Q&A: Riley Sheahan on his mental health podcast, dealing with free agency

riley sheahan
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Riley Sheahan wanted to do something different. The veteran NHL forward has started the “Speak Your Mind” podcast with the goal of getting guests from the sports and music world to come on and discuss mental health issues.

“When I first was thinking about it, [I was thinking] there’s no way I could do this,” Sheahan recently told NBC Sports. “It was really uncomfortable. I think that was one of the reasons when I’d sit and think about why I wanted to do it was because it’s something different. And if I could get some guys to speak about it and tell their stories and maybe get a little following, inspire some people to get help or face their inner demons, that’s the end goal.”

The 29-year-old has teamed up with TorchPro, a sports media company started by Joe Pavelski. Getting people out of their comfort zones is one of the main goals of the company. Sheahan does a lot of work on mental health, and when the idea of a podcast was brought up, it took off.

Upcoming guests include Tyler Smith from the Humboldt Broncos and Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner.

“Those are two guys who have dealt with a lot of stuff,” Sheahan said. “I never had a bad childhood or a traumatic event, I just deal with these issues as a human being. I have a lovely family, good support group. I just wanted to put it out there that you can be normal and you can have issues, too. It’s just trying to hit that.”

We spoke with Sheahan about the podcast, his experiences with mental health, and more.

Enjoy.

Q. If someone comes across the podcast for the first time, what’s the main takeaway you want them to have after listening?

SHEAHAN: “The biggest thing would be the idea of vulnerability. It’s okay to be vulnerable. If you’re in a chaotic time in your life and you have some issues that come up, it’s inevitable and it’s okay to reach out and ask other people for help and to feel upset or angry. In saying that, there’s ways to be proactive and there’s resources out there that can really help. It doesn’t have to be a concrete thing where you wake up every day feeling upset.”

Q. You mentioned on an episode you began having these thoughts and feelings around age 10 or 11. How did you handle that as you headed into your teenage years?

SHEAHAN: “That’s what one of my goals is, is to get kids to think more proactively. If they start to feel these kind of things, it’s not like it’s bad, but take care of yourself and notice your pattern. As I grew up and I started playing junior hockey when I was 15, then I went away to school, I never acknowledged them and I started drinking and started ignoring those issues where I would start to feel a little stressed or anxious. Then when I got into a position where there was more pressure on me, it started to unravel and be a little bit more nerve-wracking and I felt like I didn’t have control of it.

“If you can start young and you can acknowledge that you like to think and maybe sometimes you get yourself in those spirals, I think if you can put that out there and realize it and find the stuff that works for you to battle through it, it can be huge.”

Q. During your decade in the NHL how have you seen fellow players change from being reticent to open up to feeling comfortable speaking about these topics.

SHEAHAN: “It’s definitely changed a ton. When I first came into Detroit is when I first started feeling these issues. I brought them up to Ken Holland and [Mike Babcock] was our coach then. They were nothing but supportive, they were unbelievable. … I think now you see guys take care of themselves off the ice. It’s such a big advantage to be healthy, to recover well. I think a lot of that, if you can be proactive in how you take care of your body then a lot of that transfers over into how you feel mentally. You see it more and more guys focusing on their health, focusing on their breathing, the way they work out, all these different things that relate back to how they feel mentally.”

Q. The alcohol issues in Detroit that led to your arrest, did that incident make you realize you needed some help.

SHEAHAN: “Yeah, I definitely think that was a little bit of a wakeup call. I don’t think that issue was a one-off thing for me. It was just a matter of time that I got caught doing something really stupid. Even then, it still is a process to figure it out. I was fortunate enough as I grew older I started to really understand and I started to build a little bit of a fear and anxiety towards drinking, which was good for me to start to figure out how to cope with those stresses. That was an eye-opening experience that allowed me to start learning more about myself and try to figure some things out.”

Q. That happened during your rookie year. A lot of young players may not think to go get help. How did the organization assist you during that period?

SHEAHAN: “They were supportive in me getting help and whatever I needed to do to figure it out. That was meaningful to me and it was a relief to me. Being at that age, if you need help and you need to go get it, obviously you’ve got to do it and I don’t think anyone will judge you for it. Just at that age being cognizant of some of the feelings, if you’re going to go out and have a good time, that’s awesome. I think there’s a lot of camaraderie, things you can build [going out]. But I think if you’re drinking to the point where you’re starting to have these crazy thoughts and you’re blacking out, maybe you’ve got to learn from it and don’t be shy to start to dig and do some self-thinking and maybe some of those issues can be brought to the surface and you can learn from them.”

Q. One misconception that some fans have is that you’re immune from mental health issues because you’re well-paid professional athletes. Is that something you see in locker rooms from other players, that they themselves feel like mental health issues can’t affect them?

SHEAHAN: “You definitely see it, especially in males. Nobody wants to put their problems out there or act like they need help or need advice. You do see it sometimes. I think, too, now with everything coming to the forefront you have more conversations so I think it’s a little bit more of a comfortable topic. As a male athlete, there’s still a little bit more of that culture where you can’t show any weakness. 

“I think it’s great when guys bring it up, when guys talk about it. It’s not like you have to bring it up in the locker room or have to talk to your teammates about it. But if you do have some issues maybe it’s something you talk with your family about or talk to the people close to you or if you have a therapist, it’s great. If you can be a little clear in the head and be a little more satisfied with your personal life it can translate onto the playing field.”

Q. And there’s still more work to do in making fans understand what athletes go through and that you’re people — husbands, wives, fathers, mothers. Just look at the reaction to Simone Biles at the Olympic.

SHEAHAN: “That’s a great example. I know there was a lot of people who had issues with it, but big picture you have to take care of your mental health before anything.”

Q. I was amazed that some people immediately went to attack her instead of trying to understand what would cause a world-class athlete to make that decision.

SHEAHAN: “Exactly. I think now in the age we’re in with the ability to access everybody’s personal lives and social media, it’s really easy to just judge people right off the get-go and not really know the facts behind things. It takes a lot to be curious about what that person’s dealing with and ask questions rather than immediately judging Simone Biles or whoever the person may be and calling her this and calling her that. What I would love people to do is just be a little more curious and maybe just give people benefit of the doubt more often than not.”

Q. For a player like yourself who’s been on several teams the last few years and is currently unsigned, does that weigh much on your mental health or you understand that it’s part of the business?

SHEAHAN: “It’s definitely tough. You always want stability. For me now, I also understand it’s part of the business. You just look at the positives, like you get to play this game that I’ve dreamed of playing since I was young, and I get to meet all these new people and experience new cities. [My wife and I] have a baby coming and she would definitely like to be stable in that way, but big picture you can only do this job for so long. You’ve just got to grind it out. These things that I incorporate into my daily routine revolving around mental health definitely help that.”

Q. You’re going to be 30 soon, you’re married with a baby on the way. How much has age played a role in your comfort level now? If you were to have a mental health conversation with an 18- or 19-year-old Riley Sheahan, do you think he would have been open and receptive?

SHEAHAN: “No chance [laughs]. I don’t think I would have been receptive. I don’t think I would have acknowledged that there’s maybe some underlying issues with me. I don’t think I really ever would have given it a thought. I love being around the young guys in the locker room because I love their energy. But I do think it’s important for kids, younger guys, whether it’s the college level or juniors, to just be aware of the different things that are out there that you can get sucked into. I think it translates over into the game and you can be a little bit more of a free-thinker, but I think if you just start to build these bad habits, you’re cutting your career short and maybe getting yourself into some negative things. 

“I’m not one to say no to having fun, I still do. I love to be with my friends, love to go out, but there’s an area to sit back and reflect a bit and just be totally sure in the decisions you’re making.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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    Hurricanes top Stars in OT to win matchup of 1st-place teams

    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
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    DALLAS – Martin Necas scored 1:34 into overtime to give the Carolina Hurricanes a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars in a matchup of division leaders Wednesday night.

    Sebastian Aho had a short-handed goal and Brent Burns also scored for the Hurricanes, who lead the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference. The game-winner was Necas’ 19th goal this season.

    Dallas is still atop the Western Conference, and the Central Division, after its second consecutive 3-2 overtime loss at home. Jason Robertson scored his 33rd goal for the Stars, and 19-year-old rookie Wyatt Johnston got his 13th.

    Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen didn’t return after the first intermission because of an upper-body injury, soon after a strange sequence that ended with Robertson scoring on a shot from what seemed to be an impossible angle.

    The puck was bouncing on the ice behind Andersen and settled against the post after Tyler Seguin‘s shot before the goalie was able to swipe it away to his right. Robertson then shot from behind Andersen, and the puck apparently ricocheted off him and into the net for a 2-1 Dallas lead. Robertson’s 33rd goal matched his assists total.

    Antti Raanta replaced Andersen and stopped all 15 shots he faced – none in overtime – after the starter had four saves. Raanta had to shake off getting struck in the head by Mason Marchment‘s stick when the Stars forward was behind the net fighting for the puck midway through the third period.

    Stars goalie Jake Oettinger stopped 22 shots, including a glove save of Andrei Svechnikov‘s wrister with just more than five minutes left in regulation.

    Aho’s 200th career goal put Carolina up 1-0 midway through the first period. The Stars got even just more than two minutes later when Johnston scored unassisted after a faceoff.

    Johnston also had a shot ricochet off the post with just under six minutes left.

    In between the first two goals, Oettinger went into a fully extended split, with his right skate against the post, to deny Paul Stastny‘s attempt to knock in a loose puck.

    Burns tied the game at 2 in the second period, getting the puck after a faceoff, then skating over the top of the circle and scoring top shelf over Oettinger’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Marchment was coming out of the penalty box at the same time Carolina made an errant pass in the second period. He had a breakaway attempt, but couldn’t get enough control of the puck to get off a quality shot. … Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce and Stars center Luke Glendening both got five-minute penalties for fighting in the second period.

    UP NEXT

    Hurricanes: Will play San Jose on Friday night in the first of three consecutive home games.

    Stars: Host the New Jersey Devils on Friday night in their last game before the All-Star break.

    Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry out until after the All-Star break

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry‘s on-again, off-again season is now off again.

    Coach Mike Sullivan said that the two-time All-Star will miss at least two games with an upper-body injury.

    Jarry was scheduled to start against Florida but reported an upper-body issue when he arrived at PPG Paints Arena. Casey DeSmith got the last-second start as the Penguins pulled out a wild 7-6 victory over the Panthers.

    Jarry is out through at least the All-Star break. Pittsburgh plays at Washington and then hosts San Jose before getting a full week off.

    The 27-year-old Jarry has played well when he’s been in the lineup, posting a 16-5-5 record with a 2.65 goals-against average in 27 games. His availability, however, has been an issue of late. He missed more than two weeks earlier this month after being injured against Boston in the Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

    The Penguins are not as sharp when Jarry is out. Pittsburgh is 8-10-3 with DeSmith or Dustin Tokarski in goal this season. The Penguins recalled Tokarski from their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to back up DeSmith during Jarry’s absence.

    Letang scores twice in return, Penguins beat Panthers 7-6 in OT

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH – Amid a nightmarish season off the ice, Kris Letang has been searching for joy. A sense of normalcy.

    He found a little of both.

    The veteran Pittsburgh defenseman scored twice in his return from a lower-body injury, the second with 54 seconds left in overtime to give the Penguins a 7-6 victory over Florida.

    “I was just happy to be out there,” Letang said. “Be in the atmosphere of the team.”

    Letang’s 17th season with Pittsburgh has been pockmarked by health issues and a profound sense of loss. He missed two weeks after suffering the second stroke of his career shortly after Thanksgiving. He then tweaked something in a loss to Detroit on Dec. 28.

    His father died unexpectedly a few days later, and Letang spent an extended amount of time with his family in his native Montreal, with his teammates making an unexpected stop to join Letang for his father’s wake at the end of a West Coast swing earlier this month.

    The Penguins activated him off injured reserve on Tuesday afternoon. Letang responded with four points in a rollicking game that featured 13 goals, the last Letang’s one-timer from just above the left circle on the power play that gave Pittsburgh just its fourth win in 12 overtime games this season.

    “It was kind of surreal, you know?” Letang said. “I didn’t know what to think or how it was going to go. These guys supported me for the last month… it’s just great to be back.”

    The Penguins, currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, opened up a small bit of breathing room over the ninth-place Panthers by beating Florida for the 18th time in its last 21 trips to Pittsburgh.

    Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Danton Heinen each had a goal and two assists for The Penguins. Rickard Rakell and Drew O'Connor also scored for the Penguins.

    Casey DeSmith struggled in place of Tristan Jarry, a late scratch with an upper-body injury. DeSmith stopped 33 shots, including both he faced in overtime, to win for the third time in his last 10 starts.

    “That was a huge two points for us,” DeSmith said. “Obviously we’re battling with them in the standings. Character win at home.”

    Carter Verhaeghe scored twice for Florida, including a tying goal with 2:32 left in regulation. Aaron Ekblad had a goal and two assists. Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart each had a goal and an assist. Colin White‘s sixth goal of the season 4:10 into the third gave the Panthers the lead but Florida couldn’t hold it.

    Alex Lyon made 42 saves after getting the start when Spencer Knight was unavailable for reasons head coach Paul Maurice would not disclose. The Panthers are 7-3-2 since January 1 to surge back into the fringe of contention.

    “We’re so much more of a different hockey team than we were a month ago at this time,” Maurice said. “Rallied around each other, battled as hard as they could to get a point on the road in the circumstances that we’re in. I couldn’t be more proud.”

    Neither Lyon or DeSmith – who got the heads up he was playing less than an hour before the opening faceoff – appeared quite ready to play on short notice. They gave up a six goals – three by each team – during a frantic first period that included Letang’s first goal since Dec. 15 and Tkachuk’s 25th of the season.

    Things settled down in the second. Ekblad’s short-handed goal put the Panthers in front but Crosby knotted the game at 4-4 with a pretty backhand through Lyon’s legs with 40 seconds to go in the period to set up a hectic third in which both teams squandered one-goal leads.

    “It wasn’t pretty but you need to find ways to win sometimes,” Crosby said. “We did a good job of that here today.”

    UP NEXT

    Panthers: Host Angeles on Friday night.

    Penguins: At Washington on Thursday night.

    Avalanche spoil Kuemper’s return, top Capitals 3-2 as Bednar sets mark

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    DENVER – Artturi Lehkonen, Andrew Cogliano and Alex Newhook scored against former teammate Darcy Kuemper and the surging Colorado Avalanche held off the Washington Capitals 3-2 to give coach Jared Bednar his franchise-record 266th victory.

    Logan O'Connor added two assists, Nathan MacKinnon had an assist for his 700th point and Alexandar Georgiev made 37 saves in the Avs’ season-best sixth straight victory. They moved into third place in the Central Division, one point ahead of Minnesota.

    Bednar, coaching his 500th game for Colorado, improved to 266-185-49 and passed former Quebec Nordiques boss Michel Bergeron for the most coaching victories in franchise history.

    Alex Ovechkin returned from an injury to score his 31st goal for Washington. Conor Sheary also scored and Kuemper stopped 23 shots in his first game in Denver since helping the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup in June.

    The crowd stood and applauded after a first-period video tribute for Kuemper, who won 37 games in the regular season and 10 more in the playoffs.

    The Avs chose not to re-sign Kuemper, who then inked a five-year deal with the Capitals in July.

    He had his moments against his former team, including nifty glove saves against Jacob MacDonald and Lehkonen in the second period to keep it a one-goal game. But Newhook’s goal with 4:21 left in the second made it 3-1.

    The depleted Capitals dominated the third period but still lost for the fifth time in seven games.

    Ovechkin’s one-timer at 9:44 of the third was his 811th goal after he missed his first game of the season Saturday with a lower-body injury. But Washington was without T.J. Oshie, who left to be with his wife for the birth of their fourth child. And Nicklas Backstrom was a late scratch with a non-COVID illness.

    Then Tom Wilson exited in the second period after blocking a shot and underwent an X-ray between periods.

    The Avalanche, who haven’t trailed during their win streak, solved Kuemper at 8:57 of the first when MacKinnon absorbed a big hit from Dmitry Orlov and fed Lehkonen for his 15th goal and sixth in six games.

    Cogliano redirected Kurtis MacDermid‘s shot 2:04 into the second to make it 2-0. Sheary cut the. lead in half when he tipped in Martin Fehervary‘s shot for his 12th goal just over two minutes later.

    HE BROKE THE CUP

    It also marked the return of Washington’s Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who had 22 points in 67 games for the Avs in 2021-22, He’s remembered for dropping and denting the Cup during the on-ice celebration.

    “It’s part of my journey here,” a smiling Aube-Kubel said of his fumble, adding the season was “the best time of my life.”

    NOTES: Avs D Cale Makar (upper body) practiced Monday and took part in the morning skate, but missed his fourth straight game. … Avs W Anton Blidh cleared waivers and skated on the fourth line. … Aliaksei Protas centered Washington’s third line in his first NHL action since Jan. 5 and was robbed by Georgiev in the first period. … The Capitals have only four games left outside the Eastern time zone.

    UP NEXT

    Capitals: Host Pittsburgh.

    Avalanche: Host Anaheim.