The Chicago Blackhawks have a relatively robust defensive prospect pipeline in their farm system. Adam Boqvist and Dennis Gilbert have developed into NHL-caliber players, Lucas Carlsson has shown consistency with the Rockford IceHogs, and first-year pros Chad Krys and Nicolas Beaudin have got their careers started in the right direction. Then you consider the progression of players in the amateur ranks like Alec Regula, Ian Mitchell, and Alex Vlasic, players who garner plenty of attention in the NCAA and theoretically will factor into the Blackhawks plans as early as next season.
Then there is Ryan Shea.
A four-year college defenseman at Northeastern University who was a fifth-round selection by the Blackhawks in the 2015 NHL Draft, Shea is a relatively under-the-radar prospect in the Chicago system that will have his future decided with the organization in a few short months. Shea is the captain for the Huskies in senior season that has Northeastern ranked tenth in the nation. With 29 points in 28 games this season, Shea is on pace to double his previous career-high in points (17) and could finish the year in the top-five of scoring defensemen when all is said and done.
I had the chance to talk with Shea as he and the Huskies prepare for a home-and-home series against sixth-ranked Boston College this week. We spoke about his development from draft day to his senior year, what being a three-time Beanpot champion means, and his future with the Blackhawks organization.
“You start to think about how you got to this point and who got you here…”
Through three years playing at Northeastern University, Ryan Shea was a steady, two-way defenseman. He wasn’t flashy and wasn’t blowing people away with gaudy production numbers. But that was never his role; Shea has always put the focus of his game on the defensive side first.
“I’m definitely not considering myself an offensive defenseman at all,” Shea explained about his new-found explosion on offense. “After Jérémy Davies signed early this year, there were some more offensive responsibilities put on my shoulders, which is why you see the numbers I’m getting this year, but I’ve always been very strict about my defensive game.”
Shea is tied for second on the Huskies in points and leads the team with 24 assists. While Shea doesn’t want his numbers to fool anyone into thinking he’s going to be a powerplay expert at the next level, his skills as a puck-moving defenseman who can make the right plays is going to be his calling card once he makes the jump to the professional ranks.
“I want to go out as part of the class that has the most wins in Northeastern hockey history. We still have a chance at that.”
Shea’s winning ways at Northeastern have him and the rest of the Huskies Class of 2019-20 on the verge of setting the class wins record for the program. With 85 wins and counting over the last three seasons and change, Shea’s senior class is already the second-winningest in program history, only behind last year’s senior class of 2018-19 which finished with 90 wins.
Northeastern has won the Hockey East championship and the Beanpot tournament in the same season twice, once in 1987-88 and again last season in Shea’s junior year. Getting the Beanpot again this season sets the Milton, Massachusetts native up to be the Captain of one of the most successful Senior classes in program history.
“It never gets old winning that tournament”
When Shea arrived at Northeastern, the Huskies hadn’t won a Beanpot tournament in nearly 30 years. His father, Dan Shea, played four years at Boston College from 1984-1988 but never won a Beanpot tournament title. Growing up 15 minutes south of Boston, the Shea family has always been connected to the tournament. “We grew up watching the Beanpot, we went to it every year. It’s been in my family for such a long time.”
In his sophomore year, the streak was broken after Northeastern topped Boston University, 5-2. The next season, Northeastern won back-to-back titles for the first time since the 1984 and 1985 tournaments. As a senior, the captain of the team, Shea was looking to be part of the eighth team to win at least three Beanpot titles in-a-row.
“The amount of alumni and fan support behind us just brought the moment to another level. It never has gotten old.”
In a frantic Beanpot Final this year, Northeastern was mere moments away from sealing their third-straight title before Boston University tied the game with less than two seconds remaining in regulation. After a five minute overtime period, the Final would head to double overtime.
“It was definitely nerve-wrecking,” Shea recalled of the long night. “The most important part for our team that night was getting out of the five-minute overtime. They were taking it to us. After we regrouped in the locker room, we got back on the same page. It was a great overtime for both teams, I can’t imagine watching it because it was so intense playing in it.”
The final breakthrough that Northeastern needed in the double overtime period came at the hands of Shea himself, drawing a penalty. But it wouldn’t be without controversy.
Northeastern’s #Beanpot Final game-winning goal came on a Powerplay in 2OT. Here is the penalty “drawn” by #Blackhawks prospect Ryan Shea to setup the eventual winning Powerplay #NCAA #CawlidgeHawkey pic.twitter.com/CTCV9XxR5P
— Mario Tirabassi (@Mario_Tirabassi) February 11, 2020
“Obviously there’s a lot of people who were not happy with the way it ended, but that’s just how it happened. There were calls missed on them against us and missed calls on us against them, but I don’t think it’s something you can blame on the officials. They made a call in a high-pressure moment and took advantage of it.”
Northeastern would go on to score on the ensuing powerplay, which Shea was on the ice for, topping Boston and winning their third-straight Beanpot title.
“It’s possible I could be reunited with him and that would be pretty fun.”
After the satisfaction of winning the Beanpot begins to subside, and the final weeks of the season creep up, Shea is reminded of a former teammate that had a similar path to the Blackhawks organization. A sixth-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, Dylan Sikura was a star at Northeastern in his four years as a Husky. He was part of the 2017-18 Huskies squad that won the first of three-straight Beanpot titles alongside Shea and signed his entry-level deal with the Blackhawks shortly after finishing his senior year in Spring 2018.
“When he was here, he was one of my best friends on the team,” Shea said of his relationship with Sikura. “The communication between me and him is always open. He loves it there and he has his brother [Tyler Sikura] there too, which is awesome. He just tells me to take my time and make the best decision for myself and my family. He’s given me nothing but positive thoughts on the organization and the city.”
“The feedback has been nothing but great…”
The season is winding down for Shea with Northeastern; only three more weeks remain before postseason play begins. If all goes according to his plans, Shea will be finishing his year winning the program’s first-ever National Championship and wrapping up the year on April 11. That timeframe would leave no games remaining for the Blackhawks or IceHogs, unless either makes the postseason, to see Shea play at the professional level. The Blackhawks organization would have a few months left to reach an entry-level deal with Shea before the August 15 deadline where his draft rights with Chicago would expire.
— Mario Tirabassi (@Mario_Tirabassi) July 15, 2019
“I feel like I’ve done a good job of not letting that distract me this year, especially as the season gets closer to the end. But every prospect at this point starts to think about going to the next level. Chicago and their staff has been nothing but good to me and have helped me with my development an incredible amount, so I have no problems with them. Chicago is an unbelievable spot and I know Rockford is too, so hopefully I can keep playing good hockey here and the organization likes what they see from me.”
Northeastern is set to take on Boston College this week, a matchup of two top-ten programs in the country. Shea knows that some of the Blackhawks brass will be in town for the high-profile contests and remains focused on finishing his year as strong as possible. With his professional future ahead of him, Shea’s focus on his legacy at Northeastern has set him up to be a highly valuable player for any organization, whether it is in fact Chicago or not.