Red Wings players love this time of year in the D: the long regular-season winding down, the weather getting warmer and the sun shining longer — those dreaded “dog days” of February and most of March are behind them, and the Stanley Cup playoffs are just around the corner.
But for Wings forward Riley Sheahan, the dog days never end, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Away from the demands of a stressful professional hockey career, Sheahan is a dog person. He’s best friends with a 12-year-old golden retriever named Ricar and has bonded with many other canine pals in his partnership with the Michigan Humane Society.
He stops by at least once a month throughout the season and poses with one of the pups available for adoption.
“Usually, it’s one that might be a little harder to adopt out, maybe a larger dog or a little older,” Sheahan said.
Invariably, he added with a hint of satisfaction, the dogs he’s pictured with find new forever homes fairly quickly.
That speaks to the power of a beloved local sports team and one of its emerging stars. In his first full season with the Red Wings, Sheahan, 23, has become one the team’s important players.
The 6-foot-3, 222-pound forward from St. Catharines, Ontario, has recently been tabbed by coach Mike Babcock to fill in for Pavel Datsyuk, widely acknowledged to be one of the world’s best players.
And Sheahan is getting high marks from both his coach and his teammates for his efforts — especially for how he’s improved dramatically from just last season, when he struggled between Detroit and Grand Rapids, the Wings’ top minor-league club.
A year ago, he had a tendency to want to get rid of the puck as soon as it was on his stick. But with playing time he’s earned by gaining the confidence of his coach, has come the self-assurance that all NHL players need to survive at this level.
“It’s just a matter of playing more and gaining some confidence,” Sheahan said, noting that as he’s adjusted to the pace of the game played at its highest level, he feels more capable of sorting out his options and making better plays. He’s more apt to try to make a move around a defender than get rid of the puck.
“I’m working on holding onto the puck and fending off checks a little more,” he said.
It’s working, and it’s also paying off for a legion of his four-legged buddies. That’s because Sheahan does more than pose for selfies with those shelter dogs. He also does public service announcements for the Michigan Humane Society, and donates $100 to the MHS for every point he earns this season.
Through 72 games, he had 12 goals and 22 assists for 34 points, meaning that he’s up to $3,400 in donations so far. That’s a lot of kibbles and bits, blankets and medicine for animals in dire need.
And from his perspective, it’s the least he can do, he said, considering the soft spot he developed growing up with pets.
“My family always had dogs, at least one,” Sheahan said. “For awhile, we had three.”
They’re down to one again, Ricar, the golden retriever whose name was derived by combining the first syllables of his name and his sister Carly’s.
Sheahan misses Ricar, who still lives with his parents in Ontario, and admits he’s often tempted to take one home. He falls in love with every trip to the shelter.
“Every time he visits, he stays a little longer,” said Ryan McTigue, MHS public relations coordinator. “He knows that our shelter animals are really great pets.
“And the thing about Riley is that he does this without any fanfare. He’s really interested in helping. He really cares, and that means so much to our staff when someone of his stature comes in to support what we’re all trying to do here for these animals.”
The Michigan Humane Society shelters upwards of 500 animals in three area locations: one in Detroit, one in Rochester Hills and one in Westland. It also has an adoption center inside Petco in Sterling Heights. The Society averages between 150-190 adoptions per week, McTigue said.
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