The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Conor Sheary balances newborn duties with the rigors of the NHL season

Conor Sheary's son, Callum, was born shortly before the NHL trade deadline. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
4 min

Conor Sheary already had boarded the Washington Capitals’ charter plane from Buffalo to Anaheim, Calif., last month when his pregnant wife, Jordan, called. She had been admitted to the hospital.

Sheary, in a panic, rushed off the plane and into the terminal to catch the only late-night flight to Washington. When he arrived at his gate, he was told it would be delayed for more than an hour. “Didn’t think we were going to take off there,” he said, but the plane did eventually land at Dulles International Airport and he got to the hospital in time. His son, Callum, was born the next morning.

Everything else in his life at that moment — his utility role with the struggling Capitals, the rumors of a possible trade at the deadline, his future with the organization — could wait.

“With any job, your family is going to come before anything,” he said. “If I have to miss a game to have a child in some sort of way, that’s going to come first.”

His experience has been shared by many inside the NHL’s oldest locker room — at least half of the Capitals players have children, some who were born in the middle of the season. For Sheary, though, this all unfolded during what was already a difficult time. Washington struggled late in the season, and Sheary has been in a scoring slump since January. After saying goodbye to five veteran teammates at the trade deadline, Sheary himself sweated out the possibility of being dealt. After he wasn’t, he was left to ponder his future in Washington as an impending unrestricted free agent.

He has balanced that stress with the rigors of being the father of a newborn once he returned to the ice March 1 against the Anaheim Ducks, just two days after his son was born. “There won’t be much sleep probably for the first couple months,” said Sheary, who has rotated bottle feeding and diaper duties with Jordan.

“Having a kid in the season is one of the hardest things you can do as an athlete,” said Capitals center Nic Dowd, who on New Year’s Eve in 2019 left warmups before a game to rush to the hospital to be with his wife as she gave birth to their son, Louie. “You’re stretched a lot of different ways, and you want to give 100 percent to everybody.”

Sheary has been through this grind before — his daughter, Mila, was born at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in February 2021, and he was the only family member allowed in the hospital. He played the next day, leaning on teammates who had been through similar scenarios. He did the same this month after he had arrived in California, except he didn’t know whether he might be a member of the team by the end of that week.

On the day of the trade deadline, he was aware his name had been tossed around in rumored deals. He had been traded before, by the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Buffalo Sabres before the deadline in 2020, but he was still worried and stressed that a Capitals staffer might pull him from practice that afternoon. Washington General Manager Brian MacLellan received offers for Sheary but ultimately kept him.

“My wife was at the house with a newborn, and I was in California with my name rumored to get traded to a bunch of different places,” he said. “Definitely a lot of stress went into it, and I was glad when 3 o’clock hit that day and I was still here. This is where I want to be and hopefully have my future here.”

Sheary still doesn’t know what might happen this offseason when he hits the free agent market, but for now he remains a valuable, hard-nosed player who can log top-six or bottom-six minutes and contribute on the penalty kill. He has tallied more than 30 points in two consecutive seasons, though he hasn’t scored since Jan. 24.

“Sometimes your offense slumps a little bit. I’m going through that along with a couple other guys. But you have to take each role as it comes,” said Sheary, who was one of the players to participate in the team’s optional skate Friday. When he returned to the locker room, he greeted veteran T.J. Oshie’s children in the dressing room, asking whether they had brought their toys before shedding his gear and heading home to his own family.

“It’s nice to get away from the season a little bit. Sometimes you get caught up in the moment and you don’t realize what you have going on at home,” Sheary said. “It’s nice to put things in perspective, have a second child — such an innocent little life that you have to take care of.”