Flyers prospect defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere knows he comes from a non- traditional hockey setting.
Growing up in Margate, Florida is pretty much the definition of such a place.
But his interest in the game started at an early age, because of his family. His grandparents were Florida Panthers’ season ticket holders since their inaugural season (1993, coincidentally his birth year) and even more directly, his older sister participated in another ice-related sport.
“My sister was a national level figure skater,” Gostisbehere said. “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."
He was fascinated with the flashy play of winger Pavel Bure so he initially played forward, but was encouraged by his skating coaches to switch to defense with a caveat…”keep playing offensively.” Considering the great desire amongst NHL teams to have a mobile puck moving defenseman, it was good forethought on their part.
“I love it, I'm offensive but I like playing defense, too,” he said. “I love jumping up to the play, and I feel like I'm always the fourth forward up there.”
After moving to Connecticut to play at high school hockey at South Kent, he made quite a mark as a true freshman at Union College. Gostisbehere notched five goals and 22 points in 41 games played. More notably, he scored 13 of those 22 points (2-11-13) in the final 16 games of the season. He enjoyed an exciting run to the NCAA Frozen Four, providing a strong transitional game that gained the attention of NHL scouts.
In addition to the Flyers’ developmental camp, his busy summer also includes strength training in Boston along with an invitation to the U.S. National Team Camp in August. When he returns to Union in the fall, building on last season’s surprise success will be paramount.
"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.”
His play during that run enticed the Flyers to select him in the third round (78th overall) of the 2012 NHL Draft. Displaying excellent instincts and anticipation throughout the tournament, he styles his play after Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle.
“(Yandle) runs a power play but he’s a leader and plays defense too.”
As level headed as he appears off the ice, he admitted his first rookie development camp contained some “nerves,” but having Greg Coburn, his regular defensive partner at Union, eased the initial transition.
"It's definitely easier,” Gostisbehere said. “He's an older guy and I don't think he's been to one of these before but his brother is in the organization obviously so it's easy. You can't ask for a better situation than that.”
During the admittedly short window of the developmental camp, Gostisbehere displayed excellent puck maneuvering skills and an extra skating gear during the variety of drills put forth by coaches Ian Laperierre, Joel Bouchard, and Derian Hatcher.
However, during the first rookie scrimmage, Gostisbehere ran into some bad luck. While attempting to clear the puck out near the bench area, the defenseman was crushed on a hard check by forward (and Flyers 2012 first round draft choice) Scott Laughton and driven into the stanchion, hitting the left side of his head. In any other area along the glass, he probably would have taken the hit and bounced off the boards. After being taken out of the contest and listed with an upper body injury, he did not participate in the following scrimmage.
While not directly related to it, his lack of stature (5’11, 160 lbs) does create some concern for his long term viability at the higher professional levels. In short, even if he adds muscle strength, larger NHL players bearing down on him on a hard forecheck will look to obliterate him. So he’ll need to outwit and outmaneuver those bearing such ill will.
Call it just another challenge for “an undersized player from a non-hockey market.” It’s something that “Ghost” is used to.
“Just keep pushing. 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.”
Anthony Mingioni covers the Philadelphia Flyers and the National Hockey League for Sportsology.
You can follow him on Twitter: @AnthonyMingioni or contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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