Finding your footing on a sheet of ice isn’t always the simplest task. Just don’t tell BC High junior defenseman Ryan Shea that.
Three years after the Milton native moved to the Eagles’ blue line after playing up as a forward throughout middle school, the 6-foot, 168-pound defenseman has never appeared more comfortable – especially when the puck is on his stick.
Behind the play of Shea, who has maintained his offensive aptitude to score six goals with 17 assists this season, No. 3 BC High has skated to a 9-2-1 record.
“He has the offensive ability and the offensive instincts — he sees the ice as well as anybody,” said BC High coach John Flaherty. “He had that ability when he moved back to defense and now he’s really working on his craft back there, defending well and using his stick well. His development has come leaps and bounds and he continues to get better.”
Flaherty, who took over at BC High after Joe McCabe resigned prior to the 2010 season, isn’t the only one who has been impressed with Shea’s play as a junior. Just last week the defenseman was ranked No. 172 among North American skaters on the NHL’s Central Scouting mid-term rankings.
While college coaches flocked to watch him play during his first two seasons, it’s now NHL scouts who come to see the junior — who committed to play at Northeastern in September — dazzle opponents with the puck.
Although Shea recognizes he’s now under the spotlight as much as ever, the focused defenseman said he never gives much thought to the attention he garners.
“I don’t even know where my dad sits at the games because I don’t really look up in the stands,” said Shea. “It’s a lot of pressure if you play bad and you think someone is up there, but you kind of have to move on. I play like there is nobody in the stands other than the fans of BC High and the parents.”
Skate like nobody is watching? The philosophy has undoubtedly worked for Shea, as his offensive production this season is on pace to nearly match the 12 and 23 point totals he put up as a freshman and sophomore, respectively.
But while his game-changing ability to create scoring chances has clearly helped his team’s offensive attack, so too, has it elevated the defenseman’s confidence.
“I definitely feel more comfortable,” said Shea. “Freshman year, I was afraid to make plays because I was afraid of making a mistake. The last few years I’ve really come into my own and found my rhythm and identity.”
If there was one decision Shea was forced to make which would shape his identity and hockey future more than any other, it was choosing where he’d attend school and play hockey at the collegiate level.
“My dad played at BC, so that was obviously up there, he wanted me to go there at first,” said Shea of his father, Dan, a 1988 graduate of Boston College who registered 66 goals and 124 assists in four seasons with the Eagles. “But after seeing Northeastern, I loved the coaches and the school. It was between them, Providence, BC and BU, but Northeastern seemed like the best fit and will hopefully give me the best opportunity to play at the next level.”
Even with so much to look forward to in his future, Shea’s focus never wavers from the task at hand.
In the team’s most recent game, the defenseman netted BC High’s final two goals in its 5-0 win over Reading on Jan. 21. That performance came after Shea helped the Eagles blank No. 6 St. John’s Prep, 6-0, with two assists on Jan. 17.
The defenseman’s ability to show up in big games is something his coach said the team counts on amidst the grind of a grueling schedule.
“We don’t have an easy schedule,” said Flaherty. “You need everybody to play their best hockey when you’re playing against the best teams. We need our guys to beat their best, and Ryan is obviously one of our best guys. I need him to play within himself, play to his capabilities, and while he’s not trying to do too much, he needs to make plays.”
As if BC High’s fierce competition isn’t enough motivation for the defenseman, the junior also uses another source of inspiration to help spark his play—his team’s desire to capture the Super 8 championship.
After Catholic Memorial eliminated the Eagles in the best-of-three first-round series of the tournament during his freshman year, Shea has longed to help his team capture the Division 1A title ever since Austin Prep knocked the Eagles out of the semifinals last March.
“It’s getting down to that part of the season where it’s all about the seniors,” said Shea. “It’s their last year and they gave everything for four years—some guys three—but it doesn’t matter. They worked hard this whole time and it’s our job to give it to them.”
While many of the leaders on BC High the past two seasons — including forwards Patrick Kramer, Tim Larocque, and Patrick Riley, as well as defenseman Alec Flynn — remain on the team as seniors, there’s also a talented crop of juniors and underclassmen who share the same dreams as Shea.
The aspirations the Eagles hold are heightened by the way the team has suffered defeat. Last year, after 2-1 and 4-0 wins over Xaverian advanced the team to the Super 8 semifinals, BC High lost a heartbreaking 2-1 shootout loss to Austin Prep at Tsongas Arena on March 13. The loss came only a year after Catholic Memorial edged the Eagles with 3-2 wins in the last two games of their best-of-three series the year before, the first of which also came in a shootout.
But while those losses still hurt, Shea believes this year’s team has the talent to produce a different ending.
“The last two years we’ve had great teams and great leadership,” he said. “The shootouts really got to us a couple of times. I think we have the team — just like the last two years — to win it. I’m just hoping we’re able to pull it off.”
If the Eagles are able to reach the Super 8 final this season, the junior defenseman can count on pretending as though an onslaught of onlookers aren’t in attendance.
After all, that seems to be when Shea’s footing is at its best.