The off-season is a perfect time for players to rest, recover and train. For center Riley Sheahan, it was also an opportunity to get out of his comfort zone and try something different: a podcast on mental health.
Sheahan, a free agent who spent last season with the Buffalo Sabres, holds the cause near to his heart. Back in 2012 when he was still a prospect for the Detroit Red Wings, Sheahan was arrested for drunk driving, an offense made all the more notable by the fact he was wearing a Halloween costume at the time. For some outsiders it was humorous, but it was very serious for the youngster, who thought he might have frittered away an NHL career before it even started.
In the aftermath of the incident, a psychologist diagnosed Sheahan with depression and the Red Wings made sure he got the space and time needed to reset.
"It was huge, it was such a relief," Sheahan said. "That really allowed me to focus on hockey and play a little more free. I solidified my role on the Red Wings and from there, built some momentum. When you have people in your corner you can be at ease. It definitely opens up your thinking patterns and allows you to be stress-free."
But battling depression and anxiety has been a constant for Sheahan, which is why he wanted to start his 'Speak Your Mind' podcast on TorchPro, the website co-founded by Dallas veteran Joe Pavelski.
"I wanted to work my mind in a different way and do something uncomfortable," Sheahan said. "I had gotten into a routine of being a hockey player where I'd wake up every morning, train, skate and come home and I thought I had a lot of time on my hands. And adding my voice to the group of athletes speaking out about this is fun for me."
Along with the podcast, Sheahan has also been playing guitar and keeping a journal, where every morning he writes down three things he is grateful for and reminds himself how he wants to live his life that day.
Mental health has become a much bigger issue in hockey recently, as it has in other sports. From gymnast Simone Biles at the Olympics to Naomi Osaka in tennis, elite athletes have tried to find a balance between the ferocious competition in their field and their own mental well-being. Which brings up an intriguing question for a team sport such as hockey: Could we see players take mental-health breaks during a season?
"Speaking for myself, I would not have a problem with it," Sheahan said. "It's tough. I'd like to say most guys would be OK with it. If you see a guy's not really there, being a little absent-minded and has been dealing with some things, that's probably the best route: separate yourself from the sport a bit and get your life figured out. The sport is only there for 10-15 years if you're lucky but you'll have a whole life post-career where you'll have to deal with things. If you keep battling and maybe take a couple more hits that lead to a concussion and you get down in the dumps, who knows what your life looks like after? So it's really important that guys take care of themselves."
For Sheahan, taking care of himself has also meant working on his relationships with his wife and family more. Between that, the journaling and the podcast, he hopes he has found a balance that will allow him to thrive both on and off the ice.