Steelheads fans will fondly remember several impressive rookie performances from the 2016-17 season, like a 21-goal season from Will Merchant and Landon Bow’s All-Rookie campaign between the pipes. Another first-year effort that may go overlooked came behind the Steelheads bench, with Everett Sheen’s first season as a professional coach now complete.
Sheen joined the Steelheads coaching staff last summer as an assistant to Head Coach Neil Graham, just months after completing a five-year professional playing career. Almost a year later, Sheen is happy with the steps he took in his first campaign in the most demanding leadership role of his hockey career.
Where Sheen’s work days used to end with the finish of practice or after leaving the post-game locker room, this year his off-day afternoons were occupied by administrative work and planning and his post-game evenings with film study that went hours into the night. In the grind of a 72-game season, those tasks make Sheen invaluable to the process of game preparations.
“It wasn’t quite what I thought it was going to be. There’s a lot more work as a coach than there is as a player,” laughed Sheen. “It was a good year with a lot of learning experiences and a good transition from a life of playing hockey to still staying involved. It was an enjoyable year.”
Like any other job, the first day can be a whirlwind. Along with new roles and expectations also comes the knowledge that the day will come where all things are routine and familiar.
“I definitely felt more comfortable as the days went on and I could get into the grooves of practice days and game days,” said Sheen. “I got a little more comfortable, but like any job you’re learning on the fly. There were always new challenges that would arise and you have to meet those challenges.”
Just as was the case for Neil Graham in his first year as a head coach and for previous assistant Gord Baldwin, Sheen’s recent tenure as a player was beneficial. Yet while the positives of being able to relate to players is certainly important and often touched upon, it’s also important for a young coach to seize the authority that comes with being in charge.
“At the start of the season it was a weird transition because I was a player a few months before. Luckily we had a great group of guys who made that easy on me,” said Sheen. “You start to think of yourself more and more as a coach, which is a weird thing to say. The guys were great and treated me with a lot of respect.”
Moving behind the bench also enabled Sheen to see the game differently. As a coach one certainly spends a lot more time on game film than as a player, watching shifts for multiple players in multiple situations. But in addition to that, Sheen saw the game differently than he did as a player when he was waiting for his next shift.
“On the bench watching the game develop, for the first 15 to go 20 games I was watching the game and thought I saw what was developing. But as the season went on I think I got a lot better at watching certain plays develop and not so much watching the puck but the players away from it.”
A perfect example came during what was arguably Idaho’s most impressive stretch of hockey last season, an eight-game road trip in February when Idaho won seven contests. Their lone loss came in the first of two contests in Missouri against the Mavericks, a 4-2 defeat that gave Sheen and Graham an opportunity to make adjustments.
“It was mid-game against Missouri and something just clicked that we thought we might be able to expose. Grahamer and I talked it over for two or three hours and put a game plan in place,” said Sheen. “We started off down 4-1 in the next game and we ended up coming back. We had told the guys, ‘Just stick to the game plan.’ Seeing that come to fruition was a cool coaching moment.”
Now sitting in the Steelheads offices as the summer months approach, Sheen is still learning. He is playing a greater role in recruiting this summer for next year’s team, another task that is a lot of work but is also very rewarding. Between roster building and local youth hockey, Sheen is still improving his coaching skills while the ice is gone from CenturyLink Arena.
“There are a few things I’d like to improve on, and I think it’ll help this summer when I work as a head coach at a few hockey schools. I can try a few things out in terms of instruction with the 12-year olds.”
“There are always things you want to improve for your day-to-day work.”