Shayne Gostisbehere will be slinging stretch passes and orchestrating power plays on NHL ice sheets in the very near future. But don’t bother Shayne with the future right now – he’s impervious to that line of questioning.
That’s because his Union Hockey team is headed to the Frozen Four in Philadelphia to compete for the 2014 NCAA Championship.
Gostisbehere (pronounced GHOST-ISS-BEAR) embodies all that is Union College – a small liberal arts school (estimated enrollment: 2,250) located in Schenectady, New York, roughly 25 minutes from the capital Albany.
A bit undersized, but chock full of talent. Humble, though not intimidated. Fastidious, yet in love with the game.
“He’s full of life. People like to be around guys who are full of energy. He brings that to the rink every day,” says Union Head Coach Rick Bennett.
“And, if you’re happy you’ll want to keep coming to the rink and get better.”
That begs the question: how does a kid from Florida fall in love with a game reserved for colder climates?
Gostisbehere, a name of French heritage, is the grandson of Montreal denizens Denis and Carol Brodeur (no relation to Martin Brodeur’s father), who imparted their love of hockey to young Shayne.
After watching his older sister Felicia figure skate at the national level, he begged his mother Christine to be out on the ice.
Shayne begged to play hockey – a fortuitous decision for a young child.
A smooth, powerful skater from the early days, Shayne grew up playing in the Florida Panthers Junior Program – further evidence of the NHL’s expansion to non-traditional hockey markets paying massive dividends.
In fact, Shayne and his family are original Panthers season ticket holders, starting when the organization opened its doors in Sunrise, Florida in 1993.
After excelling in South Florida, Gostisbehere followed in the footsteps of so many talented American born hockey players – enrolling in prep school at South Kent in Western Connecticut for his final two years of high school.
The 5’11”, 170-pound Gostisbehere was a standout two-way defenceman his final year, posting seven goals and 29 assists in 24 games, confirming to those paying attention that he was as gifted on the offensive end as he was on the back-end.
One of those watching intently was former Union head coach Nate Leaman who offered Gostisbehere a scholarship after conferring with his assistants Ben Barr and current head coach, Rick Bennett.
“Union was the first offer and I took it immediately,” said Gostisbehere.
“It was pretty much a no-brainer.”
Though Leaman and Barr have since left Union for Providence, their recruit continues to bear fruit.
Gostisbehere’s numbers have steadily risen in each of his three seasons at Union and in 2014 he fell one shy of the 30-point mark in 40 games played.
It’s actually another one of those microcosms mentioned earlier with Dutchmen hockey improving year-over-year since Gostisbehere arrived on campus.
“We’re getting better every year after being just one game away from the Frozen Four last season, “ Gostisbehere noted.
Union’s inauspicious 3-2-3 start to the 2014 season cast doubt on some, but not Gostisbehere.
“We’re more of a dominant team this year despite having a bad start. Once we got healthy we went to work. Then, we never get caught up in the rankings.”
Such humility is the bedrock of Union hockey – maintaining a workmanlike mentality despite ending the season ranked No. 1 overall in the USCHO Hockey Poll over powerhouse programs Boston College and Minnesota, who along with North Dakota constitute the rest of 2014’s Frozen Four.
Shayne readily admits how other influences, mainly his parents, keep him humble, recalling several post-game conversations when his father Regis and Christine bring him down to earth.
His team’s community service is another impetus for humility – spending precious non-ice, non-classroom and non-study hours volunteering with the local YMCA, organizing environmental cleanups and orchestrating Christmas toy drives.
“The work he does with children in the community is incredible and a true compliment to his parents,” said Bennett.
His parents, coaches and mentors keep him unpretentious although he’s well on his way to hockey stardom – starting with his nomination for the Hobey Baker Award.
The only defenceman on the list of ten nominated, Gostisbehere gushed over the accolade.
“Just having my school and my name associated is good enough for me. It’s such a prestigious award and I can’t thank my teammates and coaches enough for helping me arrive at this point.”
While at Union, Gostisbehere was also afforded the prestigious honour of representing the United States at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia.
That iteration of the U.S. team - stacked with future NHL talent, including Alex Galchenyuk, Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba – won the gold medal in strong fashion.
For his part, Gostisbehere notched a goal, assist and a plus-four rating in six games.
“It’s a tremendous honour to put on the colours and to win that tournament was just incredible,” said Gostisbehere. “I tried to bring back that experience back to my teammates at Union, showing them how to have fun while we play.”
While Gostisbehere saves his effusiveness for his teammates and country, he is the one headed to the NHL in the very near future.
The Philadelphia Flyers drafted Gostisbehere with the 78th overall pick in the 2012 draft – making him a prized defenceman in their system.
“Every kid’s dream is to get drafted,” Gostisbehere reminisced. “I’m in awe of being drafted. The Flyers are kind of like America’s team, or one of them, with so much history. I couldn’t be happier.”
In fact, a few of the individuals integral Gostisbehere’s selection reached out to him with a congratulatory message, mentioning they’ll be in attendance when Union competes in the Frozen Four.
Draft expert Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News says of Gostisbehere, “Shayne is a modern offensive defenceman. Union was a great place for him to develop and I wouldn't be surprised if he played in the AHL before getting a full-time shot with Philly.”
Bennett calls him a blend of the Boston Bruins Torey Krug and former NHLer Brian Rafalski, exclaiming, “Shayne is an exciting guy to watch, whether he’s home or in a visiting barn. He’s a guy you’d pay money to watch, the type that brings you out of your seat.”
If you ask Gostisbehere about his NHL comparison, he mentions fellow American Keith Yandle.
But, that’s where the NHL conversation ends for Gostisbehere, at least for now.
“Right now my thoughts are with my team. I haven’t made any decisions. I need to sit down with family following the season and decide what’s best at this point.”
His thoughts are squarely focused on Boston College and their superstar, fellow Hobey Baker Finalist, Johnny Gaudreau, who is regularly referred to as “Johnny Hockey.”
Gaudreau was on that same 2013 U.S. World Junior Team and is the frontrunner to take home college hockey’s top individual award.
In fact, the Gostisbehere and Gaudreau were roommates in Russia.
“Yeah, we’ve been texting back and forth a bit about this matchup,” Gostisbehere joked. “We’re having fun with it. I’m looking forward to playing them again.”
Union defeated Boston College 5-1 in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament. While Union seeks its first-ever title, Boston College swaggers into the Frozen Four with the No. 3 overall ranking and five national championships to its credit.
With that challenge at hand, it’s easy to see why Gostisbehere remains focused on the task at hand – bringing a long coveted National Title to upstate New York.
There’s plenty at stake for diminutive Union College after falling short of the title game in 2012 when Ferris State handed the Dutchmen a 3-1 defeat in the national semifinal.
“You don’t have this chance every season and we’ve been fortunate these past few years,” said Bennett. “We want to prove that we’re not a VH1 one-hit wonder. Consistency is something these boys should be proud of.”
“We want to prove that even if you’re a small school, you can still do great things,” Gostisbehere boasted.
Minnesota and North Dakota in other semi-final
The 2014 season marked the first time in 66 years that the two former WCHA rivals did not square off in the regular season due to conference realignment. The two have faced off 283 times in history with Minnesota holding a 137-129-15 edge over North Dakota. The Gophers enter this year’s tournament as the No. 1 overall seed seeking a sixth national championship, while North Dakota looks for the school’s eight title. The two schools battled in the 1979 National Championship game which Minnesota, led by Herb Brooks, won 4-3. The winner plays either Union or Boston College on Saturday for the 2014 championship.