We knew coming into this Stanley Cup Final that another Minuteman would join goaltender Jon Quick on the Stanley Cup as this year’s championship featured the Pittsburgh Penguins and Conor Sheary versus the San Jose Sharks and Justin Braun. Minuteman vs Minuteman. Captain vs Captain. The only question was who it would be. In the end the Penguins, behind both its superstar players and its emerging rookies, ended up being the victors and claimed the Stanley Cup in six games.
Raising the Stanley Cup is the culmination of an amazing story for Sheary. Undersized, he was overlooked by the top schools in the Boston area where he grew up, including Boston College where his father had season tickets while Conor was growing up. He landed at Cushing Academy where he put up strong numbers but the college offers were few. He did catch the attention of Toot Cahoon and his staff however and Sheary would eventually decide to come to UMass. In Amherst he played bigger than his size, worked hard, and put up some amazing numbers despite the fact that a coaching change midway through his career stuck him with a new staff that seemed to undervalue him and the other holdover players. But he preserved and he finished his career 8th in the program’s history in points and 15th in goals scored.
After graduation in 2014 he had to prove himself all over again. He signed a contract with the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre Penguins. A strong rookie season there where he had 45 points in 58 games earned him a two way contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins and an invite to their training camp this past fall. His hard work would turn into a chance to make his NHL debut this past December. From there his meteoric rise continued and as the Penguins headed to the playoffs he found himself on the Penguins roster full time. On the first line. With Sidney Crosby.
Sheary would not be just a tag-a-long in the Penguins quest for the cup. He would end up with 10 points in the playoffs, 9th most on the team and matching his regular season total over 44 games. He would make his way into Pittsburgh sports folklore with his overtime winner in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.
I am thrilled for Conor Sheary to reach the pinnacle of his sport of hockey with a Stanley Cup Championship. He is a leader and an inspiration. He college career at UMass probably did not play out as he had dreamed, through not fault of his own, so its heartwarming to see his pro career take a much more successful path. I will never get sick of seeing this sight:
The Pittsburgh Tribune had this article on Sheary and the other Penguins rookies who had such a significant impact on their season.
Sheary was not the only Minuteman who lifted the cup last night. Mike Buckley who graduated in 2000 and served for a number of years as the goaltending coach under Cahoon is now doing the same for the Penguins. He too will find his name etched on the cup this summer.
Unfortunately there was guaranteed to be a Minuteman on the losing team in this series too and that ended up being defenseman Justin Braun. While the loss will sting, this series likely helped show the world just how good a player Braun is. In addition to playing some strong shutdown defense against some of Pittsburgh’s best players, he even made a number of key offensive contributions. I honestly hope Braun is the next former Minuteman to be immortalized on the Cup.
Sheary and Buckley weren’t the only champions crowned this weekend. Oleg Yevenko and the Lake Erie Monsters won the Calder Cup!
Lastly, it’ll be a little easier for UMass hockey fans in Franklin County to listen to games this season.