Despite having posted just five goals and 22 points through 39 games thus far, sophomore Riley Sheahan (DET) has blossomed into a reliable, two-way forward that has helped guide Notre Dame to another Frozen Four appearance this season. Hockey’s Future spoke with Sheahan after practice on Wednesday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN.
Hockey’s Future: Having watched you play this season, one thing I’ve noticed is that you seem to have rounded out your game more and have really improved your defensive play. Can you talk a little about that and how that has enabled you to contribute to your team’s success this season?
Riley Sheahan: When I came to Notre Dame last year, I was coming from a league that wasn’t the most talented, but I did put up a lot of points there. Now being here at Notre Dame, I’ve really focused on becoming a more-rounded player. It’s just kind of gone from there. Coach Jackson is really strict with his systems and he teaches us how to play the game not only in the offensive zone but in the defensive zone as well. I haven’t really gotten too caught up in my point production. I think in the second half of the season, it’s been coming along better. I just try to focus on being effective in all zones and hopefully the (added) numbers will come.
HF: Do you feel that your role on the Notre Dame team is more about being a solid contributor in all areas rather than just as a point producer?
RS: Yeah, definitely. My line is usually matched up with the other team’s strongest line, so I take a lot of pride in that. Part of my job is to help shut down the other team’s best players. I’ll do whatever I have to do to help my team win. If Coach Jackson wants me to be sort of a defensive-minded, shutdown type of player, then that’s what I’ll be and hopefully at the same time I can also contribute some points as well.
HF: What area do you personally feel that you’ve made the greatest strides in from your freshman to sophomore year?
RS: I think I’ve gotten more confident and feel more like a leader. My job is to be one of the shutdown guys that can also give some energy to the team as well. I think I’m more confident in the dressing room and a little more of a voice in there. I think just my overall game has improved.
HF: With Notre Dame being such as a young team this year, do you feel like you’ve also become sort of a role model to the younger guys as well?
RS: Yes. When I first came in last year, I went through a very tough first few weeks at Notre Dame. Now, I’m able to help the younger guys who were going through that this year. I work hard to try and keep everyone together as a group. I try to not let guys become isolated. We have so many guys here that can take one of the younger guys under their wing and help them anyway possible, and I pride myself on being one of them. Our team has great chemistry and I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re here.
HF: Were you at the Red Wings Prospects Camp last summer?
RS: Yes, I was.
HF: What were some of the things that you learned the camp that you’ve been able to bring to Notre Dame this season?
RS: I think one of the biggest things that they tried to get across to us at the camp was that there is not much room for error. If you’re playing in the AHL and want to make it up to NHL, then you have to be perfect each and every game. And if you’re playing in the NHL, you can’t make many mistakes. They taught us the importance of being consistent and not making many errors. I was able to bring all of that back to Notre Dame. I feel that I wasn’t making too many mistakes and wasn’t focusing so much on just scoring goals. I’m just focusing on being strong in my play and playing my game without many mistakes. The points eventually starting coming in the second half.
Another thing I learned at the camp that I also learned being at Canada’s World Junior camp was using more of my creative instincts and maybe take more risks to be able to create some more offense. I came back to Notre Dame in the second half with that mindset and it’s been working but it also hasn’t come at the expense of playing within our system either.
HF: Are you planning to attend their camp again this coming summer?
RS: Yes, but I haven’t really spoken to them much about that. They’ve been very supportive with me being here at Notre Dame and have come to watch me play several times. So that’s really nice.
HF: Have you been in touch with the Red Wings throughout the year?
RS: Yes. They were in Detroit watching me in the CCHA Tournament and have come out to Notre Dame a few times as well. It’s nice to know that they care about my development enough to come watch me play.
HF: What are you going to be able to bring to the Red Wings organization in the future?
RS: I think I’ll be able to bring what Coach Jackson calls a "whole player." What he means by that is in order to be a strong offensive player you have to be strong with the puck and strong defensively. I think what I’ve been taught here will really help me to bring that discipline and consistency to the Red Wings.