Gostisbehere Puts Goaltending Skills to Work
Crucial 1st-Period Stops Bolstered Union
by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer
See all of CHN's Tournament coverage: articles, brackets, history and more.
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. Earlier this season, Rensselaer coach Seth Appert called Union's Shayne Gostisbehere the best player in the country. Little did he know that Gostisbehere could play any position.
Against Providence in the East Regional final, he wasn't only one of the best defensemen on the ice, but in a crucial sequence, he became the best goaltender, stopping three shots on the doorstep while actual goaltender Colin Stevens scrambled to get in position. In his time at Union he has become a jack-of-all trades.
"Last night I said Shayne was their best forward," Providence coach Nate Leaman said. "Tonight he was their best goalie. He is a big-time player and I think people are going to be talking about that kid for a long time."
With six minutes remaining in the first period, Colin Stevens made a save, but the puck was left in the crease. Who was there in that moment? None other than Gostisbehere, to the surprise of no one.
"I was on the ice at the time," freshman defenseman Jeff Taylor, his defense partner, said. "I was trying to box people out and was trying to find people. I saw him just blocking the puck. That is what he does. He doesn't play like a star a player, He does whatever it takes to win."
The moment that ensued was game-changing. It set the tone of the game for both Union and Providence. It was the play, or plays, of the game.
"I think if we get that, we have a little more jump in us," said Leaman. "We had some good looks, but it just didn't go our way tonight."
Gostisbehere, a Philadelphia Flyers prospect, made three consecutive kick saves to allow his team to hold the lead.
"I found myself at the back of the net," Gostisbehere said. "My biggest focus was to not close my hand on the puck (which would be a penalty shot). Colin had just made an unbelievable glove save two minutes before that and I am glad it worked out that it happened.
"I don't know how many times I touched the puck, the guy was just whacking away at the puck. My biggest focus was to keep that puck out of the net."
Interestingly enough, it wasn't his first time being a goalie, just his first at a high level.
"I actually played goalie in mites," said Gostisbehere. "I also picked up goalie in ball hockey last year. I guess it really paid off tonight."
Defensemen don't always get credit for their travails. Gostisbehere was a man among boys for much of the game against Providence, which led his team to the Frozen Four for the second time in three seasons.
"Shayne is unreal, he is so good at moving the puck out and is almost a one man breakout," Union freshman Jeff Taylor said. "He is so good on defense. What people don't realize, is how good of a defensive hockey player he is. He is just an all-around player."
Against Quinnipiac, the Providence controlled the neutral zone and was able to exploit its opponent physically. Against the Dutchmen, it struggled to control the neutral zone and was unable to control the physicality because of Union's team speed.
"Union has great team speed," said Leaman. "They are a team that can win the National Championship. The first half of the game, we struggled in the neutral zone. They had great jump and they were on us because they were using their speed."
Union's speed is always a factor; most ECAC teams struggled against it as well.
Union's speed is not just up front, but also among its defensemen, especially Mat Bodie, Gostisbehere and Sebastien Gingras. They are also good at springing teammates with long breakout passes. Providence's strength Friday night became its weakness Saturday, as it was unable to keep up.
"They have so much team speed because their D can always get the puck on the forwards sticks," Leaman said. "They have great mobility back there."
But Union can also be physical in the back end when it has to.
"Early in the game they threw a couple of our forwards off and put them on their heels," Leaman said. "They are elite players."
Bennett is quick to give praise to players and his assistant coaches, and in the recent ECAC tournament championship and now the East Regional championship, he left the ice quickly while the team celebrated.
But he allowed his emotion to show after Union sealed the game with a late goal.
"That was a couple-fist-pump goal," Bennett said of Matt Hatch's strike. "It was pretty special. He actually stopped where he was supposed to around the net. Sometimes a guy will drift off on the scoring chance, (but) Matt did what he was supposed to."
The humility rubs off on the players, such as Regional Most Outstanding Player Max Novak, who has scored a series of big goals over the last three years.
"This morning when he showed up to team breakfast, he was just in the corner, quiet," Bennett said. "He had a great game (Friday) night. He's so humble. He doesn't like the attention. It's special to kind of see that."
Union has won three consecutive Whitelaw Cups as the ECAC tournament champions, and is now 27-3-2 since Nov. 8, including a 15-game unbeaten streak. The Dutchmen, after struggling for decades to find success, have now made two out of three Frozen Fours.
Providence played well in the third period, desparate to tie. But when it got within a goal, Union came right back.
"We knew we had to be desperate,: said Sarcino. "Our season was on the line."
Union's goal was deflating to the comeback effort. One goal was attainable for the young Friars, but the two-goal deficit was too much.
"The goal was tough," said Saracino. "Our season was on the line. It was a tough one to let up but we knew we weren't out of it until the buzzer went off."
Providence is getting there; it took a major step forward by just making it to the regional final, it needs to be applauded
"The margin of error this time of year is really slim," said Leaman. "Their pucks went in and ours didn't."