Kraken forward Riley Sheahan has learned a lot about the ups and downs of getting jobs and dealing with pressure over a decade spent in professional hockey training camps.
Additionally, the 29-year-old veteran of five previous NHL teams now feels better equipped to deal with the depression, anxiety and occasional mood swings that previously plagued his life and the lives of others around him. That’s why, when Sheahan isn’t trying to land a job on one of the Kraken’s last two lines, he can be found hosting a new “Speak Your Mind” podcast that deals with mental health.
“I was looking to do something where I could be a little uncomfortable and step out of my comfort zone a bit,” Sheahan said.
Much of this discomfort stems from being behind a microphone, not to mention the deeply personal matter. Sheahan had never worked on radio or television, so finding his guests and chatting them live with a “good conversation” on sensitive topics “is sort of strange, uncomfortable, and difficult to do. But it was just fun. You meet new people and chat with people who have had similar experiences.
The podcast, produced by sports media company TorchPro co-founded by Dallas Stars forward Joe Pavelski, primarily gave Sheahan a break from his daily NHL training, skating and nutritional monitoring regimen.
Sheahan’s co-host is Tyler Smith, a mental health advocate and survivor of the April 2018 Humboldt Broncos junior team bus crash that killed 16 people and injured 13 – for the Most players and coaches – in Saskatchewan.
Smith had been the podcast’s second guest before becoming a co-host soon after. After making its debut on July 21 – coincidentally, the day of the NHL expansion draft for Sheahan’s future team – “Speak Your Mind” aired five episodes with guests including the Golden Knights goaltender from Vegas Robin Lehner and country music artist JoJo Mason discussing their mental health issues. .
“You see more and more athletes and people talking about it,” said Sheahan. “So I’m just trying to jump on the bandwagon and help as much as I can.”
Sheahan also felt that shaking things up a bit – becoming “uncomfortable” as he puts it – would keep his mind engaged and keep him from falling into a rut generated by routine. Sheahan has worked for years to gain more control over his state of mind.
He began to experience anxiety as a child in Ontario and as a teenager, when, playing junior hockey outside the home at age 15, he started drinking alcohol. After Detroit Red Wings drafted Sheahan 21st overall in 2010 he was playing for the team’s branch in the AHL in Grand Rapids, Mich. in 2012 when he was arrested by police for driving with a blood alcohol level of 0, 30, nearly four times the legal limit.
Sheahan, then 20, was also charged with providing false information to police by handing them over the driver’s license of a Grand Rapids teammate.
“Everyone makes stupid mistakes,” he said. “But I was just in the spotlight and making bad decisions that I wasn’t very happy with.”
He believes the pressures of hockey have contributed to his anxiety and increased alcohol consumption.
At the time of his arrest, Sheahan was wearing a Halloween costume of a purple Teletubby named Tinky Winky from the children’s TV show. The detail sparked a lot of mirth in the media, but it was no laughing matter for Sheahan, who was later diagnosed with depression – fearing he had torpedoed a possible NHL career and injured. his parents by placing them under the obligation to explain his arrest to others.
“There were a few times in my first two years as a pro where I really started to feel these things,” Sheahan said. “And I was a little confused. I didn’t know what it was. So I started asking for help. Since then, it has been an ongoing process to determine what works best. Now I have a good understanding and feel like maybe I can tell my story and guide people through their tough times.
The Red Wings have stayed with Sheahan for more than four seasons, seeing him finish with 36 points in 2014-15. He transferred to Pittsburgh, then Florida, and has spent the last two seasons with Edmonton and Buffalo, scoring four goals and adding nine assists in 53 games with the Sabers last season.
He signed a one-year, $ 850,000 contract last month with the Kraken, who love his ability to play center and wing. In the team’s opener at Spokane, he scored the franchise’s first goal against the Vancouver Canucks.
The competition for places on the last two front rows is intense. But Sheahan says he feels more able to cope than he would have years ago.
“The most important thing for me now is that hockey is not the ultimate goal,” he said. “I used to consider it so much of a job, and I had to be good. I ended up putting a lot more pressure on myself that way. Now I just come here and have fun with the guys. Being in a new city with a new team, I take this opportunity.
Some of Sheahan’s coping tools include regular discussions with his family, therapists who coach him through situations, and a journal he keeps to remember things for which he is grateful.
Her support network includes her aunt’s husband, Rocky DiPietro, a 65-year-old Canadian Football League Hall of Fame player with the Hamilton Tiger Cats in the 1980s. DiPietro – whose cousin, Paul, won a Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1993 – lived near Sheahan’s family home in St. Catharines, Ont., and was close to them.
“He’s been a huge, huge chunk of my life,” Sheahan said. “Having a guy who walked through this athletic scene like he was, it helped me a lot to ask questions about pressure, consistency and tackling tough times.”
DiPietro’s son Daniel will be Sheahan’s best man on his upcoming marriage to Kecia Morway, a retired National Women’s Soccer League player. The couple officially got married in Joshua Tree National Park in California last summer, but are planning a much larger ceremony with guests next July.
At this point, Sheahan is hoping his podcast is nearing its first birthday. And that it will have helped others to avoid some of his mistakes.
“It’s just a continuous learning process,” he said. “Every day won’t be a good day. I’m just trying to get out of it and get through the tough times.”