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Pereira making immediate impact as freshman for Minutemen

The Massachusetts hockey team was expecting contributions from its large crop of freshmen players. Nobody expected the type of production rookie forward Michael Pereira has provided thus far, as he is tied for the team-lead in goals (five) and points (seven) through the team’s first nine games.

“Michael has done a great job,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. “He brings athleticism and a real sense around the goal in terms of offensive finishing – something that we need as much of as we can get. It’s nice to have a freshman come in and be able to contribute right away on that front.”

Pereira, a native of West Haven, Conn., credits his older brother Joe for creating his interest in hockey. Joe is currently a senior co-captain for Boston University’s team and he is tied for second on the team with four goals in 11 games.

“I started playing hockey because of my older brother,” Mike said. “I kind of just followed his footsteps and started from there.”

He hasn’t looked back since. In the two years prior to committing to UMass, Pereira played for South Kent Prep in Connecticut in 2008-2009, scoring 26 goals and adding 20 assists in 33 games. The following year, the left-winger played for Avon Old Farms School where he tallied 28 goals and 36 assists in 29 games.

“He’s got great quickness, he gets to pucks and he extends plays pretty well as a result of that,” Cahoon said. “He knows from his brother’s experience that there’s a development process. [Michael] has to get stronger, bigger and more physical but he’s’ very much tuned in to that. So he brings a kind of astuteness as a freshman to the table. I think he’s really going to be a productive player here for his entire [career].”

Pereira’s production in high school opened the eyes of various schools, but when it came down to it, he chose to don Maroon and White.

“I love the coaching staff here,” Pereira said. “I felt at home, [the Mullins Center] is a great building, and it’s a great campus. Coach Cahoon and [assistant] coach Red Gendron showed a real interest in me. There were a couple of schools in the mix but I love being here and I feel at home so that’s all that matters.”

Pereira grew up a New York Rangers fan and he likes to compare his game to one of their star players.

“[I’m] a little bit [like] Marian Gaborik,” Pereira said, laughing. “I’m a Rangers fan so I like watching Gaborik play. Obviously he shoots it about 20 times harder than me; [he’s fun to watch].”

Gaborik is a good comparison as both players showcase speed, playmaking ability and poise with the puck. Although one is a bona fide NHL all-star, the other is doing his best to stand out in Hockey East, arguably the toughest division in college hockey.

Pereira credits much of his success to his linemates.

“When you play with good guys like Rocco Carzo, who I’ve been playing [on a line] with all year, it makes its pretty easy,” Pereira said. “When you have a good line and you mix well together, you kind of find yourself at the right place at the right time and I’ve been doing that as of late.”

Pereira and Carzo lead UMass in the plus-minus category at +5 and +4, respectively. However, despite the line’s success, Pereira and the rest of the Minutemen are still looking for their first win.

“It’s definitely fun to contribute but obviously I’d rather have wins,” Pereira said. “It’s definitely been an experience as of yet.”

The Minutemen, who last played to a 3-3 tie against New Hampshire on Nov. 13, have made the most of their nine-day break.

“It’s been a good break for us, we took a few days off and rested after this rollercoaster ride of a beginning,” Pereira said. “We’ve worked hard the last couple days especially to get ourselves ready for [tonight’s] game against Vermont. After this break we can all kind of settle down and take a deep breath and just give it another run.”

Steve Levine can be reached at slevine@student.umass.edu.

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