DETROIT — Brock Sheehan was dressed in a business-style gray suit. Sweat was still dripping from his forehead as we stood in the bowels of Joe Louis Arena. Less than 30 minutes ago his Fighting Irish had just about punched their ticket to the NCAA tourney with a win over Miami. Now his career might be over.
Sheehan’s Irish had a 1-0 lead and a neutral-zone draw with 17 seconds left. Miami gained the zone and a shot from the blueline went through traffic and found the net behind Jordan Pearce. In OT, a similar also eluded Pearce but a screen from Pat Cannone helped tremendously. Sheehan and defensive partner Teddy Ruth were on the ice for both goals against, one of which was an extra-attacker goal.
That stat makes it hard to support what I felt all season was pretty true: that Sheehan might be the best defensive defenseman in the CCHA. I presented that official award to Miami’s Alec Martinez (who happened to be on the ice for both of Miami’s goals) at the CCHA awards on Thursday night. The guy who got overlooked was Sheehan.
Sheehan has missed only two games in his NCAA career and he has been a rock defensively since his arrival in South Bend, Ind. Well-respected by opposing coaches, he has been on the ice against the elite players in the CCHA, many of whom are now in the NHL, for a couple of seasons. That makes Sheehan feel he is very ready for the next level, which for him would be the AHL.
“I have played against so many great players, and the best part of my role here is that I get to play in every important situation,” said Sheehan, the look of disappointment all over his face. “However, what better preparation for professional hockey than to have played against who I have played against as a defenseman in the CCHA and been successful at it?”
Sheehan is a physical defenseman with a warrior mentality. He plays tough in open ice, in the corners, and on the walls. He’d rather die than lose a one-on-one battle on the walls. He was an offensive-minded defenseman in juniors and his skating combined with his defensive abilities have made him tough to play against. He is able to handle big and physical players because of his mobility and agility.
“He’s so combative, the best way I can describe him is he is a hockey player, and in that I mean he plays the game the right way, hard and smart,” said Miami assistant coach Chris Bergeron. “He may not be great at anything but he is just so good at everything regarding playing the position. For a kid like him to have played at Notre Dame and the way they play, he couldn’t have played in a better program.”
Sheehan has learned the ins and outs of the position from his coaching staff. He has checked some of those offensive instincts in order to become a better-rounded defenseman. That means that he has learned that different superstars need to be played differently depending on what they bring to the table.
“A guy like Ryan Jones is an elite power forward and he needs to be played physical. A guy like Kevin Porter is a little different, he’s a little more finesse and he needs to be played positionally and with discipline,” said Sheehan.
“He’s like glue, he always stuck to you, and he does it legally,” said Miami head coach Enrico Blasi. “He doesn’t take chances and he competes. I like that he is always in control as a player.”
The future is bright for the Ontario-born Sheehan, who moved to Alberta with his family as a kid and still calls Lethbridge home. If the AHL calls he’ll be ready. Teams have seen him and while no one has pulled the trigger just yet, there is always a home for a defensive-minded defenseman who can play against top lines.
Where that will be is yet to be determined.