He was known throughout New England as the king of the rink rats. Have skates will travel; that was his calling card. At 3:30 a.m. he would be there at the hockey rink in Walpole or Lynn or Cohasset waiting for the college kids to say they needed one more player to fill out the sides and, yes, he could skate free. At noontime he would be at the Ridge Arena in Braintree or the old Boston Arena on St. Botolph Street, playing for dear old Weymouth High. And then in the evening he would be in Cranston or Berlin or Waterville, skating for the Painters or the Shawmut Associates in some industrial or club league. The king of the rink rats got around.
He even had two names: Bob Terry and Bobby Sheehan. One sure way to start an argument in those hockey circles was to pose the question: "Who's better—Terry or Sheehan?" Some people insisted that Terry had a better shot than Sheehan but that Sheehan was a better skater than Terry. Others thought Terry's size—he was only 5'7"—was against him. And there were those who believed that Sheehan was tall enough but much too skinny for a hockey player. What they all agreed on, though, was that Bob Terry and Bobby Sheehan were not the ordinary everyday young American hockey players.
Let's call him Bobby Sheehan, as his parents do. "I had to have two names back in high school," he says. "According to the rules, a student could play for the high school team only. Huh. That meant only 14 games a year at most. How could you become a good player with only 14 games a season? So I played for the high school as Bobby Sheehan and everywhere else as Bob Terry. They never caught me."
Now, at age 22, Sheehan is proving even more elusive as the leading goal scorer and the only real gate attraction of the California Golden Seals. Sheehan, who ranks with Bobby Orr and Yvan Cournoyer for sheer speed, scored five goals in the Seals' first seven games, none of which they won, and about the only reason people came out to the Coliseum in Oakland was to cheer their Yankee as he sprinted off on his nightly breakaway.
Last Friday the Seals, who had been averaging less than 3,400 spectators a game, jauntily billed their contest with the Boston Bruins as a "Battle Between the Bobbys—Sheehan and Orr," and more than 10,000 people jammed the building. While Orr and the Bruins easily won the game 5-1, Sheehan played superbly against his home-town team.
After the game Milt Schmidt, the Bruins' general manager, asked Garry Young, his Golden Seal counterpart, if Sheehan might be available in a trade. "No way," Young said sternly. "If we traded Sheehan, the people here would murder us. Bobby is excitement and, man, that's what we need here." Even Charlie Finley, the owner of the Seals, recognizes Sheehan's ability to create excitement. "He could be for my hockey team what Vida Blue was to my baseball team," Finley says.
This year Sheehan is one of eight American players in the NHL. The Seals have no fewer than four of these Yanks: Sheehan, Stan Gilbertson, Tom Williams and Craig Patrick (son of Lynn Patrick, general manager of the St. Louis Blues). Reason enough, some people would say, why they were winless until last Sunday. (The other Americans are Montreal's Larry Pleau, Minnesota's Gary Gambucci and Charlie Burns and Pittsburgh rookie Joe Noris.)
For Sheehan, the trip from Weymouth, a bedroom suburb 20 miles south of Boston, to California was not an easy 747 champagne flight. "When I finished high school in 1965," he says, "I had two choices. I could take a hockey scholarship to a college in the U.S. or I could go to Nova Scotia and play junior hockey." Never a greasy grind, Bobby decided to play in Canada, though "I really didn't think I'd make it."
The first weeks in Halifax were rough. The Canadian boys were using Sheehan like a Yo-Yo. "In the States you could get away with skating with your head down," he says. "Not up there." The Canadians made Sheehan the target of all their practical jokes and snide remarks, too. "They stopped the jokes when I knocked down a door they had locked on me."
Sheehan received his room, board and $12 a week. "I couldn't live on $12," he says. "Fortunately there was a racetrack next to the hockey rink in Halifax. I made my real money at the track." On the ice Sheehan captivated the crowds but antagonized the management. He scored 65 goals his first season and 88 his second, despite numerous suspensions and fines and other disciplinary measures. "Somehow I always seemed to be in the middle of everything that happened," he recalls.
The next year Sheehan was sent to the St. Catherines Black Hawks of the Ontario Hockey Association, Canada's best amateur league. "The funny thing is that they traded three Canadian kids to get me," he said. He had scored 44 goals and 41 assists and was leading all the scorers in the OHA when he was suspended for making an unauthorized visit to New York state.
After that season Sheehan was eligible for the NHL's draft of amateur players. "I wanted to go to an expansion team," he says. "I wanted to play—not sit on a bench for some established team. So when the Montreal Canadiens drafted me I practically had a heart attack. They had a million good centers." Sheehan spent the past two seasons shuttling between the Canadiens and the Montreal Voyageurs, their top farm club.
When Jean Beliveau or Henri Richard was hurt, Sheehan was called up to fill in. Substituting for Richard two years ago, Sheehan scored his first NHL goal. "It was against Ed Giacomin of New York," he recalls. "It was sort of a fluky goal, but I have the puck and don't plan to give it back." Last year he even scored the hat trick in one game for the Canadiens.
"I didn't really expect the Canadiens to keep me," he says. "My style is not quite their style. I skate hard and fast for 60 seconds and then I'm tired, mostly because I waste too much energy going nowhere important. They wanted me to pace myself but, well, that's not me." As Goaltender Ken Dryden once said, "Sheehan is hyperactive." Sheehan laughs and notes, "I don't know what that means, but if Dryden said it, it must be right."
Shortly after the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup last spring, they sold Sheehan to the Seals, and last week when they made their first visit to Oakland they brought Sheehan some of his rewards for playing on the cup-winning team. There were a watch, a color television set and a tape recorder. "Sure, I miss Montreal," Sheehan said that night, "but at least I'm playing regularly here. Who knows when I would have taken a regular shift with the Canadiens."
Sheehan anticipates a steady influx of American-born players into the NHL. "There are rinks everywhere in the U.S. now," he says, "and kids can play the game all year. What the officials must do, though, is adopt the pro rules, with hitting all over the ice. Then kids won't have to spend a year learning to keep their head up like I did."
It would also help if the kids became rink rats.
SPEEDBALL SHEEHAN IN MID-BREAKAWAY