Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Shayne Gostisbehere ... Just call him Ghost

By Larry Wigge


Some seem to think Shayne Gostisbehere's nickname came from his style of play: You know -- now you see him, now you don't.

I've got to admit he's that quick. But ... the story is that his name is hard to pronounce.

"My long last name that no one can pronounce too well, I get nicknames like 'Ghostbuster,' " he said, rolling his eyes. "Coach Rick Bennett just started calling me 'Ghost.' "

Bennett had Gostisbehere at Union College is Schenectady, N.Y., where Shayne led the Dutchmen to the 2014 NCAA championship 7-4 over the University of Minnesota. Gostisbehere had one goal, two assists, five shots on goals and was near-impossible plus-7 in the game to earn tournament MVP honors to go along with his All-America selection and ECAC Player of the Year award ... as a Freshman.

Nuff said.

Almost ...

From a Philadelphia Flyers standpoint, Gostisbehere from Pembroke Pines, Florida, were there weren't lot of ice rinks. He was clearly a pioneer -- the first Florida-born and raised.

"I wouldn't say I am a pioneer. I'm just a kid that loves hockey," explained Gostisbehere. "Growing up when I was little I wanted to play in the NHL, my mom and dad told me there's no dream too big so again to make it here and be the first Florida-born and raised it is a great honor and I'll take the pioneer label if I have to for little kids, because hockey's a great game and I want to see kids playing it more down here."

Small, but fierce. Shayne is an effortless skater who reads the game well and puts himself and his teammates in positions to make plays, who happens to have just completed a 13-game point streak -- most by a rookie defenseman (He broke a mark held by Barry Beck, who had two 10-game point streaks as a rookie with the Colorado Rockies in 1977-78).

In 38 game this season after being recalled by the Flyers, he 11 goals and 21 assists. Included were six power-play goals and 12 power-play assists and three game-wining goals. During the record 13-game streak, Gostisbehere has four goals and 12 assists. It's the longest single-season point streak by an NHL defenseman since 1996-97, when the Rangers' Brian Leetch tallied points in 14 consecutive games.

Gostisbehere is only the third rookie since 1993-94 with a point streak of at least 13 games in one season. The others were both Colorado Avalanche rookies: Paul Stastny (with an NHL rookie record 20-game streak in 2006-07) and Nathan MacKinnon (13 games in 2013-14).

Putting him in a position that others around the NHL were considering him a Rookie of the Year candidate atop with Chicago's Artemi Panarin and Detroit's Dylan Larkin, Edmonton's Connor McDavid and Buffalo's Jack Eichel and Arizona's Max Domi and Anaheim's John Gibson.

"I am a defenseman, but I definitely like to jump up in the play," said Gostisbehere. "I love playing offense. I've been known more for my offense my whole life than my defense.

"Hockey is a game of mistakes, I'm going to make mistakes, everybody is going to make mistakes. It's how you come back from those mistakes, how you react. Some say I'm a high-risk, high-reward guy. I'm just trying to play two-way hockey, be a sound player and not make too many mistakes.

"I'm just trying not to do too much."

High-risk, high-reward guy.

"He brings a whole other dynamic that we don't have on our team on our back end," defenseman Michael Del Zotto said. "You see the plays he makes, he makes guys miss 1-on-1.

"The plays he makes with the puck, that allows more open ice for other guys, a lot more open ice for him. That essentially leads to scoring chances, which eventually leads to goals. That's something that hasn't come easy all year. He's really helped us in that department and helping us win games."

Said captain Claude Giroux, "He's not an overly physical player, but his stick is always in the passing lane and he's always creating turnovers and his hockey sense is pretty good. He was thrown into the power play right away and he looked really confident and helped us right away. He's so creative with the puck."

"His skills with the puck are second to none," said right wing Wayne Simmonds. "The way he sees the ice, the way he shoots the puck, so it's his first year as a pro and it takes a little bit of time, but you can tell he's got it."

Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux tell Gostisbehere to shoot whenever he gets the opportunity.

"He's not the biggest, most physical player, nor will he be, so he uses the strength of his skating and quick feet to defend," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. "He's a smart player moving the puck out of the zone and that's at a real premium at this level. He has a certain skill set that is valuable at this level and to our group. He's been a nice fit into our puzzle."

Despite his small stature, the Flyers stepped up and took him in the third round, 78th overall, in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

The 22-year-old kid is a true blue American -- he played for Team USA at the 2013 World Junior Championship and won gold there.

Gostisbehere's father, Regis, was born and raised in southwest France. He came to Florida specifically to be a professional jai alai player. He met and married Shayne's mother Christine, who worked at the jai alai venue in south Florida.

Shayne can thank his father for dual American-French citizenship and the exotic-sounding surname. Brodeur, a Montreal native and Canadiens fan who moved to South Florida, put Shayne on skates when he was 3 years old and later coached him in a youth league. When the Florida Panthers were unveiled in 1993 -- the year Shayne was born -- Brodeur became a season-ticket holder. As soon as Shayne was old enough, he accompanied his grandfather to the games. The sport mesmerized him. He even got caught up in the team's tradition of throwing plastic rats on the ice to celebrate Panthers wins.

"I looked at my grandpa's season tickets in Section 101," Gostisbehere said.

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 and "keep playing offensively."

Gostisbehere also give his older sister, Felicia, credit fot his success. She was pursuing her dream to become an Olympic figure skater. Little brother tagged along -- and at 4:30 a.m., he'd roll himself up into a sleeping bag and sleep while his sister skated.

Shayne, too, took advantage of his sister's skating instructions -- improving his skating at a young age.

He started playing for the Florida Junior Panthers. At age 16, he left home to play prep school hockey at South Kent in Connecticut, where he earned notice from college recruiters -- he accepted an offer to go to Union College.

One of the biggest knocks on Gostisbehere as a prospect is his size. Coming in at 5-11, 160 pounds, it is easy to dismiss him as too small to become a good NHL player. He built himself up to the point where he is now 170 pounds.

But the Flyers have current proof that smaller defenseman can still be effective --Kimmo Timonen, Mark Streit and Erik Gustafsson are all under 6-feet and weigh less than 195 lbs, but they still contribute in big ways.

But every team hits the jackpot every so often in the draft and Gostisbehere's story isn't so different. It just so happens that John Riley found him first and he just happened to be a Flyers scout at the time. Shayne wasn't drafted out of prep school when he was 18 years old, but a year later after his terrific Freshman season at Union.

"A lot of our staff saw him quite a bit that year because his team had a lot of free agents we wanted to take a look at, and it was hard not to notice what Shayne could do as well," said Chris Pryor, director of scouting for the Flyers. "We had been tracking him in prep school, but it wasn't until we saw him that year in college that we really recognized his potential at this level.

"I remember the first time I saw him and he was a dynamic offensive player that really separated himself from the others. He's got an element of offensive flair that's pretty unique in today's game and that, along with his defensive skills, was intriguing for us."

Flyers GM Ron Hextall said, "He’s a little bit older and you can see the maturity in his game, even from last year to this year? It's like night and day with his ability."

Small at 160 pounds, Shayne Gostisbehere brings with him dynamic skills that are truly unique ... A storybook finish -- from Pemboke Pines, Florida to the NHL.

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