey was obviously a big step, so regardless of what [happened], I wanted to better myself early on as a freshman at UMass,” Pereria said. “Going to the [NHL] Combine, meeting with a few teams, and to have it not work out does motivate you in a way. It was stressful.”
The West Haven, CT native emerged as one of the premier players in Hockey East, earning a top-six spot with the Minutemen in his freshman season. Pereira was one of 13 freshmen on the UMass roster during the 2010-11 season.
As a freshman, Pereira ranked third on UMass in scoring; he found the back of the net 12 times and dished out 13 assists for 25 points. UMass struggled as a team with so many inexperienced players, but there was still plenty for Pereira to take out of the season.
“We made [the Hockey East Playoffs], and that experience has helped me a lot,” he said.
During his sophomore year, Pereira was once again third on the team in points, recording 34 points off of 17 goals and 17 assists. It seemed like he was getting ready to break out this past season as a junior, but there were a few unexpected turns. Over the summer, UMass coach Don “Toot” Cahoon resigned, and the Minutemen hired an assistant coach from Vermont, John Micheletto, to replace Cahoon.
Although Pereira’s statistics took a hit this season, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. He was still an effective offensive player, tallying 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists), and he was especially strong during the second half of the season.
“Mike did a great job throughout the entire year of getting after it,” Micheletto said.
“There was a little bit of a learning curve of how we wanted to play, and how to also be effective in that system. He really committed himself to learning how to use his talents to become a very good player at this level, and we saw the fruits of that hard work pay off throughout the second half of the [season]. He is a real success story in that regard.”
In addition to a new coach, Pereira was also battling several undisclosed injuries during the early portion of the season. Health was a big issue that often only allowed him to practice once or twice a week. An injury also held him out the final two games of the season.
“I had very limited practice time, and it was to the point where I was only practicing one day a week,” Pereira said. “I was going out to play in a game Friday night, but there isn’t any excuses.”
Pereira knew he had to bounce back in the second half, though, and he acknowledged that to the coaching staff.
“Before we went home for break I went up to coach [Micheletto],” Pereira said. “ I told them I was going to be the best forward down the stretch, that he could rely on me in any situation.“
Pereira bounced back right away, grabbing two points against Bemidji State in the Mass Attack’s first game back after the holiday break. Pereira stayed hot for the remainder of the season, tallying 16 points in 15 games.
“It was one of those things where I just kind of just had to have a little bit of fun,” Pereira said.
“I just focused on the things that I could control rather than the things I couldn’t. I started focusing on my work ethic, what I was doing away from the puck, what I was doing with the puck, and just dialing it in everyday.”
“This is why he is a successful player, and why he has been (successful) at every level,” added Micheletto, “There is obviously a level of skill in Mike’s game, but what allows him to maximize that skill is his “get after it” attitude. Mike certainly didn’t let his injuries slow him down or deter him, so he did a nice job of working through that adversity.”
Micheletto also credits Pereira’s “get after it” attitude as another thing that has helped him establish his two-way game. Pereira has continued to make strides in the defensive end and on the penalty kill. He was tied for first place in Hockey East shorthanded points with three.
“With his stick strength and his ability to take away time and space, he is going to create a lot of opportunities for himself by defending tenaciously,” Micheletto said. “We saw him really take a step this year, as he became a guy who takes away pucks and creates offense because of it.”
The crafty forward has also showed a willingness to go into the corners for puck battles over his years at UMass, and that might be one of the things he has improved most. His older brother Joe Pereira is a former Boston University captain, so the younger brother has had a good role model to show him the way.
“Getting bigger and stronger has really helped, and I have a lot of faith in myself now that I can win a battle in the defensive corner,” Mike Pereira said.
“I take a lot of pride that I can come out of those battles in the corner with the puck. I had the luxury of having my brother wake me up and make me work. I have to commend my brother for everything that he has done for me. He was a role guy, so he taught me the in's and out's of the corner work. I’m just glad I don’t have to go up against my brother in the corner anymore."
With all the strides Pereira has made to his development, don’t be surprised when he has multiple teams lining up to offer him a contract at the end of his senior season. Multiple NHL teams have already expressed an interest in having the UMass forward at their summer development camps.
Follow Richard Murray on Twitter via @Richie_Murray