After battling himself, Shayne Gostisbehere grasps mental side of NHL

After battling himself, Shayne Gostisbehere grasps mental side of NHL

Shayne Gostisbehere wasn't up against anything physical.

He didn't fight injuries or lingering effects from offseason hip/abdominal surgeries.

In reality, he fought himself.

Gostisbehere entered his sophomore season with expectations that were "probably not fair," according to general manager Ron Hextall in early February. That was because the precocious defenseman spoiled fans with a nearly unblemished rookie performance, finishing second in the 2015-16 Calder Memorial Trophy race.

He spoiled fans with history and heroics. His offense and ability at the point were captivating.

"My rookie season was sort of a dream season for anyone," Gostisbehere said.

Then came Year 2.

Gostisbehere was benched a total of fives times. Playing in 12 more games than his first year, he scored 10 fewer goals. He went from a plus-8 to a minus-21.

At Flyers cleanout day last Tuesday, Gostisbehere refused to make excuses.

"My hip didn't bother me once this season," he said. "I haven't gotten treatment on it once this year. I took care of it, did what I had to do. It's definitely a tough pill to swallow this season. Obviously, it wasn't the season I wanted but I learned a lot about myself, not only as a player on the ice but off the ice, too, just getting through hard times."

When asked about his hip again, Gostisebehere expanded with some conviction. He opened up about the mental aspect of the game and all that comes with it. This season, it was his biggest hurdle.

"I know you guys want me to admit it's my surgeries, my injuries, but it's honestly not," he said. "You can tell who doesn't have confidence on the ice when they have the puck -- you can tell. If it's a guy who's bringing it up and he's looking everywhere and he doesn't have confidence, then you can tell it's confidence. 

"I make plays on the blue line, there are plays that I have to do quick, I have to react and I have to have the confidence to do them. I can't do them if I'm thinking like, 'Oh, what if his stick goes there,' I can't. You just have to have a free mind and you have to go out there and play and let your abilities take over. That's what I was learning more and more as the season went on, realizing I had the skills, I just have to trust my abilities."

When Gostisbehere was benched three straight games in early February, he vowed to focus on defensive principles. But Gostisbehere's offense is what totally changes a game. It's what put the Flyers over the top and into the playoffs last season.

In his first 40 games of 2015-16, he started fast and never stopped, erupting for 34 points on 12 goals and 22 assists. This season, Gostisbehere had 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) through 44 games -- a true confidence blow for a 23-year-old.

"I wasn't questioning myself, I honestly thought, 'I'm hitting a lot of posts here, some things aren't going in,'" he said. "My confidence on the ice comes through my offensive ability, when I make plays, when I jump up there and make a good breakout pass. I like blocking a shot every once in a while, but the offensive part of my game is what drives my confidence and when I don't see pucks going in the net or offense isn't there, it's hard for me to stick with it and it's something I just have to realize."

Gostisbehere rediscovered himself by being himself.

"It's pretty cliché but I just said I'm going to go out there and have fun. I'm going to make plays and I don't care if I get yelled at," he said with a smile, "but I'm going to play my game and make my plays. People can look at is as risky but most of the time it works out for me."

Playing stress-free, Gostisebehere finished the season with eight points (one goal, seven assists) over his last eight games, a stretch in which he was a plus-3. In his final 24 games, he recorded 17 points.

To set up a Wayne Simmonds goal in the season finale, Gostisbehere made a play at the blue line that was reminiscent of the rookie "Ghost."

"I'm definitely going to take pride in that," Gostisbehere said of his positive finish. "In January, not being where I wanted to be as a player, obviously I went through a tough patch there, a healthy scratch for three games in a row and it was a good reflection period. Valuable workdays and practice days for myself. I think I really just learned a lot about myself."

Gostisbehere, who turns 24 years old on Thursday, can become a restricted free agent this offseason. The Flyers will undoubtedly get something done.

"Free agency, I can't answer that question right now," Hextall said last Thursday. "We've got the expansion draft, we've got preparation, we've got to sign a goalie, we've got Ghost to sign."

After that, Gostisbehere will be ready for anything in Year 3. He'll also use his experiences to help the Flyers' new youth on the blue line.

"If they want to bounce some ideas off me," he said, "I'll let them know because I've got some wisdom now."

NHL Notes: Rangers ink Mika Zibanejad to 5-year extension

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USA Today Images

NHL Notes: Rangers ink Mika Zibanejad to 5-year extension

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers have signed center Mika Zibanejad to a $26.75 million, five-year deal.

Zibanejad will count $5.35 million against the salary cap through 2021-22 as the Rangers count on him to take on a bigger role following the trade of Derek Stepan. General manager Jeff Gorton announced the contract Tuesday morning, before the team and Zibanejad were set to go to arbitration.

The 24-year-old Swede had 14 goals and 23 assists for 37 points in 56 games last season, his first with New York. The Rangers acquired Zibanejad from the Ottawa Senators for Derick Brassard a year ago.

Zibanejad has 188 points in 337 NHL games with the Senators and Rangers since Ottawa drafted him sixth overall in 2011 (see full story).

Team Canada names Sean Burke GM for 2018 Olympics
Sean Burke will be the general manager and Willie Desjardins the head coach for Canada at the first Olympics without NHL players since 1994.

Hockey Canada named its management and coaching staffs for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics on Tuesday. St. Louis Blues assistant general manager Martin Brodeur will work under Burke on the management side, while Desjardins will be assisted by Dave King, Scott Walker and Craig Woodcroft.

Canada has been grooming Burke for this responsibility for some time as he served as assistant GM for the 2017 world championships, GM for the 2016 Spengler Cup and Deutschland Cup and director of player development for the 2016 worlds. Desjardins coached Canada's 2010 world junior team and assisted in 2009.

USA Hockey has not yet named its GM or coach (see full story).

Sabres re-sign goalie Lehner to 1-year deal
BUFFALO, N.Y.  -- The Buffalo Sabres have re-signed goaltender Robin Lehner to a $4 million, one-year contract.

The team announced the deal Tuesday. Lehner was a restricted free agent.

The 26-year-old Swede showed he could stay healthy last season, setting career highs with 59 games played, 23 wins and two shutouts. He ranked third in the NHL with 1,758 saves and finished with a .920 save percentage and 2.68 goals-against average.

Bothered by injuries and concussion problems, Lehner had never before played more than 36 games in his NHL career. The Sabres took a chance on Lehner when they traded a first-round pick to the Ottawa Senators for him at the 2015 draft.

Lehner will again be a restricted free agent next summer when this contract expires.

Devils re-sign 3 restricted free agents
NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils have re-signed restricted free agent defenseman Mirco Mueller, forward Joseph Blandisi and goaltender Scott Wedgewood.

Mueller got a two-year deal worth an average of $850,000 a season, Blandisi a two-year, two-way deal worth an average of $680,000 in the NHL, and Wedgewood a one-year, two-way deal worth $650,000 in the NHL. General manager Ray Shero announced the contracts Tuesday.

Re-signing Mueller for two years was the most significant move after New Jersey acquired the 22-year-old from San Jose before the Vegas expansion draft. The Swiss defender has just six points in 54 NHL games with the Sharks, but still is considered a good prospect after being a first-round pick in 2013.

Mueller will make $775,000 next season and $925,000 in 2018-19.

There's a new game in town: The Philadelphia Rebels

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John Boruk/CSNPhilly.com

There's a new game in town: The Philadelphia Rebels

The opportunity to watch a Briere play again in Philadelphia will be an exciting reality for hockey fans this season.

No, Danny Briere isn’t coming out of retirement as the former Flyers forward has committed to handling the day-to-day operations of the organization’s newest ECHL team.  

However, Briere will be keeping close tabs on his younger son, Carson, who’s currently on the Philadelphia Rebels' 30-man roster and is setting his sights on making the team’s final cuts during training camp.

“It’s great,” Briere said Monday. “Growing up here for most of my life, I love Philly. It’s fun getting to play in the same city that [my dad] did. Whenever I think of him playing, I always think of that playoff run [in 2010] for the Flyers.”

After spending the past two seasons at IceWorks in Aston, Pennsylvania, the NAHL’s (North American Hockey League) Rebels are moving their operation to the Penn Ice Rink at the Class of 1923 Arena, where they made the formal announcement on Monday. It will be the organization’s third different home rink in the past four seasons after relocating from the Rio Grande Valley in 2015.

“It was a no-brainer,” team owner Marko Dundovich said. “When the opportunity presented itself, it was very easy. I think it will give the boys a better opportunity to play, get them seen and I think it’s going to continue to grow here, and our business and organization will do much better here.”

The Rebels and junior hockey simply didn’t attract a broad appeal in the Philadelphia suburbs like ownership had hoped, and as a result, attendance lagged as the team typically averaged around 125 fans a game.

“It was the first time we tried Junior A hockey here,” Dundovich said. “If we had a 300-, 400- or 500-person fan base, we would have been OK in Aston, but I think it was tough to sell a junior hockey ticket in Aston. It’s a difficult sell in a small town.”   

Conversely, hockey fans in Philadelphia haven’t had much of an alternative to the Flyers since the Phantoms left the city in 2009 for Glens Falls, New York. Rebels forward Aaron Maguyon, who stays with former Flyers captain Keith Primeau throughout the season, feels the team cannot only fill the 2,500-seat ice rink, but the players will greatly benefit from the college vibe.  

“I think it prepares us for the future and playing college hockey, for sure, so in that way, it’s like a sneak peek for what’s to come," Maguyon said. "I think it helps pull guys closer together. We have restaurants we can go to or just activities we can do in the city."

According to the league website, the NAHL set a new single-season NCAA record with 280-plus commitments, and the Rebels had 12 commit to Divison I programs. Head coach Joe Coombs has built a tier-II junior hockey powerhouse over the past two years. Last season, the Rebels finished with the NAHL’s best regular-season record, advancing to the championship game of the Robertson Cup in Duluth, Minnesota, where they came up short in a 2-0 loss to the Lone Star Brahmas. 

“This is business,” Coombs said. “Let’s bring the game to the people. Over the last two years, we struggled with our attendance. I didn’t even know this place was here — UPenn hockey rink — and we couldn’t think of a better venue right here in University City to try and market our brand of hockey and bring our game to the people.”  

And who knows? You might just see a few former Flyers in the seats, as well.