Heart condition not slowing Wolves’ Seeley

Photo: Ross Dettman

by Chris Kuc | AHL On The Beat

Ronan Seeley can joke about it these days.

“It’s good to have a lot of heart as a hockey player, right?” the 21-year-old Chicago Wolves defenseman said with a grin.

What isn’t a laughing matter is the heart condition – an aortic aneurysm – that was discovered in Seeley a few years ago. It was a scary time, especially when the first doctor he saw uttered the words, “You may be done with hockey.”

But that doctor wasn’t a heart specialist and that doctor likely underestimated Seeley’s determination to continue to play the game he loves, a determination that may someday lead him to the National Hockey League.

It was during a practice while Seeley was with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips in January of 2021 when he felt his heart racing faster – 140 beats per minute according to the monitor on his smart watch – than usual. While Seeley believed stress was the cause, when it didn’t normalize that night, he consulted a doctor and received the news that sent his world into a whirlwind.

“They did a quick ultrasound and said, ‘Your aorta may be a bit large; you may want to get that checked out,’” Seeley said. “I did and it kind of snowballed from there.”

Included in that snowball were thoughts that Seeley, who started skating at the age of 2 while living in Olds, Alta., not only would no longer be able to play the sport he loved, but that his life would be in danger.

An aortic aneurysm is when the aorta – the main artery in the body that moves blood away from the heart – can weaken, causing it to bulge abnormally and possibly tear.

Soon, it was off to specialists to determine the next course of action.

“That was a stressful couple of years,” Seeley said. “I had to fly all over the country and get tests done. It’s just an abnormality and they say it’s pretty rare and don’t know what caused it. But my heart is strong and they’re very confident that I’m good to go.”

Other than twice-yearly checkups to monitor the aneurysm, Seeley is not limited by the condition – nor does it even cross his mind very often.

“I don’t really have any conditions and I don’t feel different than anybody else – it’s just something I have to monitor every six months,” Seeley said. “Every once in a while, it pops up in my head but I have assurances from top doctors and I’m cleared so I’m never too worried about it.”

Team doctors from the Carolina Hurricanes – with whom Seeley inked a three-year entry-level contract on Sept. 24, 2021 – and the Wolves have signed off on the defenseman to play without restrictions.

“I’m fully cleared for everything. I just have too big of a heart, I guess,” Seeley said.

That figurative heart is one of the attributes Seeley possesses that make him a standout along the Wolves blue line and has him on a trajectory toward the NHL as one of the Hurricanes’ top defensive prospects.

After spending last season with the Wolves, recording four goals and 21 assists in 70 games, Seeley began the 2023-24 campaign with Norfolk (ECHL) before returning to the Wolves on Nov. 12 He has been a fixture in the lineup since, scoring a goal and adding 10 assists in 32 games.

Seeley made a lasting impression on Wolves general manager Wendell Young when he helped Team Canada capture gold at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship. Seeley had four assists and boasted a plus-10 rating in seven games in the tournament.

“When a guy is playing for Canada in the World Juniors, you know he’s one of the best prospects there is,” Young said. “It’s just a matter of maturing his game before he has a chance to play in the NHL.”

Young said that Seeley’s skating ability and the way he sees the game are the defender’s top attributes.

“Whether it’s joining plays, skating away from trouble or closing the gap playing defense, his skating is a big part of it,” Young said. “I’ve seen him develop the last couple of years and he’s getting better with his stick.

“He’s also a great kid in the room and he’s really driven,” Young added. “I think he’s a really good NHL prospect.”

Seeley developed those skills on the backyard rink in Olds, aways skating as a defenseman along with his four siblings – three sisters and a brother.

“The whole town was there,” Seeley said. “It was a community rink, pretty much. We had four or five houses in our cul-de-sac alone that all had kids out there. That’s where I learned to love the game.”

As far as where his game is today, Seeley said, “I feel like I’m playing very simple and not just chipping pucks. I’m making good first passes and my gaps are really good so I feel like I defend well in that way. Every shift I go out there and make sure to compete and not let the other guy outwork me. That’s been my mindset so far and it’s working.”

In his second season as a pro, Seeley’s career path is progressing to his ultimate goal of reaching the NHL.

“I still have a lot to work on but I’m feeling more confident out there,” he said. “I’ve been lucky to get ice time and I’m trying to do my best with it. I’m happy with my game but I know I have a long way to go.

“I feel like I’ve taken a step big-time from last year,” Seeley added. “I’m happy with it but never content.”

While remaining patient, Seeley is driven to take the ultimate step.

“The dream is a simple one: It’s the NHL,” he said.