by Ben Stewart || AHL On The Beat Archive
With the New England area being known for its strong hockey following, it is only natural that more than a few players with local ties find themselves playing for the Worcester Sharks.
It just so happens that the Sharks have four former UMass-Amherst players on the 2010-11 team.
The former Minutemen, led by second-year pro forward Cory Quirk (Brockton, Mass.), all agree that having familiar faces when entering pro hockey makes the transition easier. While defensemen Justin Braun (Vadnais Heights, Minn.) and Matt Irwin (Brentwood Bay, B.C.) and forward James Marcou (Kings Park, N.Y.) are using the familiarity to their advantage in their rookie seasons, Quirk was the first of the former Minutemen to play here in Worcester.
“I definitely think it has helped them tremendously going into their first season of pro hockey with guys they are familiar with,” said Quirk. “I was not fortunate to have any former teammates with me for my first year, but plenty of guys from Hockey East made for an easy transition.”
“The transition from college to pro has been pretty good and it does help to know a handful of guys on the team,” Irwin says. “Especially guys that you have already played with in years past. When we first got here last year we were living in a hotel so it helped that there were a couple of us from UMass.”
Although all four had different paths to the Sharks organization, they reached out to one another to help with their decisions to come to Worcester. Braun, who was drafted by Worcester’s parent club, San Jose, in 2007, played a role with Quirk’s decision to sign with Worcester in the summer of 2009.
“After going back to UMass, I was able to talk to Justin about the Sharks organization and how great it was to be here in Worcester,” Quirk said.
The three Minutemen that followed Quirk to Worcester had another viewpoint on leaving UMass-Amherst to turn pro. While their decisions were made independently, seeing the others going pro helped sway each other.
“There wasn’t so much talk about signing together with the Sharks as there were more discussions about the decision to leave school early. I obviously knew Cory Quirk was playing in Worcester, but once I found out James (Marcou) was leaning towards leaving school I didn’t really know who he was going to sign with. All in all it worked out pretty well for all four of us.”
Playing the 2009-10 season with the Sharks allowed Quirk to shed some light on the organization to former college teammates Irwin and Marcou, who both signed tryouts with Worcester in March 2010.
Adding another element to the transition to pro hockey is teaming up with former college rivals. In addition to Braun, Quirk, Marcou and Irwin, the Sharks boast several other former Hockey East standouts in defenseman Nick Petrecki (Boston College), goalie Carter Hutton (UMass-Lowell) and defenseman Nick Schaus (UMass-Lowell).
“It is great to have so many players from different teams throughout Hockey East here. All the guys always check to see how their former teams are doing. It gets fun when one of the other teams plays UMass,” says Quirk.
“Moving from team to team always leaves that opportunity to play with guys that you played against in the past,” added Irwin. “This year we have a bunch of guys from Hockey East that I played against and there will always be the little chirping and stuff when it comes to UMass-Amherst and UMass-Lowell or Boston College. Everyone stands up for their school. It’s all in fun though.”
With the arrival of the 2010-11 season in Worcester, the Sharks are counting on the former UMass-Amherst Minutemen to help defend their 2009-10 Atlantic Division crown and help bring the Calder Cup to Worcester. Along with their former Hockey East rivals, Justin Braun, Matt Irwin, James Marcou and Cory Quirk are showing the Sharks that they need not look far to find the talent needed to succeed.