Bayside native has NHL hopes

Photo courtesy of Steve McLaughlin/BU Athletics

Ithaca, Buffalo and Rochester are staples where many New York-born hockey players hail from.

With the exception of a few who have made it through different levels of the game, Queens is commonly not on the list.

Enter defenseman Sean Escobedo, a Bayside native, who is going into his fourth and final season with the Boston University Terriers and keeping up hopes of a career in the National Hockey League. Should he make it to the league, he would be one of the few born and raised in the five boroughs to play at hockey’s highest level in North America.

Since first learning to skate when he was five years old, Escobedo has come a long way. In his most recent season at BU he played 38 out of 39 regular season games, in a sport that is tougher and more intense the further it goes.

“I’ve known him since he was six years old,” said Henry Lazar, who coached Escobedo concurrently on two teams: the Eastern Junior Hockey League’s Apple Core and the St. Mary’s High School Gaels. “We knew Sean was going to be good right from the beginning.”

Escobedo’s work ethic and locker room persona, Lazar said, were two of the crucial things that made him a standout player.

“He worked hard to get where he is,” Lazar said. “Providing entertainment for us — which he was good at — besides that, he was a good teammate . . . he deserves to be where he is.”

The defenseman played in the state championship final every year in high school, and took home three trophies. From 2006 to 2008 — his junior and senior years — he captained the Gaels, a team that had a strong hockey history on Long Island.

Recently, Escobedo has traveled back to his roots. In late June, he was invited to the Islanders Prospect Camp at their practice facility at Iceworks in Syosset, the same ice he skated on as captain of the Gaels.

It was a learning experience, Escobedo said, to face off against American Hockey League regulars.

“Just going there, it was an honor in itself,” he said. “[You] kind of see what they go through every day.”

Some have compared Escobedo’s career track to that of Ottawa Senators defenseman Matt Gilroy. Both played for the Apple Core and the Gaels; Gilroy graduated in 2003, Escobedo in 2008. Gilroy also played at BU, winning the NCAA Tournament and the Hobey Baker Award in his 2009 season. Following graduation, he signed as an unrestricted free agent with the New York Rangers.

“Matty’s a great player and someone I look up to,” Escobedo said. “To follow in Matty’s footsteps is unbelievable.”

Escobedo’s own journey to BU began when he was still a senior in high school. He committed to the school before graduation, he said, but the roster was too full for him in the coming season.

There were two options: either play another season at Apple Core, or go play in the United States Hockey League — a league in which current NHLers T.J. Oshie and Thomas Vanek once played.

“They were leaning for me to go to the USHL,” he said, adding that he eventually went out west to play part of a season with Nebraska’s Tri-City Storm, before being traded to the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Stampede.

The single-season in the USHL, Escobedo said, was a growing experience and taught him crucial things inside, and outside, of the rink.

“I decided to go that route and I think it paid off tremendously for me,” he said. “It’s definitely a lot more intense. Everyone deserves to be there.”

His success, however, can be attributed to his family, he said. Playing hockey in Long Beach, traveling from Bayside for games, was more strenuous on his parents than it was on him.

His older brother, Brian, played four years of college hockey at Bowling Green University and was a role model as Escobedo skated out his own life in hockey.

“My older brother always set the right path for me [both on and off the ice],” he said. “He was always there to mentor me.”