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Gostisbehere's recovery and rise to stardom inspired by sister

The player they call Ghost became more interested in hockey because, as a kid, he used to tag along to figure-skating practices attended by his big sister, Felicia Gostisbehere.

The player they call Ghost became more interested in hockey because, as a kid, he used to tag along to figure-skating practices attended by his big sister, Felicia Gostisbehere.

That same big sister - a one-time Olympic hopeful whose promising skating career was cut short because of hip surgery - is a major reason Shayne Gostisbehere had such a smooth recovery from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

"Her dreams were cut short," said Shayne Gostisbhere, the swift-skating, unassuming Flyers rookie defenseman who has taken the NHL by storm, "but she helped push me toward mine.

"She's got a great heart."

While Gostisbehere went through a grueling rehab after his surgery 13 months ago, he was constantly in touch with his older sister.

"She stayed with me for a week when I got the surgery - she's a nurse, and that that also helped - and we were on the phone a lot," the 22-year-old Gostisbehere said.

Having had her figure-skating career cut short by a devastating injury, Felicia at first wondered if her family was jinxed when her mom texted her about Shayne's knee mishap.

"For me - and not only for me, but our entire family - it was one of those things like, 'Oh my gosh, is this happening again?' " Felicia Gostisbehere, 25, said in a phone interview from South Florida earlier this week. "We lived through it with me - a promising athlete, and in the blink of an eye, they're injured."

Felicia Gostisbehere picked up her phone and knew she had to do some damage control.

"My main priority was to call Shayne and figure out where his mind was at," said Felicia, who is an emergency-room trauma nurse in Fort Myers, Fla. "Having gone through something like that personally, your mind goes from 0 to 60 in a million ways. You ask [yourself] 'Is this the end of my career? Is this it?' So for me, I automatically had to find out where Shayne's head was at."

Felicia became Shayne's attitude coach, not allowing doubts to creep in.

"Throughout his entire rehab, especially that day after surgery, I wanted him to be in that moment and not let his mind wander and think of the what-ifs," she said.

Shayne Gostisbehere, whose family lives in Florida, did his rehab in Philadelphia, but his only sibling was on the phone with him constantly. She also traveled to Philadelphia with her mom and visited with him at the hospital.

"You have to focus on what's going on that day and what's going on in rehab," she said. "I was always keeping an eye on Shayne's mind and how positive he would be. Always trying to find a silver lining. It may have been, 'Yeah, you were in more pain today, but, listen, your range of motion increased 10 degrees. That's fantastic, Shayne.' "

Felicia Gostisbehere said her mission was not to allow her brother to get depressed.

"When I was hurt, I didn't have somebody who already went through it," she said. "So for me, the hardest part was staying positive" in her rehab. "That was my primary focus with him - keeping him positive."

Shayne Gostisbehere with his sister Felicia, a one-time Olympic hopeful whose promising skating career was cut short because of hip surgery. (Photo courtesy of Felicia Gostisbehere)

Shayne Gostisbehere is one of just eight Florida-born players to ever reach the NHL.

"Growing up in Florida, we faced the same challenges," Felicia Gostisbehere said.

There weren't lot of ice rinks, and there wasn't a lot of nearby competition for figure skaters or young hockey players.

In their teenage years, both moved to other parts of the country to train and enhance their talents. At 15, about six months before her hip surgery, Felicia moved to Colorado Springs to train at the World Arena with Olympic coaches and Olympic skaters. Shayne left Florida and attended South Kent Prep in Connecticut during his junior and senior high school years.

In 2006, a labrum tear on her left hip ended Felicia's figure-skating career at age 15. After the surgery, "I never had the same strength or stability in my hip," said Felicia, who as a 12-year-old became the first skater from South Florida to ever compete in the nationals. "It was inevitable I would never be able to vigorously train like I needed to without having complications. I had to retire because essentially I would be chasing something you would never [accomplish]. I would never be able to pick up where I left off."

Shayne Gostisbehere gets his work ethic from his sister. Her competitive nature during her early teenage years, he said, left an impression.

"It was inspiring just to see how motivated she was," he said. "To see her get up every morning at 4:30 with my dad and go train, and then go to school and be a straight A student - I wish I could have been like that, too - and then go right back to [skate] after school. It was amazing to see a young girl doing that and to show her maturity."

The maturity seems to have rubbed off on her brother, who is handling his current predicament like a veteran.

Despite a sensational start - in 18 games, Gostisbehere has 14 points, including three overtime goals, and the Flyers are 10-4-4 since he was promoted from the AHL's Phantoms - there is a slight chance he will be demoted to the minors when Mark Streit is expected to come off the long-term injured-reserve list on Sunday.

The Flyers have cap issues, and will probably send someone to the Phantoms to make room for Streit. General manager Ron Hextall has not ruled out sending down Gostisbehere.

"I'm a young player in the game; I'm not a seasoned veteran," Gostisbehere said. "I don't deserve anything just because I scored some goals here and there. You just have to keep a level head and stay grounded and realize I haven't even played 20 games yet."

Felicia and her fiance recently traveled to Philadelphia and attended two Flyers games. When she met with her brother, she cut straight to the chase, as sisters can do.

"I hadn't seen him in four months, and I hung out with him," she said. "I was like, 'Hey, where's your head at? Are you good if you get sent down? What are your thoughts on that?' And he's always very positive about it. He's always about living in the moment, taking every experience and opportunity and absorbing everything he can get out of it. That's really the way he's always been. I've never experienced Shayne taking something for granted, and I don't think he's taking this experience for granted, either."

Shayne Gostisbehere wants to stay with the Flyers, but said he won't be crushed if he is sent down.

"I'm glad the holiday season is here and it gets your mind off it a little bit," he said last week. "You start to think about it a little bit, but it's out of my control. I can only focus on what's in my control - and that's playing."

Added Gostisbehere: "I do believe I'm an NHL player. That's the mind-set you have to have. You have to play with confidence every shift. The moment you lose that confidence is when the weak part shows in your game, so you just have to keep going every day and keep a level head."

Felicia Gostisbehere and her fiance recently traveled to Philadelphia and attended two Flyers games. (Photo courtesy of Felicia Gostisbehere)

In a way, Felicia Gostisbehere and her grandfather, Denis Brodeur, are the reasons Shayne Gostisbehere got interested in hockey at a young age.

Brodeur, a Quebec native who moved to South Florida, put Shayne on skates when he was 3 years old and later coached him in a youth league. When the Florida Panthers were unveiled in 1993 - the year Shayne was born - Brodeur became a season-ticket holder. As soon as Shayne was old enough, he accompanied his grandfather to the games. The sport mesmerized him. He even got caught up in the team's tradition of throwing plastic rats on the ice to celebrate Panthers wins.

At around the same time, Gostisbehere was always at the rink with his sister. Felicia had skating practices at 5:30 a.m. - Shayne would be in the balcony, asleep in a sleeping bag - and returned for after-school sessions.

Shayne and his mom, Christine, attended the after-school practices. "He must have been 6 or 7 at the time, and my mom needed to find him a hobby," Felicia said. "I think with my grandfather so into hockey - and we were at the rink, anyway - it just kind of fit."

"My mom would say, 'Don't get into too much trouble. Here's a stick. Go be a rink rat somewhere,' " Shayne Gostisbehere recalled.

Soon, he began taking skating lessons with his sister's coach. Before long, the siblings' parents were driving to out-of-state hockey games and figure-skating competition on most weekends.

"And it became pretty apparent he had a natural talent for the ice," Felicia said. "He started travel hockey from there, and before you know it, he was leaving home at 16 to go to prep school," which led to him being discovered by Union College, the team he led to the NCAA title in 2013.

"And the rest is pretty much history," she said.

Gostisbehere is considered the first player born and raised in South Florida to reach the NHL. He doesn't look at himself as a pioneer.

"I'm just a kid who loves hockey," he said.

Gostisbehere has only been with the Flyers this season for six weeks, but he has energized the team and become one of the city's most popular athletes because of his dazzling skating and offensive skills rarely seen in a defenseman.

His No. 53 jerseys are selling briskly. So are shirts with ghosts and bears on them, a play on his last name.

"I don't know where it's coming from, but it's pretty cool to see," said Gostisbehere with a smile - the smile of someone who is enjoying the moment, knowing his injury is in the rear-view mirror, and that the future never looked brighter.

As a kid, Shayne Gostisbehere used to tag along to figure-skating practices attended by his big sister, Felicia. (Photo courtesy of Felicia Gostisbehere)