Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Former UMass hockey players getting chance to shine in National Hockey League

By Jason Kates

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Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

When the Boston Bruins took on the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 16, it wasn’t just another regular season Eastern Conference showdown.

For fans of the Massachusetts hockey team, it was a chance to watch former Minutemen Frank Vatrano and Conor Sheary step on the ice in the same game at the highest level of professional hockey.

And if the 3-0 Bruins win at the TD Garden wasn’t enough for UMass fans to cheer about, the encore was even sweater just two days later in Pittsburgh.

Vatrano scored his first career hat trick in a 6-2 Boston win on Dec. 18 while Sheary netted his first career goal that evening. The former Minutemen each took home postgame honors as Sheary was named the third star while Vatrano was named the first.

This trend of UMass players getting the chance to play in the National Hockey League has continued to grow, with these latest two joining a list of several players to have come through Amherst and get a shot to play professionally.

Vatrano (played for the Minutemen from 2013-15) and Sheary (2010-14) are the most recent former UMass players to earn this opportunity, while ex-Minuteman Brandon Montour (2014-15) is currently playing with the San Diego Gulls, the AHL affiliate for the Anaheim Ducks.

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UMass coach John Micheletto applauded the trio and knows they are being rewarded for their dedication to the sport.

“They put in a lot of hard work and sacrificed a lot throughout their careers,” Micheletto said. “The two years with Conor and Frank and the time with Brandon, I thought they put the effort in to be open to the coaching that we gave them and the development opportunity that they had.

“Obviously they continued to do that once they got out of UMass and in their AHL opportunities,” he added. “I’m happy for all of the hard work that those guys have done to get to where they are now, and I’m sure they’ll continue having success at the level they’re at, as well as moving on.”

Minutemen senior Shane Walsh, who played with all three throughout his time in Amherst, echoed his coach’s thoughts.

“It’s definitely awesome to see those guys move on and have so much success,” Walsh said. “It was a pleasure playing with Conor and Frank, obviously I got a chance to play with Frank a little bit last year on the same line so it’s definitely cool to see those guys doing so well and seeing them being rewarded for their hard work at this point in their career.”

With multiple players in the NHL, including two-time Stanley Cup champion for the Los Angeles Kings and U.S. Olympic goaltender Jonathan Quick (2005-07) and San Jose Sharks defenseman Justin Braun (2006-10), Micheletto believes these examples can be used as tools when recruiting future players.

“I think it’s something that all college programs point to that have a high-profile or a number of players that are playing at the NHL level,” Micheletto said. “It’s certainly a path towards not only being a great college player but also having an opportunity be in the NHL is something most recruits are aspiring to, so it’s an important message in the recruiting process as well.”

Despite not having the opportunity to coach Quick himself, Micheletto – who arrived at the helm in 2012 – still acknowledged all of his accomplishments and said it’s fantastic for a former Minuteman to accomplish what he has.

“To win the ultimate championship at the highest level is something I’m sure is a tremendous feeling for Jonathan, and for him to be the best goaltender at that level is quite an accomplishment,” Micheletto said. “We’re certainly proud that he had a few years here at UMass and certainly watch and root for him every time he steps between the pipes.”

While the list of former Minutemen in the NHL may not be as long as some of the top college hockey programs, there are still a number of UMass players who extended their hockey careers post-college.

Rocco Carzo (2009-13) was recently signed to a professional tryout with the Gulls, while Michael Pereira (2010-14) received a similar deal with the Utica Comets, the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks, earlier this month. Other examples include recent graduates Oleg Yevenko (AHL), Zack LaRue and Troy Power, with the latter two currently stationed in the ECHL.

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Walsh acknowledged not just the players, but also points to how impressive the conference the Minutemen play in is as a whole.

“I think it says a lot about UMass and Hockey East in general,” Walsh said. “It’s a top conference in the country, so those guys show that they’re good hockey players. It goes to show what they did here and all the hard work they put in is paying off for them, so it’s cool to see.”

For Micheletto, seeing his former players continuing to earn these opportunities is a testament to how dedicated they are.

“It’s a big part due to them and the work they’ve done and the commitment that they’ve made to be as good as they can be,” he said. “This program has played a part in all of their developments and we’re certainly proud of all the guys that have continued on and been able to keep chasing their dreams at the professional level.”

With his career winding down as a Minuteman, Walsh hopes to follow in the footsteps of his former teammates, and earn the same opportunity his former teammates did. The senior currently leads the team with 15 goals and 20 points this year.

“It’s definitely motivation to see guys like Conor and Frank playing in the NHL,” he said. “Any time you see guys that you’ve played with or gotten the chance to spend some time with go on to the next level, that definitely gives you confidence that if you keep working hard and doing the right thing, that it could work out and you can get an opportunity later on.”

 

Jason Kates can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Jason_Kates.  

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