Ice Hockey, Sports

Joe Pereira returns to Agganis Arena as UConn assistant coach

As Joe Pereira sat in the Agganis Arena stands about two hours before puck drop, readying for the Boston University men’s hockey team’s nonconference matchup with the University of Connecticut, his attire said it all.

A dark blue tie with lighter blue and silver stripes complemented Pereira’s white collared shirt, which featured blue pinstripes. His jacket lapel donned a pin of UConn’s new Husky logo.

This was not just “Joe Pereira, former Terrier.” It was “Joe Pereira, UConn assistant coach.”

Sunday evening, a 4-1 BU (5-6-0, 2-3-0 Hockey East) win over UConn (3-4-1), was the 26-year-old Pereira’s first time at Agganis since relocating to Storrs, Conn., to take the position with the Huskies.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said Pereira, who finished with 61 points (27 goals, 34 assists) as a Terrier and was a part of the 2009 national championship team before taking over as captain in 2010-11, said. “It’s different, but it’s awesome, too.

“We’ll get to build a program, and not that it’s built from scratch. It’s not built from scratch — it’s been there forever. But we get to build a program in Hockey East, and it’s actually a pretty exciting time because you get to be a part of something that evolves into a — hopefully — powerhouse program.”

Pereira is part of a motley crew coaching staff if there ever was one. Head coach Mike Cavanaugh is in his first year on the job after spending 18 seasons with Boston College, while assistant coach Mike Souza played at the University of New Hampshire in the late 1990s.

The trio of Hockey East alumni has been tasked with taking UConn hockey from its current position of relative obscurity to — if Pereira gets his way — perennial national contender.

That process includes a jump to Hockey East from the Atlantic Hockey Association starting next fall. UConn is also moving from no scholarships to 18, the maximum allowed by the NCAA, and there is talk of a new arena eventually being constructed on the rural Connecticut campus.

It is an ambitious undertaking, but one in which Pereira — a West Haven, Conn., native — said he is excited to take part.

“We’re going to try to make that process as short as possible,” Pereira said. “I think we can be a top-10 team in the country year in and year out. If you look at UConn athletics, not many schools have an athletic program like UConn has.”

BU coach David Quinn suggested UConn could become a serious contender.

“We all know when UConn does something they do it right,” he said. “The fact that they’re coming into Hockey East, making the commitment they are financially with the scholarships and the talk of building a new building and going out to hire a guy like Mike Cavanaugh, it certainly tells you how serious UConn is about hockey.”

That Pereira made the move from player to a Division I bench so quickly did not come as a surprise to those that know him.

Senior captain Garrett Noonan, whom Pereira listed as among his closest friends despite their time on Commonwealth Avenue overlapping by just one year, said it was obvious Pereira wanted to stay in the game.

“He’s an awesome kid and he was an awesome captain, and I’ve learned a lot,” Noonan said. “I’ve taken a lot from him and applied it [in his captaincy this season]. … He’s got a good hockey mind.”

Quinn felt similarly. Cavanaugh called Quinn on multiple occasions to discuss the potential hire before it became official in late June, and it seems Quinn’s stamp of approval carried some weight.

“I wouldn’t have this UConn position if it wasn’t for him,” Pereira said.

Quinn speaking highly of his former player did not end in his conversations with Cavanaugh.

“He is going to be a great coach,” Quinn said. “I really believe that. He has got a great personality, he knows the game, he works hard. He was a great hire by Mike Cavanaugh.”

Now, though, Pereira has to compete with Quinn and associate head coach Steve Greeley, not just in the Hockey East standings, but also on the recruiting trail.

There is plenty of talent in Connecticut — BU alone has three Connecticut natives on its roster — and Pereira fully intends on using it to UConn’s advantage.

“Quinny’s not going to be in Connecticut as much as I am,” Pereira said with a slight smile. “I talk almost every day to Steve Greeley, great guy. We bounce ideas off each other, we recruit with each other, so it’s always great to have those guys.

“Now, with UConn going to Hockey East we might be going toe-to-toe for a few recruits, but hey, it’s the name of the game.”

That lasting bond with his alma mater, while competitive, is also playful.

Moments after the conclusion of Quinn’s postgame media session, he came back into the room, literally dragging Pereira behind him.

“Seriously, look at this guy,” Quinn said, the two of them smiling wide. “He says he’s the best-looking coach in Hockey East.”

“I said I’m the second!” Pereira contested, giving his old coach the unofficial superlative before they exited as quickly as they came. “Second best!”

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