Two years after a Frozen Four for the ages, when he helped lead Union to the 2014 Division 1 men’s ice hockey championship, Shayne Gostisbehere ’15 is a bona fide NHL phenomenon.
In his first full season with the Philadelphia Flyers, the speedy skater known as Ghost set an NHL record for most points in consecutive games by a rookie defenseman with 15 and a franchise-record 16 goals by a rookie defenseman. Each of his 16 goals has either tied the game, gave the Flyers the lead or was the game-winner (four).
His electrifying play has kept the team in the playoff hunt and put him in contention for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.
Ghost has also become a folk hero in Philly, a tough sports town stingy with praise for its athletes. Gostisbehere jerseys are easy to spot in the Wells Fargo Center, coincidentally the same arena where the Dutchmen routed Minnesota 7-4 to win the national championship. And while fans often mangle his last name, Ghost-Bear Twitter emoticons have taken off on Twitter.
His magical season has made him almost as popular in Philadelphia as the Rocky statue.
Sports Illustrated, ESPN, the New York Times and USA Today have all done major features on the 22-year-old from Florida, whose first season after leaving Union was cut short after seven games because of a torn ACL.
And on Thursday night, the team honored Gostisbehere with its Barry Ashbee award, presented annually to the outstanding defenseman, and the Gene Hart Memorial award, given to the Flyer who demonstrates the most heart.
The adulation and success on the ice has often left Ghost wondering if it were real.
“It’s been pretty special,” he said after a late-season home game against Ottawa where dozens of alumni showed up to support him. “It’s been the dream of every kid whoever laced up skates, to play hockey in the NHL. Sometimes you can’t believe you’re doing it.”
That game also featured a postgame reunion between Gostisbehere and his coach at Union, Rick Bennett. Gostisbehere’s time at Union helped with his transition to the NHL.
“I learned a lot of things on the ice, but most important were the life lessons off the ice,” he said. “Coach Bennett recruits for character. He’s not just looking at the player himself, but the family. The way they do things at Union, there’s a reason we won the national title.”
Gostisbehere is one of a number of former Dutchmen playing hockey professionally. These include NHLers Daniel Carr (Montreal Canadiens), Keith Kinkaid (New Jersey Devils) and Josh Jooris (Calgary Flames); and AHLers Troy Grosenick (San Jose Barracuda), Mat Bodie (Hartford Wolf Pack), Max Novak (Albany Devils), Wayne Simpson (Portland Pirates) and Jeremy Welsh (Chicago Wolves).
Of that group, only Gostisbehere has a Lego-like figurine that is a popular item at concession stands.
“You could argue that no player has meant more to the Flyers this season than Gostisbehere,” said Sam Carchidi, who has covered the Flyers for the past eight years for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“He has had an uncanny ability to score or set up a pivotal goal, and he has jump-started a team that seemed dead in the water before he arrived (Nov. 14). He has played with infectious enthusiasm and given the team a bonafide scoring threat, and his confident nature has spread to his teammates. To me, Gostisbehere and Claude Giroux have been the team's MVPs.”
Despite his quick skate to stardom and the perks that come with being a professional athlete, Gostisbehere insists it won’t go to his head. His time at Union and the people he met along the way will help make sure of that.
“You always remember your roots,” he said. “That’s what my mom told me. And I always will.”