Men’s Hockey: Pereira gets it done behind the bench and off the ice

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Joe Pereira, far left, has been Mike Cavanuagh’s assistant since he took over at UConn (Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog)

Joe Pereira works hard.

Why wouldn’t he? It’s how he played at Boston University, it’s what he looks for in prospective players and it’s what he and head coach Mike Cavanaugh expect of the UConn men’s hockey program.

The Huskies’ associate head coach takes that hustle to their recruiting initiatives. When touted Russian newcomer Ruslan Ishakhov scores a crafty goal, or receives some Hockey East honors, just know the precursor was Pereira getting up at 3 or 4 a.m. every day for two months to make an international phone call to Moscow. He grinded out the recruitment and landed one of Russian juniors’ top players, a rarity in college hockey.

It is easier to work hard when you are running in part on youthful energy. Pereira is 31, but if Cavanaugh snuck him into a uniform tomorrow he would fit right in aesthetically. He was even younger, 25, when Cavanaugh first brought him on board, or rather, behind the boards.

He didn’t have much apprehension about being the youngest assistant in Hockey East.

“I thought it was an advantage in terms of recruiting, building that relationship with a player in a different way than an older or more experienced assistant coach in the league,” Pereira said.

He knew he had to develop his coaching, but stressed relationships and getting kids to play hard are half the battle. X’s and O’s came with time, but on the energy front Pereira was never lacking. He put in the effort for Ishakhov and Ishakhov reciprocated, pouring in hours of SAT prep and English lessons in order to be able to enroll at UConn.

With Brendan Buckley leaving UConn to return to his alma mater Boston College this offseason, Pereira was promoted to the Associate role, an accolade many years in the making.

“I think it was well deserved,” said head coach Mike Cavanaugh. “He’s been with me since the inception of my career at UConn and he’s done a fantastic job recruiting – I don’t think I have to tell anyone about that.”

It was his junior year at BU in 2010, the year after he was a skater for the Terriers most recent national championship squad, that he started to realize coaching was probably the path for him. Even after a senior year in which he captained BU and erupted for 15 goals (he had 17 total his first three years) he knew an NHL career was unlikely. While he wanted to play a little pro hockey and achieved that goal (one season in the AHL, one in the ECHL and a splash in Sweden), the dynamic of coaching was calling .

He started his preparation early.

“I started talking to Coach Parker, Coach Quinn and Coach Bavis about it,” Pereira said. “They guided me through what I needed to do to.”

Coach Jack Parker, the man who led the Terriers for 40 years (1973-2013), has 897 wins and the most NCAA tournament appearances of any coach. Coach David Quinn, who was Parker’s top lieutenant during Pereira’s playing days and took over after his retirement, quickly bringing the Terriers back to national relevance and is now the head coach of the NHL’s New York Rangers. Mike Bavis is now the head coach of the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers. Not a bad pedigree.

“It’s work ethic. Being passionate. Effort. Playing with a chip on your shoulder. Working hard and building relationships. A lot of the traits they taught you at BU come into coaching too,” Pereira said.

Pereira, an ace recruiting and connection-making guru himself, also points to his own relationships with his BU coaches as a guiding light to emulate.

“You get to take a kid you recruited, which they recruited me, and then guide them and be a part of their whole life.”

“He’s just an all-around great guy,” said Ignat Belov, a 2020 recruit from Minsk, Belarus, who plays at The Westminster School. “It’s really easy to talk to him and he gets to the point right away. Those are really important characteristics to have. I feel like he is always there when I need him.”

After his playing career, he did not immediately enter the coaching fraternity but rather served as a scout for Madison Avenue Sports and Entertainment, a hockey advising company.

“It was an opportunity to get into the hockey world. I got to meet a lot of contacts from Europe to New England to the Midwest,” Pereira said. “It helped me figure out for each kid what (it was that) made them want to go to certain schools. That’s what I brought back here in terms of the recruitment.”

That was followed by a year spent coaching the club program at Sacred Heart. His first foray into coaching, despite being at the club level, was a valuable learning experience encouraged by his mentors.

Soon after, he arrived in Storrs. And while the promotion to associate head coach may seem like a large leap, Pereira remains confident in his coaching ability.

“I don’t think anything changes to be honest with you. I think Buck and I were co-assistant coaches at the time,” Pereira said. “We had a good thing going where he coached the defense and I coached the forwards and we each had a niche with our recruiting. I think (first year assistant coach) Tyler Helton picked up right where we needed him to.”

In terms of responsibilities, it will be much of the same. Pereira will orchestrate the penalty kill and the forwards, while Helton takes the defense and powerplays. With a chuckle, Pereira did note one change. Helton has taken his title as youngest coach on the staff and Hockey East.

The Huskies have continued to grow and improve under Cavanaugh (and Pereira). Although his current focus is on securing a Hockey East title at UConn, Pereira hopes to one day lead his own program.

“I think if you’re in this business you want to one day be a head coach,” Pereira said. “The good news is I’ve been taught by Jack Parker, David Quinn and now Coach Cavanaugh. I’ve surrounded myself with a lot of successful people.”

Those people are invaluable resources to a budding coach and Pereira knows it.

“You take an idea that Jack Parker had that helped how he ran his program,” Pereira said. “You see the little things that Coach Quinn did. Or Coach Cavanaugh who was taught by Jerry York. You just kind of piece everything together and envision a program that will be the most successful. That’s the goal.”

While Pereira doesn’t want to be an assistant forever, he is enjoying it right now. As he should. The Huskies had their best season in Hockey East last year and while they lost a strong senior class, they have brought in replacements with strong USHL and European credentials.

A “star” may be difficult to pinpoint on the current roster, but if it is up to Pereira, the Huskies won’t be held back by lack of effort.


Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.barresi@uconn.edu.

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