Seamus Casey started his day as a reserve defenseman in Halifax and ended it a first-line center in Ann Arbor.
In 24 short hours on Friday, the freshman defenseman — briefly turned forward — went from participating as a reserve defenseman on the United States’ World Junior Championship team to leading the offensive charge for the Michigan hockey team in its exhibition victory against the U.S. National Team Development Program. While his five Wolverine World Junior counterparts elected to rest, Casey — who saw little playing time at the championships — chose to elevate himself into a starting role.
When the dust settled, Casey finished with two goals and an assist in a contest that ranged from nailbiter to shootout. For most defenseman, switching to forward — let alone center — seems nearly impossible. But for Casey and his game-leading 64% faceoff win percentage, it’s just another day at the office.
“It was a lot of fun,” Casey said Friday. “I mean I’ve had a little bit of experience at forward, not a ton, but like some in youth hockey. Just a little bit — nothing crazy. But I was playing with Mackie and Jackson and they’re really easy to play with. Made it pretty easy and a fun transition, so it was a good night.”
The last time Casey took the ice as a forward?
“Man, like 13, 14?”
While playing with sophomore forward Mackie Samoskevich and freshman forward Jackson Hallum didn’t hurt, Casey’s offensive skill set shined under duress. Casey took the reins when his team needed it most, tying the game on two separate occasions.
Casey’s offensive prowess is proven. What makes his performance even more astonishing is that it could have easily never happened.
13 hours before opening puck drop on Friday, Casey boarded a plane in Halifax, Nova Scotia, departing a deflating World Junior Championship where he never saw a single minute of ice time. After achieving the honor of making the Championship team, but then failing to play, it could have been easy to take the night off. Yet, Casey had no such intentions. He wanted to play.
“Playing in general — it was just up to me,” Casey said. “I didn’t really play much at World Juniors so I was really eager to get on the ice. I wanted to play forward because I thought it would be fun. You know, new challenge, something different. And, you know, we needed another guy up front.”
With freshman forwards T.J. Hughes and Johnny Druskinis unavailable due to illness, the Wolverines struggled to field a team. And in their trying moment, Casey stepped up.
Waiting out a layover at the Toronto airport, Casey received a message from Michigan coach Brandon Naruato about playing that evening — just seven hours later — and Casey didn’t simply oblige, he volunteered.
Arriving at the rink from the airport at 3 p.m. on Friday still needing to unpack, Casey had four hours in Ann Arbor before he was set to make his first forward appearance in nearly five years. It is easy to assume that the circumstances would lead to a rusty game for Casey, yet the final product was anything but. The defenseman-turned-forward refused to skip a beat.
“I think the way (Seamus) plays is he’s incredibly intelligent and incredibly aware,” Michigan assistant coach Rob Rassey said. “I think if you put (Seamus) on the ice in any hockey game in any position, I think he’d do incredibly well just given the chance to just figure things out a little bit. He’s just that kind of player.”
Casey’s success wasn’t simply a defenseman playing offense either. The freshman not only employed his potent offense, he transformed into the role of a center. Winning nine faceoffs and blocking two shots in the process, Casey’s impact was truly that of a center.
Any hopes of a permanent switch are far-fetched — Casey still knows the role he loves best, but he plans on contributing however he can:
“I love defense. It’s where my heart’s at. Whatever the team ever needs, I’m happy to do. Playing forward’s kind of fun.”
Nevertheless, after a sleepy World Junior Championships, Casey woke up in Halifax with a bronze medal and went to bed with a victory in Ann Arbor.