Everett Sheen has moved into his new office at CenturyLink Arena and jumped right into the fray, helping Steelheads Head Coach Neil Graham prepare for training camp and the ECHL regular season, both of which are mere weeks away. There’s still a lot of work to be done in a short period of time, but it won’t be a difficult transition for two men who have plenty of experience working side by side.
The Steelheads bench boss and his new assistant haven’t stood on the same bench for some time. Yet in junior hockey they were not only teammates, but linemates as well.
“The first time we met was actually at the Fort McMurray Oil Barons main camp in Alberta. I think we mostly played against each other in that camp but we both knew each other as southern Alberta guys,” said Graham. “Fast-forward a year, I was 18 and Everett was 17, and it was our first time playing together in Crowsnest Pass.”
Graham and Sheen were linemates for most of that season in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, and spent much of their time together in a small town of only 7,000 people.
“We had an instant friendship then, and obviously when someone’s your linemate and for the number of games we played, there’s a trust factor as well,” said Graham.
Two years later, during the 2005-06 season, the two found themselves together again on a different squad in the AJHL. This time the two would team up on the same line again for the Okotoks Oilers. Both players were named assistant captains and combined for 89 points in 59 games.
Sheen and Graham can laugh at how they earned their first experience as coworkers during their junior days as well, with both men using what little spare time they had stocking the shelves at Sobeys grocery stores. But the real full-time job they focused on, around paying the bills and attending school, was winning hockey games and reaching the next level.
“Even then, we played 64 games a year and our closest opponent was three and a half hours away. There wasn’t as much down time as you would think,” said Graham “It was very similar in terms of commitment to a minor pro lifestyle. That was your full-time job.”
That environment makes young boys grow into young men quickly, and with that you can see which players have the right mindset to have success.
“In that league, there are some guys who are playing juniors just to play juniors,” said Sheen, noting the difference between the players who fall by the wayside and the numerous others each year who make it from the AJHL to the NCAA or even the NHL Draft. “You also meet guys who are driven to play NCAA and are going to do whatever it takes.”
That was the mentality that drove Sheen to Holy Cross College and Graham to Mercyhurst, and then to the pro ranks. It’s also why both men now find themselves in Idaho ready to guide the Steelheads through next season. Just as the two former linemates poured over video in juniors a decade ago to work on their own game, they now watch footage of incoming Steelheads. They study each player they will coach this season, while Sheen also perfects the systems that he will be teaching them as one of the youngest assistant coaches in the league.
“Our energy hasn’t changed, I don’t think. We’re a bit older and more focused now but when we played together, Neil brought the same energy to the ice that he brings to coaching,” said Sheen. “It’s a ‘go-go-go’ mentality to get the job done, and when we played together that was the role. We went out there to bang and crash and do whatever it takes to get the job done. That’s the energy we bring to the office every day.”
Two players from southern Alberta who made the jump to high level hockey together and mirrored each other along the way, playing in the same conference in college and the same division in the ECHL, will now be back on the same side again. They’re eager to pick up right where they left off.
“I’m not surprised to see Everett where he is,” said Graham. “He’s such a driven person and a hard worker. I’m not surprised to see it come full-circle and to see him get involved in coaching. He’s very intelligent and is going to be a very good fit.”