Local Program Equates Success In The NHL

In case you were unaware, the Pittsburgh Penguins took a two games to none series lead in the Stanley Cup Finals last night by virtue of Conor Sheary’s overtime game winner. Pictured above.

Sheary who wears the number 43 for the Penguins was an undrafted free agent when he graduated from Umass Amherst in the spring of 2014. A stand out for the program, he captained Umass to an unimpressive 8-22-4 record. However, he amassed over 100 points in his collegiate career, which still wasn’t enough to gauge significant interest from NHL teams.

Which doesn’t come as a huge surprise.

College hockey standouts are often pursued with caution, especially coming from an up and down program such as Umass Amherst’s. I’m not saying it’s correct, I’m just saying that’s how it is.

That being said, Mario Lemieux cannot be overly disappointed with his investment in Sheary, who signed with Pittsburg as a free agent. He brings an element of speed, offensive creativity and Massachusetts grit to the ice every night. I would categorize him as a “gift that keeps on giving”.

By no means is Sheary a one trick pony, no sir. His snipe late in the first period of game one Monday night gave Pittsburg a huge 2-0 lead heading into the dressing room.

After last night, he has four goals throughout the playoffs, not to shabby for a kid who started the year in the minors.

Actually, what makes this story that much more significant is how Sheary worked to get to this point. 90 games in the minors with 81 career points, I think we can all agree he deserved a call up.

Right now Pittsburg is flat out dominating the San Jose Sharks. They’re faster, their breakouts are much crisper, they pile on a ton of shots and obviously score more goals. While San Jose won the physicality battle as they often do, they have been forced to play outside of their comfort zone. Consistently having to adhere to Pittsburg’s speed. Appearing to have completely abandoned the game plan that has gotten them here, gain the red line, dump it in and win the 50/50 battles in the corners.

Perhaps a change of scenery is exactly what the doctor ordered in the Sharks case. We’ve seen it a thousand times, go home and play with a lot more reckless abandon. Easier said than done, but it has been done, the 2011 Boston Bruins found themselves behind the 8 ball against Vancouver, returning to Boston after two subpar games in Vancouver and evened the series 2-2. Then won the Cup in 7 games.

Speaking of changes in scenery, Frank Vatrano is another recent Umass Amherst alum who definitely did not need one. While he only played one game alongside Sheary, he brought an offensive punch following Sheary’s departure. 28 points in 36 games, worthy enough to receive a tryout offer from his childhood dream team, the Boston Bruins. Forgoing his academic senior year to play for the Providence Bruins.

Last season Vatrano recorded 12 points in 10 games for the Providence Bruins. In 2015-16 he split time between the clubs. 36 goals in 36 games at the farm level, 11 points in 39 games with Boston.

One thing is for sure he’s a far greater goal scorer than pizza boy. But I digress.

Don’t sleep on Umass Amherst, well maybe during their games. But those boys can flat out play.

Regardless, Go Sharks.




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