Florida native Gostibehere on fast track to stardom at Union
by Adam Wodon/NYHJ Writer
As much as you can despise NHL commissioner Gary Bettman (Queens, N.Y.) for many things, if you are so inclined, his decision to spread NHL hockey to the Sun Belt has certainly paid dividends for many U.S. college hockey programs.
Having teams in places like Florida meant that sun-splashed areas, with the help of the local NHL team, built more skating facilities. These facilities helped build fan bases, but also built youth players interested in trying the sport.
The result has been a wave of players in college hockey from California, Texas and Florida, in particular. That includes Union standout sophomore defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, from the previously barren (hockey-wise) community of Margate, Fla.
Gostisbehere saw prep schools come down for showcase tournaments when he was younger and knew that’s what he wanted to do. Like many young players before him, as he kept improving and it became time to strive for another level, he fulfilled the dream of going to a prep school to continue his hockey education.
Everything that’s come since then, therefore, has been gravy — but an awful fulfilling amount of gravy.
By the time he was a prep junior at South Kent School, Gostisbehere attracted the attention of Union. The key to Union’s rise to national prominence has been identifying a player before everyone else, or capturing the diamonds in the rough who have slipped past other programs.
“He always had that little flash,” Union coach Rick Bennett said. “But it took him almost half a year to really figure it out. ... But he’s so darn coachable and he’s willing, and that translates into a better hockey player.”
The 5-foot-11 Gostisbehere took a visit to Union early on and fell in love with the place.
“I just knew it was the place,” he said. “It was definitely the coaching staff; they liked me as a player. And I like small schools — my prep school had 150 people — and I liked the academics.”
The fact that head coach Nate Leaman left for Providence prior to his enrollment at Union did not deter Gostisbehere.
“I was a little nervous, but then I realized Coach Bennett was just as good,” he said. “He’s definitely a hard-nosed coach. He’ll single you out, get in your face. But he knows you can do better. He’s great with both the X’s and O’s, and he’s good on motivation.”
The dream year for Gostisbehere didn’t end there. He came to Union at the peak of its hockey-playing history, added another piece to a well-honed, talented team, and rode it to the Frozen Four. He had some bumps at first, but coming under the wing of veteran defenseman Nolan Julseth-White and defense partner Greg Coburn helped ease things along.
“They showed me the ropes,” Gostisbehere said. “They said, ‘Work your hardest and you’ll get rewarded,’ and I never stopped working.
“It took about 10 games (at Union) and I got smarter, made quicker decisions.”
Having fallen under the radar of many scouts, Gostisbehere was hard to miss by midseason. His skating skills, ability to rush and feed the puck began turning heads quickly as the Dutchmen rose in the rankings.
“His leadership comes from just playing his game,” said Bennett, whose team entered November with a 3-1-1 record. “And he’s respected so much now across our league. But the biggest thing is the way he practices — he competes very hard.”
In June, Gostisbehere was drafted in the third round by the Philadelphia Flyers, the same team that teammate Coburn’s brother, Braydon, plays for. It’s also the favorite team of Gostisbehere’s suitemate, fellow defenseman Charlie Vasaturo.
“Going through the season, I saw a couple of scouts, and talking to Coach, I realized that getting drafted was possible,” Gostisbehere said. “But Coach didn’t want to fill my head too much, so we waited until the end of the year (to talk about it).”
That exciting moment was followed by another, being invited to the Team USA evaluation camp for the World Juniors. Once there, in Lake Placid, N.Y., he continued to impress everyone. And he fulfilled yet another dream.
“It was a great experience. I was playing with a group of guys that are really good, playing for my country. Putting that USA jersey on for the first time was the biggest moment,” he said. “When you look on the sleeve and it says, ‘Home of the Brave,’ it makes you realize you’re playing for your country.
“I’d always watched the Olympics and World Juniors. Growing up I always wanted to play in it, but I never imagined it would happen. It’s the reality now and I want to make the most of it.”
There are more steps for Gostisbehere to be named to the final roster, but he’ll just try to enjoy it.
“I get nervous (thinking about it). But if I don’t make it, I want to go out there and give it my best,” he said.
It was a busy summer. Gostisbehere trained in Massachusetts with renowned skating expert Paul Vincent for almost two months.
“It’s technique, doing a lot of stuff that players don’t want to do to get better,” Bennett said. “Vincent’s track record speaks for itself. I just think he’s a very well-respected guy that players gravitate towards.
“It always keeps you in the play. He got beat wide a little bit. This year, we haven’t seen that. He has gotten a little stronger too. Going back to get pucks, you get there quicker and you have more time to make a better decision.”
Meanwhile, Union’s season is in full swing, and the Dutchmen are back near the top of the rankings.
Gostisbehere had a brief setback in an October game against Connecticut, when he hurt his knee trying to make an end-to-end rush. He was not expected to be out long, but it did hearken back to his first few weeks at Union.
“That’s what happens when you don’t want to keep it simple,” Bennett said.
Nevertheless, if his career so far has been a dream, Gostisbehere doesn’t want to be awoken.
“The Frozen Four is not the ultimate goal,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s to win a national championship.”
This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of New York Hockey Journal.