As much as Don Lucia appreciates scoring, the Gophers men’s hockey coach wants his players to devote just as much attention to defense. That’s why he was so pleased to see what Tyler Sheehy did near the end of last Saturday’s 6-5 victory at Ohio State, when the sophomore forward put himself in the line of fire.
Sheehy spotted a Buckeyes player winding up to smash a shot from the point, then hustled in and absorbed the full force of the blast. “I knew I had to get down and eat that one,” he said. “That was a stinger.”
The pain still lingered Wednesday, as the fifth-ranked Gophers prepared for this weekend’s series at No. 9 Penn State. But it felt like a badge of honor to Sheehy, whose ambition this season is to augment his prodigious scoring touch with steadier defense.
The Big Ten’s leading scorer, Sheehy was named the league’s third star of the week for his five-point weekend at Ohio State — the fourth time this season the sophomore has claimed a weekly conference award. His 41 points have surpassed the head-turning totals of his rookie season, and he leads the Gophers in both goals (17) and assists (24). Through the first 65 games of his college career, Sheehy already has amassed 71 points.
Defense will be paramount this weekend, as the Gophers face the nation’s most potent offense in a critical Big Ten series. Though Sheehy finished last Saturday’s game with a goal and two assists, his coach was most delighted by the example he set at the other end of the ice.
“It hurts, but the reward was helping us win that game,” Lucia said. “Those are the things you have to do if you want to win. You have to pay a price. And it can’t just be your fourth-line guys who are willing to do it.
“The greatest area of growth we want to continue to see is for [Sheehy] to be just as good on the defensive end as the offensive end. That’s an area where he has to continue to grow.”
A Burnsville native, Sheehy has spent much of the season at right wing on the Gophers’ top line with senior Justin Kloos and freshman Rem Pitlick. He played all 37 games as a freshman and was fourth on the team in scoring with 30 points.
A hardworking forward known for his determination and savvy, Sheehy benefited from two full seasons in the U.S. Hockey League after playing for Burnsville High School. He adapted quickly to the college game and was the Gophers’ top freshman scorer last season, ahead of third-round NHL draft picks Tommy Novak and Brent Gates Jr. Despite his flashy stats, Sheehy felt he had plenty of room for improvement.
“At the end, I still wished I could have done a little bit more,” said Sheehy, the nation’s eighth-ranked scorer this season. “Going into the offseason, there were a bunch of things I wanted to work on. Mostly, I wanted to improve my overall defensive play.
“It’s really important to be more of a two-way player. I think I’ve been a little better at that; I’m watching film, and I’m focusing in a little more. And just getting older and playing the game more, you buy into the system and understand where you have to be.”
Lucia said the next step is to develop Sheehy into a top-six penalty killer, rounding out a skill set the 5-10, 182-pound winger will need if he is to play beyond his college years. Sheehy demonstrated the aptitude for that job last Saturday, when the puck he stopped proved as important as the ones he shot.
“You’re not giving your goalie a good chance at all if you’re not selling out for him,” Sheehy said. “[It still hurts] a little bit, but it will be OK by the weekend.”