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Hockey: Sheahan focuses on improving

Jack Hefferon | Tuesday, March 6, 2012

With a number of players that stand out to even the most seasoned hockey fan, Notre Dame is a team that definitely does not lack speed, size or excitement on the ice. Despite being one of the team’s most complete players and its only first-round NHL draft pick, junior center Riley Sheahan is not necessarily the one that garners the most attention.

Sheahan sits among the top four on the team in goals, assists, points and shots, but his most noticeable contributions may come on special teams. Irish coach Jeff Jackson relied heavily on the Ontario native this past weekend, double-shifting him whenever Notre Dame was shorthanded. Sheahan and his fellow penalty killers proved up to the challenge, allowing the Buckeyes just one goal on 10 powerplays.

For Sheahan, it was the little things that made the difference shorthanded.

“One thing I like to take pride in is having a good stick,” he said. “Reading where the players are trying to pass the puck and getting my stick in that lane and deflecting it out of the zone, or deflecting it to one of my teammates so we can get a clear, and little things like knowing when to pressure and not to pressure are what I try to bring. I think we’ve got a good group of guys for penalty killing.”

In addition to playing a role in killing penalties, Sheahan is a key part of the Irish powerplay. His powerplay unit, featuring the physicality of sophomore left wing Jeff Costello and sophomore defenseman Stephen Johns, operates by shooting the puck and getting traffic in front of goal. As such, Sheahan leads the team in powerplay shots.

“Our unit, I think, has more of a grind it out and get pucks to the net and use our big bodies in front approach,” Sheahan said. “We’ve all got good shots out there.”

Sheahan does indeed have a solid shot, as he is among Notre Dame’s leaders in both powerplay and shorthanded goals. That scoring ability, combined with his defensive prowess and youth (at 20, Sheahan is younger than most of the team’s freshmen), inspired the Detroit Red Wings to take Sheahan with the 21st overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft. But while professional scouts may see him as the total package, the young center said he still has places he needs to improve to break into the next level.

“I don’t see any NHL teams taking someone they think is going to be a one-sided player,” he said. “In today’s game, there’s so many skillful players around the league that you’ve got to have a strong two-way game. It’s something I take pride in, but I still have to work on my offensive game, and work on little things when it comes to scoring.”

And while Sheahan is excited about fulfilling his lifelong dreams with the Red Wings in a few years, he’s focused on a more immediate challenge: Michigan and the CCHA semifinals.

The eighth-seeded Irish will travel to the famed Yost Ice Arena on Friday to take on the No. 2 Wolverines in what will be a heated, hard-fought rivalry weekend. Taking two of three on enemy ice will be a tough challenge for Notre Dame. Sheahan said the series will hinge on playing hard, smart hockey.

“There’s going to be a lot of distractions,” he said. “They have a pretty good student section and a pretty good fanbase up in Michigan, so we can’t get distracted by that. We need to play our game.

“They’re a skilled team and we are too, so I think we’re just going to have to outgrit them, play them a little more intense and be ready for their style of play.”

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu