Gostisbehere used to beating the odds
It is never easy for any player to make it to the NHL. When that player is an undersized defenseman, it can be even tougher. It’s not good enough just to be highly skilled with the puck and possess good mobility. The player also has to noticeably outwork and outthink the competition simply to get a shot at the big time. For every Kimmo Timonen or Tobias Enstrom, there are nearly twice as many skilled-but-small defensemen who are overlooked in favor of bigger peers.
Shayne Gostisbehere, selected by the Flyers in the third round (No. 78 overall) of the 2012 NHL Draft, is determined to continue beating the odds. At 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds, he will never turn heads with his size or strength even as he fills out and adds muscle. If the player nicknamed “Ghost” is to make it to the NHL, it will have to be with his smarts as well as his two-way skills. He exudes poise and a quiet sense of self-confidence. Very little, if anything, overwhelms him.
“My attitude is basically just keep pushing,” said Gostisbehere. “I've been told I would never play college hockey, I've had other people tell me I would never get drafted in the NHL and it's happened. For kids who are out there like me just keeping pushing and keep striving for your goal. If you get knocked down, just keep trying.”
The young defenseman’s development has already come a long way in a short time. After the Flyers Summer Development Camp, the young defenseman will participate in the U.S. National Team Developmental Camp for the 2013 World Junior Championships.
Gostisbehere (pronounced GOST-is-bear) has come a long way in his development in a short period of time. His hometown of Margate, FL is hardly a hotbed of ice hockey activity, but he starting playing at the age of five.
Born the same year that the Florida Panthers came into existence, Gostisbehere regularly attended NHL games with his grandparents, who were Panthers charter season ticket holders and came back year after year. Enthralled by the speed and excitement of the sport, the youngster immediately took to the sport. He was already used to going to the rink, having accompanied his sister many times.
“My sister was a national level figure skater,” he recalled. “She was always at the rink and I was always there so one day I asked my mom if I could try hockey and stuck with it ever since."
In his early years of playing, Gostisbehere was a forward. He idolized high-scoring winger Pavel Bure, who scored 58-plus goals in back-to-back seasons as a member of the Panthers. Before long, however, Gostisbehere switched positions.
“One of my skating coaches was like, 'try defense but still be offensive', and I stuck with it ever since. I love it, I'm offensive but I like playing defense, too. I love jumping up to the play, and I feel like I'm always the fourth forward up there,” said Gostisbehere.
As he adapted to his new position, Gostisbehere increasingly paid attention to what the top defensemen in the game do to approach the game on the ice. Never the biggest player on the ice, he learned to use his speed and smarts to compensate. Both offensively and defensively, Gostisbehere prefers to be aggressive in making things happen rather than simply being reactive.
“I model my game after [Phoenix Coyotes defenseman] Keith Yandle,” said Gostisbehere. “He runs a power play but he's a leader too and also plays defense well.”
Seeking a higher level of competition and coaching, Gostisbehere went to Connecticut to play his high school hockey for the New Kent School. He was then recruited by Union College. As a freshman last season, he started to turn the heads of NHL scouts as the season progressed.
Statistically, Gostisbehere posted 5 goals and 22 points in 41 freshman games to rank second among defensemen on his team. What the statistics did not show was just how much he improved as his first season went along. Over the final 16 games of the season, he racked up 13 points (two goals, 11 assists). Just as important, he came to play a key defensive role for a squad that led the NCAA in goals against average (1.83) and made a shocking trip to the Frozen Four semifinals before finally bowing out, 3-1, at the hands of Ferris State.
“Shayne has a good head for the game, a fast stick and he can make plays,” said Flyers director of hockey operations Chris Pryor. “He was a freshman – a true one at age 18 – and he got better and better as the season went along. I think he’s only going to continue to improve.”
Gostisbehere did not attend the 2012 Draft in Pittsburgh. He sat on the couch at his family’s home in Florida and watched the two-day Draft unfold on television. When he saw Philadelphia had just taken him with the 78th overall pick, he rejoiced.
“When I saw my name, I jumped off the couch. I mean, literally, I jumped off the couch,” he said with a smile. “The Flyers are a team with so much history, so much going for it. I couldn’t be more proud to put on the orange and black.”
In the immediate future, apart from attending the Flyers summer camp and the U.S. National Team camp, Gostisbehere plans to continue his college career and education at Union. Now that the big Frozen Four run and the NHL Draft are behind him, Gostisbehere realizes that he need to work even harder than he has to get to his current level.
A competitor by nature, Gostisbehere is not satisfied with how his last season ended, despite his team’s achievements.
“We just have to get back to where we started. I mean, yeah, we made it to the Frozen Four but we didn't win and that's the most important thing. We want to win. With the guys coming back I think we're still going to have a great team, a competitive team, and we're going to be right back at it.”
He’s taking the same level-headed approach to his goal to attaining a career in professional hockey. One of the things that have enabled Gostisbehere to hit the ground running at the Flyers Development Camp has been the presence of a familiar face: his 24-year-old Union College defense partner Greg Coburn, who came to the camp by invitation from the Flyers.
“He's an older guy and I don't think he's been to one of these camps before but his brother [Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn] is in the organization obviously, so it's easy. I mean, your D partner is here with you, you can't ask for a better situation than that,” said Gostisbehere.