Former Falcon Sheahan winging it with Detroit
Photo special to The Standard It’s been a busy spring for Riley Sheahan. After leaving the University of Notre Dame, he’s played in seven games at the AHL level before getting the call to the NHL.
It’s safe to say the last month has been the most exciting and hectic time in Riley Sheahan’s young life.
The 20-year-old St. Catharines native decided on March break to leave the University of Notre Dame to pursue his dream of playing in the National Hockey League.
Since that decision, Sheahan made his professional debut with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League, scored his first pro goal, signed a three-year entry level contract with the Red Wings, and made his NHL debut in the Detroit’s final regular season game.
Sheahan, who continues to practice with the Red Wings as they battle the Nashville Predators in the first round of the NHL playoffs, admits the last few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity.
“I’ve adjusted a little better now but at first it was a real eye-opener for me,” the former St. Catharines Falcon said.
“The biggest thing was just walking in the locker room and seeing my teammates who are superstars in the NHL and realizing that I was part of the same team as them now. Sitting near (Nicklas) Lidstrom and (Pavel) Datsyuk and (Henrik) Zetterberg and seeing how they prepare to play in these big playoff games, it was pretty crazy.”
Sheahan, who according to nlpha.com is earning $900,000, played in seven games at the AHL level before getting the call to the NHL.
“I knew I was going to play in one game,” Sheahan said. “When I got the call from my agent and he told me I was going to play against either New Jersey or Chicago I was pretty thrilled. It’s every thing you dream of every since you are little and to actually hear those words that you are going to play in the NHL was pretty crazy.”
Sheahan made his NHL debut in Detroit at home April 12 versus the Chicago Blackhawks with parents Mike and Peggy Sheahan and several other family members and friends in attendance.
“I was definitely really, really excited but at the same time the nerves were going and I had butterflies,” Sheahan said. “The guys were really good. They calmed me down and told me it’s just hockey and there’s a reason I’m playing at that level. They just told me to stay focused.”
Sheahan’s NHL career got off to an ominous start. He was assessed a double minor for high sticking in his first shift just over three minutes into the game. Overall, the big centre played nine shifts and managed three shots on goal.
“It didn’t help taking that four-minute penalty in the first shift,” said Sheahan, who has been assigned No. 15. “Those were probably the scariest four minutes of my life but after that it went well.”
Sheahan felt the experience was enough of a barometer to convince him he can play at the NHL level.
“Everyone is so good. No one really makes mistakes, everyone is always in position and that makes it so easy to be on the ice,” said Sheahan, Detroit’s first overall pick in the 2010 draft. “They can find you when you are open but at the same time you have to be extra-aware of what you do with the puck and the decisions you make. If you turn it over, there’s a good chance the other team is going to score.”
Also helping Sheahan make the transition has been the willingness of the Red Wings’ veterans to help out.
“They’ve all been really good. You learn from them,” Sheahan said. “(Todd) Bertuzzi has been really good to me and he’s someone I can model my game after being a big body.”
For now, Sheahan is one of about a dozen extra players and prospects working out with the team in case of injury or ineffectiveness.
“I haven’t heard anything. (Coach Mike) Babcock told me I was up there for the experience. He never really mentioned anything about playing,” said Sheahan, who is living in a hotel in Detroit for the time being. “I’m just up to learn and be around the guys with all the experience. Maybe if there’s a few injuries and if they needed me to play, I’d be more than glad to. Right now it’s just working out and getting in shape and learning.”
Sheahan has been amazed by the passion of Red Wing fans.
“The whole city was buzzing,” he said. “Walking into the rink and being the locker room you can hear the roars of the crowd. It’s just a die-hard hockey city. It’s amazing to see how important Detroit fans take hockey.”
Sheahan has even been recognized a few times by fans.
“A few here and there but I don’t get bothered like the other players do,” he said.