TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – When Riley Sheahan jumped off the bench to make his NHL debut, he didn’t expect to be sitting down again so soon.
“I got a four-minute penalty my first shift so that was a little tough,” Sheahan said with a laugh. “But other than that I sort of calmed down and felt more comfortable and I thought I played pretty well. You got to get your name on the score sheet in your first game, something to remember it by.”
He doesn’t dwell on his time in the penalty box, though. A conversation Sheahan had with a popular defenseman was a little more important to him than the penalty.
“(Nicklas) Lidstrom was one of the first guys I talked to after the game,” Sheahan said. “He was awesome, really supportive just giving me different pointers and asking me how I felt and what was different and what I thought I could change. That was cool.”
The center couldn’t have asked for better mentors in Detroit than Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.
“I think the biggest thing is just coming to every game ready to play,” Sheahan said about what he learned with the Red Wings. “One of my problems I think was just being consistent so watching those guys go through the same routine every game, every practice, it rubs off on you and you learn how to prepare yourself in that environment.”
But Sheahan had to put in a lot of work to earn a spot on the Red Wings’ bench. The St. Catharine’s, Ontario native started playing hockey when he was only four years old. Besides trying his hand at basketball, Sheahan hasn’t looked back since.
“I think just being in Canada when you’re growing up, hockey is the sport to play,” Sheahan said. “My parents were actually pretty into basketball and I was even into basketball a little more when I was growing up. I slowly started to figure out that hockey was going to be my main sport so I had to sacrifice some things and focus on that.”
He made the right decision. Sheahan’s hard work paid off two years ago when the Detroit Red Wings selected him with the 21st pick of the 2010 NHL Draft. It was an experience that was so surreal, Sheahan barely remembers hearing his name fill the draft room.
“It was a pretty special moment,” Detroit’s first round draft pick said. “It was awesome to share with my family and cool to be in L.A. and go up on stage. You see guys on TV when you’re growing up and all the players who go through that whole process, so it was pretty special and extra special to be able to share it with my family.”
Family has always been an important part of Sheahan’s life. Both of his parents were teachers, so it’s no surprise that Sheahan decided to start his post-draft career at Notre Dame. He met friends that will last a lifetime and learned how to improve his mental skills through his studies.
“I think just learning how the mind works and how people are socially and just the different things,” Sheahan said, explaining his decision to major in sociology. “I took a lot of psychology classes to so that was interesting and spoke with our sports psychologist a lot just about different things when it comes to mentally preparing yourself for games.”
Sheahan used his psychology knowledge to visualize how he wanted to perform on the ice. It was his mental toughness, combined with his superior physical skills, that prompted Detroit to place a call in April.
It was time for Sheahan to make his NHL debut.
“It was unbelievable,” Sheahan said of his time playing with Detroit. “The guys brought me in with their arms open and I learned a lot from all the players. They’re so good playing at that level, you sort of realize what the possibilities are so it makes you work extra hard.”
Sheahan plans to work hard throughout the remainder of the offseason. After earning his first taste of the NHL a few months ago, he’s eager to be back on the Red Wings’ bench.
“I’m going to try to work my hardest to crack the lineup with Detroit,” Sheahan said. “Obviously that’s everyone’s goal here so you have to work extra hard in the offseason. Everyone is doing the same thing so you’re going to try to do whatever you can to get one up on everyone.”
The center got a sneak peek at the work his fellow prospects have been doing this week at the Red Wings’ development camp. He had plenty of time to show off his puck-handling skills, but it wasn’t all fun and games.
“It was hard work, but at the same time it feels good to know where you’re at,” Sheahan said. “There are still two months left until main camp. I think everyone’s doing a good job in the offseason so it’s fun to be in a competitive environment. At the same time you know you’re working hard.”
Sheahan will return to play for the Grand Rapids Griffins this fall, but hopes to receive another phone call from the Red Wings. With his debut far behind him, Sheahan will be more than ready to skate with the winged wheel on his chest.
And this time he plans on marking a few points on that scorecard.