The Gophers are about start another campaign in the Big Ten, and for the first time since 2015-16, they have a new leadership core.
That group of four players is led by junior Tyler Sheehy, picked as captain last spring, who is embracing the title and is ready to learn as the Gophers head into conference hockey on Friday.
“I think that’s one thing I’ve been working on lately,” Sheehy said. “I’ve got to be more vocal... In the past, if I’ve been a leader, I try to lead by example more than anything else.”
Learning to lead
A new season and a departed senior leadership class meant the Gophers had to find a new leader in the locker room.
Sheehy was the guy for the job.
“It was interesting – because I wasn’t sure who would be the captains,” said head coach Don Lucia. “I sat down last year’s captains when they were leaving, ‘Who do you think the captain [should be?],' and it was every guy [who] said Tyler.”
Sheehy said that in leadership roles he usually preaches through his actions, and keeps trying to do the right thing on and off the ice.
Lucia said having a leader who is not very vocal is not necessarily a bad thing.
“You want to have leaders that show the way,” Lucia said. “You do things the right way, [it can transfer to wins.]”
Even if Sheehy continued to just lead by example on the ice, the Gophers would end up an offensively potent team.
“Justin [Kloos] last year was a second year [captain], so he was a senior; he might have been a little more vocal," said forward Brent Gates Jr. "Everyone has their own way of leading, and that's not to say that's the better way. Tyler more leads by example."
For Sheehy, his offensive talent is a big part of leading by example, as he tied for first in goals in the Big Ten last year as a sophomore.
The forward was on a line with then-freshman Rem Pitlick and former captain Justin Kloos for much of the second half last season, where he piled on the points.
Sheehy amassed 20 goals and 33 assists, the most in each category for the Gophers, good for 53 points all season.
“I think I say this to everyone, but our team last year was really offensively talented,” Sheehy said. “I was on a really good line with Rem and Justin, those guys, I’ll say it, they’re the two easiest guys to play with.”
In Big Ten play last season, Sheehy was second in conference scoring at 35 points, just three points behind Ohio State’s Mason Jobst.
Now Sheehy is coming into his junior season, and the new captain could see two years in the role, just like Kloos, his predecessor.
The Waterloo connection
The ties for Sheehy all come back to the town of Waterloo, Iowa.
It’s not where the captain is from, but he is a Waterloo Black Hawks alumnus.
Black Hawks head coach and general manager PK O’Handley said he was proud of Sheehy.
“We take great pride in our guys leaving here and excelling,” O’Handley said. “I think Tyler has done that.”
In 116 games with the Black Hawks, including 12 playoff games, Sheehy had almost a point per game, scoring 107 points.
O’Handley said, personality-wise, not much has changed for Sheehy over the years.
“Tyler, he’s a great guy,” O’Handley said. “Who he is today is who he was when we had him. He’s a polite guy, he wants to do the right thing for himself, for his family and everybody around him.”
The Waterloo, Iowa connection does not stop with O’Handley and the Black Hawks.
Current Iowa Wild forward and former Black Hawks' player Justin Kloos was the captain just last season at Minnesota to complete the connection to Waterloo, Iowa.
“[I’m] really excited,” Kloos said. “It’s a great honor... I know he’s going to do a great job taking the torch.”
Like Sheehy, Kloos came into the captaincy as a junior. Kloos held the position through his senior season.
Sheehy said the two didn’t talk too much about the leadership role in the offseason, but Kloos is one of those who recommended to Lucia that Sheehy become the next captain.
“We just felt that he was probably the most mature guy to fill in for us three captains that were leaving,” Kloos said. “I think you want someone in there with confidence, poise and a little maturity to their game to take that role.”
The break from the ice
Sheehy roomed with goaltender Eric Schierhorn in his freshmen season with the team.
“We didn’t know each other very well at all,” Sheehy said.
He said since their freshman summer they became much closer friends, and remain roommates today.
Despite pressure to be a leader and produce on offense, Schierhorn said Sheehy will be able to handle it.
“He’s super laid back,” Schierhorn said. “He’s always in control, and I think… if our captain’s a guy that’s super laid back, and super in control, I think that will translate to our whole team.”
Schierhorn said, off the ice, Sheehy brings the same personality he has on the rink.
When they aren’t at class or at the arena, the two find ways to stay laid back.
“Whether it’s [a] stupid, lazy night playing Xbox, or just having fun on the weekends, we have a good time,” Schierhorn said. “We just have fun every time we’re with each other.”
Once it gets to the rink though, Schierhorn said Sheehy’s laid-back attitude has one adjustment, that he gets more serious on game days.
When the second half of the season heated up for Sheehy, Schierhorn locked into his game as well, and their play led Minnesota to its fourth consecutive Big Ten regular season title.
With Sheehy’s role as top-line forward and captain, it is understandable that he get locked into game mode.
“We just work together,” Schierhorn said. “I haven’t really thought about why we mesh so well together, I just know we do.”