March 31, 2011

From NEHJ: O brother, where art thou?

Joe Pereira of BU (photo: Steve NcLaughlin)

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Mario Pereira has put 215,000 miles on his Pontiac Bonneville over the past 10 years.

“And it still runs like a champ,” he says proudly over the phone while driving up from his home in West Haven, Conn., to Amherst, Mass. He’s on his way to see his sons play hockey — the task that has put the overwhelming majority of those 215,000 miles on the Bonneville’s engine.

That’s what you do when your boys play Division 1 college hockey; you drive to all kinds of corners of the earth. You make it work.

It’s one thing to drive from West Haven to Amherst every weekend for home games. Or to drive from West Haven to Boston. When you have to get to both towns because both of your boys play for big-time college teams, but not for the same team, that’s when you have to get creative.

Joe Pereira has spent the past four years as a forward and leader for Boston University. Some 100 miles west, Joe’s younger brother, Michael, is finishing his freshman year as a forward for UMass. They are one of three pairs of brothers who play for different teams in Hockey East, joined by the Shea brothers — Boston College junior Edwin and UMass freshman Colin — of Shrewsbury, Mass., and the Gaudet brothers — BU sophomore Ross and UMass-Lowell freshman Cameron — of Burlington, Mass.

It’s not uncommon for brothers to end up in the league together — Boston College has three more sets in Cam and Tommy Atkinson (Greenwich, Conn.), Joe and Steven Whitney (Reading, Mass.) and Jimmy and Kevin Hayes (Dorchester, Mass.). But it’s more rare for brothers to end up on different teams, playing against each other at least three times in the league season.

“It was definitely fun,” Michael Pereira said as he thinks back to his first game against his big brother — a 2-2 tie Oct. 16 that included an assist from Joe. “In that first game, he came by me and gave me a nudge, so of course I had to give him a little slash back.

“He got to score (in the second meeting, a 4-3 BU win on Oct. 19), and you’ve got to chuckle a little bit, but it’s terrible, so obviously we’re not going to let that happen again,” Michael said with a laugh.

Up in the stands for those games — and the UMass-BU clash in Amherst on Feb. 11 — Mario and Sherry have to strike a balance between rooting for Michael and Joe. Mario says they root for a tie (though Michael says Joe “may have the upper hand, being a senior and a captain”), and they’ll wear special jerseys their daughter Lisa’s husband, John, made by splicing Michael’s and Joe’s game sweaters and then knitting them together to create mutated UMass-BU mashups.

Edwin and Colin Shea’s parents are working on a similar garment, Edwin says, and their mom hoped to have the UMass-BC sweaters ready for their final meetings of the season in late February.

“It’s cool, because me and Colin are both number 8, so it’s easy,” Edwin said. “I think they just root for a low-scoring game, because we’re both defensemen.”

But the brothers play in the same arena just a few times all year. It’s when dozens — even a couple hundred — miles separate them that the parents have to be creative. While a UMass-BC meeting in Chestnut Hill might bring the Shrewsbury-based Sheas out in force, Denise and Ed Shea split up when the boys are in different venues.

“They try to switch it up and go to one game of each on the weekend,” Edwin said.

The Pereiras employ a similar strategy.

“Usually they separate the Friday games, especially nowadays that it’s getting so late in the season,” Michael Pereira said. “Dad went up to Maine for two (of Joe’s) games, but Mom usually goes to his Saturday games, and Dad usually goes to my Saturday games.”

Joe, ever the big brother, characterizes his parents’ strategy a little less diplomatically: “(Michael’s) the baby, so my mom mostly goes with him.”

And they are brothers, after all, which means there’s both a family tie and a sibling rivalry between them. Joe Pereira and Edwin Shea have seen every Hockey East team enough times to have some good inside knowledge. So when Michael and Colin are about to play another Hockey East squad, the big brothers can lend a helping hand, or at least a helping text message.

“He helps me out a lot with preparation,” Colin said of Edwin. “He’s obviously played against every team in the league, so he knows what teams’ styles are like. I’ll ask him what they’re like, what it’s like playing against their forwards, who I should keep an eye on and stuff.”

The little brothers won’t get inside scoops on their big brothers’ teams, of course, and when they do play each other, they’re given no quarter.

“You always want to beat your brother; you’ve always got the sibling rivalry,” Edwin said.

It could have been different. Michael could have gone to BU to play with Joe, and Colin could have eschewed UMass to share the BC blue line with Edwin. It certainly would have made things a little easier on the parents’ gas mileage, and it would have allowed the big brothers to play an even more integral role in their siblings’ development.

“Obviously (Edwin) would have liked to play with me, but if it didn’t work out, he wasn’t going to be too mad about it,” Colin said about his college decision process. “It’s the same with me, I wanted to play with my brother, but it wasn’t the major thing I was looking for.”

Instead, Ed and Denise Shea will have to spend their weekends traveling in different directions for another year — just like Jody and Chuck Gaudet will have to do for two more seasons, just like Mario and Sherry Pereira have done this season.

Because that’s what you do when your boys are so talented and so far apart. You make it work.

Andrew Merritt can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com