The numbers speak for themselves: 325 points in 294 games and three All-Star Game appearances as a player in the ECHL.
After his playing career, Shawn Wheeler served as the first Black head coach in ECHL history.
However, even with all his success as a player and coach in the ECHL, Wheeler never thought he would be considered for the league’s hall of fame. Thankfully, Wheeler was mistaken.
Wheeler was inducted into the ECHL Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Savannah, Georgia, on Jan. 15.
Wheeler played in the ECHL from 1990-97 before hanging up his skates. He then got into coaching for three seasons as his hockey career wrapped up in 2000.
Nearly a quarter century after last being on the bench, Wheeler is happy the ECHL recognized his hard work and effort.
“It’s humbling and you’re honored,” Wheeler said. “For me to compete, get a regular shift, potentially get called up, opportunity to sign a minor league contract, whatever it may be, NHL camps — it just shows that over a period of time when I played that people respected what I did. That means a lot because I didn’t expect it.”
This honor was something Wheeler never thought about when he was playing, mostly because the ECHL Hall of Fame wasn’t formed until 2008.
“I didn’t think about it,” he said. “And you certainly don’t think about it when you’re playing. ‘Hey, one day I’m going to be in the Hall of Fame,’ because there was no (ECHL) Hall of Fame. It wasn’t even around back then. You just played and you played for the betterment of yourself, growth, hopefully get a chance to get to camp, earn a contract and move on.”
Wheeler was born in New York, but his family moved to Canada when he was young. It didn’t take long for him to get caught up in the hockey culture in the Toronto/Mississauga area.
“That’s where we first started playing,” Wheeler said. “You’re in Canada, everybody played.”
Wheeler played in Ontario and then headed west to Alberta.
“I was cut from some teams that I probably didn’t deserve to be cut from. But I think there’s an obvious reason why I was let go,” Wheeler said. “But that’s OK because I went and played Junior B and we were very successful.”
Wheeler ended up with the Hobbema Hawks, which was led by coach Peter Driscoll. He played with that Alberta Junior Hockey League team from 1984-86.
Not knowing anything about college hockey, Wheeler started hearing about playing beyond juniors and earning scholarships.
One school that heavily recruited Wheeler was the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He committed to the small Division III college because the coach had shown so much interest in him.
Wheeler went onto a great college career. He helped the Pointers win back-to-back national championships in 1989 and 1990. He finished with 76 goals and 78 assists in 136 games.
Upon graduation, Wheeler got an unexpected call from the Calgary Flames.
“I trained and I went to camp with the Flames,” Wheeler said. “I did OK. But I knew after 30 seconds on the ice that I wasn’t ready.”
Wheeler’s next stop started his journey within the ECHL. He played with the Greensboro Monarchs for a couple seasons and had two more tryouts with NHL teams. He went to the Peoria Rivermen — their parent club was the St. Louis Blues at the time — of the International Hockey League.
Wheeler also had stints in the American Hockey League with the Maine Mariners, Providence Bruins and Hershey Bears. He made his way back to the ECHL, playing for the Hampton Roads Admirals and then lastly the Charlotte Checkers, where he served as a player/assistant coach.
While with the Checkers, Wheeler had two impressive seasons, the last ending with him hoisting the Riley Cup championship trophy in 1996-97.
It was a fitting end to his playing career in the ECHL. In seven seasons, Wheeler racked up 152 goals and 173 assists. He tallied at least 30 goals — with a career-high 36 for Greensboro in his second season — in four of his five full seasons.
Wheeler then transitioned smoothly from his player/assistant coach role to a full-time assistant, knowing his time as a player had come to an end.
“I played a lot of years,” he said. “I had a degree and it just got to that point where the hustle and bustle, I just didn’t want to do it anymore. Then you start thinking, ‘Man, what if I got hurt or something like that?’ That starts creeping in your mind.”
After two seasons as an assistant, Wheeler became Charlotte’s head coach. He served as the team’s coach and general manager from 1998-2000 and finished with a record of 43-48-14.
With his hockey career in the books, Wheeler jumped to the media for a short stint as a co-host for a sports radio station in Charlotte. For the last two decades, he’s worked in pharmaceutical sales at Johnson & Johnson.
The 56-year-old looks back fondly on his 11 years as a player and coach in the ECHL and how that experience shaped his life.
“It was a great run,” Wheeler concluded. “I enjoyed it. Wouldn’t change it.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Black History Month is observed in February and celebrates the rich cultural heritage, triumphs and adversities that are an indelible part of our country's history.
To learn more about Black History Month visit https://www.blackhistorymonth.gov/