Notre Dame hockey: Sheahan in new role at ND

Steve Lowe
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND -- It was hard for Brock Sheahan to give up what he loved doing so much. Lucky for him, he's still doing it, just in a new capacity.

Sheahan loves hockey, and he admits that stepping away from the game after last season was a struggle. But the former Notre Dame defenseman and current volunteer assistant coach for the Irish still hits the ice every day, teaching now instead of playing.

"That's a daily struggle still," Sheahan said. "On the ice with the guys, it's tough. I miss the game every day, but this has been a good transition, and hopefully it will be in the future, too."

Once he left Notre Dame in 2008, Sheahan bounced around the ECHL with three different teams, most recently with the Ontario Reign last season. That was also his best pro year, statistically speaking, with four goals and 20 assists for 24 points in 72 games.

But as he was preparing for this season, he got a call from Jason Nightingale, who at the time was Notre Dame's volunteer assistant coach. Nightingale was moving on, and the opportunity to jump from playing to coaching came at just the right time for Sheahan.

"My goal was to play professionally as long as I could, but with the hopes of having a family in the future, we felt like it was time to move on," Sheahan said. "I was the first person they asked about it, and I basically said, 'Yeah, I'm in.' It's worked out well for me and my wife (Ashley). I'm able to do this 100-percent full-time, where as some people might not be able to. We have her family here supporting us, and she's got a really good job, so it worked out nicely."

The volunteer position at Notre Dame has been quite the stepping stone over the past decade or so. Jim Montgomery, who filled that spot in 2005-06, is in his first season as head coach at Denver University; T.J. Jindra moved from Notre Dame to an assistant gig at Alaska-Anchorage two years ago; and Nightingale left last year for the NHL's Buffalo Sabres as a data analyst.

So, odds are good that Sheahan will make that next step sooner rather than later.

"My goal, eventually, is to be a head coach," he said. "My short-term goal is to get a ... paying position. Ideally, it would be college, NCAA Division I."

Until then, Sheahan is taking advantage of his somewhat unique position of being not only a former player under head coach Jeff Jackson who is now part of his staff, but also the only former defenseman on the coaching staff.

His work with the defensive corps has been praised numerous times during the season by not only Jackson, but the players as well. Sophomore Andy Ryan, who came in with little college experience and not much of a guarantee of consistent playing time, has developed into a top-four defenseman who will be one of Notre Dame's most relied-upon blue-liners next season.

Ryan credits the extra work with Sheahan as a big reason for that.

"I've been working with Brock Sheahan a lot, whether it be after practice or in the mornings," Ryan said. "He's helped a tremendous amount with defensive skills, knowing where to be, stick position, stuff like that."

The ability to relate to the players is another factor working in Sheahan's favor. Just six years removed from his own college experience, when he helped turn around a floundering Irish program and make it one of the best in college hockey, Sheahan feels a strong bond with the current players.

"One thing that helps, I'm closer to it, but I've also gone through what these guys are going through," Sheahan said. "It's different being on the other side, especially with the same coaching staff that I went through as a player. I've learned a lot about how -- I always knew we were prepared and I always knew our coaches were prepared -- but how much actually goes into it. You think you know, as a player, what's going on, but you really don't have much of an idea of what's actually going on behind the scenes."

That's one facet that plays into Sheahan's evolving relationship with Jackson, who went from coach to professional mentor.

"As a player, I had a pretty good relationship with him as a senior, and it's just grown from there," Sheahan said. "That's the same with that whole coaching staff. Obviously, it's going to be a little different, but he still scares me every now and then."

Until it's time to move on, Sheahan plans on absorbing as much as he can from Jackson and the rest of the Irish staff in the hope that it will lead to something bigger down the line.

Notre Dame's Brock Sheahan, left, competes against Miami (Ohio) in 2007. (SBT file photo)