DETROIT – When Riley Sheahan scored his first career NHL goal in Detroit’s 3-1 victory in Los Angeles on Jan. 11, Red Wings fans everywhere cheered with enthusiasm.
But few celebrated as loudly as the center’s family.
“My mom (Peggy) was telling me stories about the people dancing around the house and things like that,” Sheahan said. “So it was cool to share that with them and they had a good time with it.”
Although netting the goal was an exciting moment for Sheahan, he didn’t have time to dwell on the accomplishment as the Red Wings and Kings still had two periods of hockey left to play. It wasn’t until after the game when Sheahan picked up his cell phone and read the countless messages of congratulations that the magnitude of his goal set in.
“It was definitely a little bit surreal,” Sheahan said. “But you’re kind of in the moment of the game and you just sort of think about how you can help the team win. It sort of started to build more towards when the game ended and I started checking my phone and saw all the text messages and people congratulating me so that was pretty special.”
Sheahan’s success at Staples Center didn’t end with his goal, as the 22-year-old also assisted on Tomas Tatar’s game-winner midway through the final period of the contest. But it was the puck he snuck by Kings goalie Jonathan Quick that Sheahan will carry with him for years to come.
“It’ll be nice to get it framed and maybe with a picture in there or something,” Sheahan said. “But it’s pretty special.”
The St. Catherines, Ontario, native was initially recalled from the Detroit’s minor-league affiliate in Grand Rapids on Dec. 17 to replace Johan Franzen, who was sidelined by a head injury that caused him to miss 22 games.
Sheahan appeared in four games with the Wings from Dec. 17-28, during which time he earned his first point, a two-assist night on Dec. 21 in Detroit’s 5-4 victory over Toronto.
The center was assigned to Grand Rapids one week later after Henrik Zetterberg (herniated disc) and Justin Abdelkader (concussion) returned to the Wings’ lineup, but Sheahan didn’t remain in the AHL for long. The 22-year-old was recalled on Jan. 11 to replace Daniel Alfredsson, who missed six games with back spasms.
Sheahan didn’t waste any time getting comfortable with the Wings, earning his first NHL goal in his first game back. And that was just the beginning. The center went on to notch nine goals and 15 assists through 42 games, including the game-tying goal in Detroit’s 4-3 shootout loss to Pittsburgh on April 10, which gave the Wings the one magical point they needed to extend their playoff streak to 23 years.
The center became a key part of the club’s “Kid Line,” skating alongside Tatar and Tomas Jurco, and attributed much of his success in the NHL to the culture built in Grand Rapids. It didn’t hurt that he skated on a line with two of his former Griffins teammates, either.
“We got a really good system down there, great coaching, a great group of guys down there,” Sheahan said. “So when you go down there it’s a really easy environment to sort of get better. They push you a lot in the weight room, and on the ice during practice is pretty intense so it’s helped a lot for me and I know the other guys as well.”
And the young players took advantage of every opportunity they received to showcase their talents and earn permanent spots on Detroit’s roster.
“Anytime guys can help, guys appreciate it,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “You’re up here trying to take someone else’s job, that’s what it’s all about.”
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