SCHENECTADY Should I stay or should I go?
It’s a question junior Shayne Gostisbehere faces just about every time he’s on the ice.
A speedy defenseman with the skill and — perhaps most important — the willingness to jump into the offense, he’s been a vital part of the Union hockey program since he was a freshman, adding an element that has infused the Dutchmen offense from a different angle — the back line.
Gostisbehere will have to answer that question on a plane greater than a sheet of ice by the end of the season.
In four months, will it be time for “Ghost” to vanish?
A 2012 third-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, he’s been through two development camps with the club and also missed some games last season while playing on the gold medal U.S. team at the World Junior Championships in Russia.
A mere 10 games into the 2013-14 season, Gostisbehere doesn’t have to answer that question right now, but the prediction here is that he’ll be gone after his junior season, and will go pro with the Union coaching staff’s blessing.
Coincidentally, Gostisbehere appeared, via phone, on the NHL Network’s “NHL Live” pregame show Friday night, for which he admitted to “sweaty palms,” two hours before Union held off RPI, 4-3, at Messa Rink. The host used vague reference to the start of Gostisbehere’s pro career “someday.”
In the meantime, the Dutchmen will enjoy all the gifts Gostisbehere has to offer, and he’ll enjoy college life.
He was on the ice for six of the seven goals, which shows the tricky balance you have to accept when an offensive-minded defenseman is one of your best players.
But Gostisbehere has made a big leap from his freshman year, when he leaned too much on the ability to impose his will on the offensive end at the expense of defense. Now, he’s more judicious.
It’s been a learning process that can only help Union, and has come at the behest of the Flyers.
“Third period today, I jumped up there a couple times, but I definitely sat back and, maybe if it was the first period, I would’ve jumped up a little more,” he said.
“I’m definitely more mature. I know when to pick my spots and go. As coach likes to call me, Renegade, going all over the place. He probably still does. I’m a high-risk player. I like to jump into the play and make something happen. But I’m more mature about it now.”
“I thought he kept it simple when he needed to, but when he had a chance to go, he went and made the most of it,” Union coach Rick Bennett said. “The coaching staff doesn’t have a problem with that whatsoever. We’re not going to hold a player like that back. I don’t think we have [done that] here.”
Speaking of coming at things from a different angle, Gostisbehere grew up in Florida, but spent a lot of time at rinks because his sister was a national-caliber figure skater.
His grandfather, a Montreal native, bought him skates when Gostisbehere expressed an interest in hockey, and soon enough he was a member of the Florida Panthers’ junior program.
At 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, he’s never going to be a big, bruising defenseman, but his hockey career dovetails nicely with a trend in the NHL in which teams are looking for blueliners who can advance the puck and jump into plays deep in the opponent’s defensive zone.
“The game’s changing, as everyone can see,” he said. “It’s getting faster and not as much clutch-and-grab hockey, so they want faster, smaller guys. I like to say I’m a big guy, but I guess on paper, people think I’m small.”
Gostisbehere said the development camps not only exposed him to the caliber of play he’ll be facing, but also the pro lifestyle.
The Flyers, for example, go so far as to show their prospects how to do everyday stuff like shopping for food.
“I was more comfortable this year. It was a lot more fun,” he said of his second camp. “I knew what to expect, and you learn to be a pro. That’s what they teach most over there. They want you to get in the pro style. It’s a different game up there. College, you’re wearing a facemask and you can be a kamikaze out there if you want to.”
It’s a reflection of the progress Union has made in recent years that the school has consistently attracted players with the talent to leave early.
Not exactly the one-and-done of basketball, but as the program grows, it has to get used to the prospect of watching its best players go pro before their senior season.
Keith Kinkaid, now with the Albany Devils, did it, Jeremy Welsh did it, and so did Troy Grosenick and Josh Jooris.
Gostisbehere has shown all the signs that he’s ready, too, even if it’s way too early to admit it.
When asked if he knew if this would be his last college season, he emphatically said, “I don’t know. I’ve got a ways to go. I’ve got one more year here.
“College. It’s the best time of your life. I don’t see why people want to leave early. I’d like to stay here forever if I could. On the college side, the books, students on campus, professors, all the support we have here, we just make it even more fun with the hockey side. It’s just a blast.”