|Ben Bishop, who signed his first pro contract in March, went 2-2-0-1 for Peoria (Photo courtesy of the Peoria Rivermen). |
Ben Bishop was enjoying a nice weekend of rest and relaxation at a friend’s house at the Lake of the Ozarks when he received a call from a hotel more than 1,000 miles away.
“Do you know how to get to the rink in St. Louis?” asked the caller.
Bishop, who grew up in Des Peres, knew exactly how to find the rink.
“Yes, I do,” Bishop said.
“Well then, congratulations,” responded the caller. “You just got drafted by St. Louis.”
The 2004-05 lockout canceled the original plans to hold the 2005 NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa. Instead, on short notice, the league held the draft in a hotel conference room without much fanfare aside from Sidney Crosby’s appearance as the leagues’ No. 1 overall pick.
It didn’t matter much, though. Ask Bishop about draft day and he remembers every single detail, whether he was there in person or not. He knows the date, where he was, who he was visiting, what words were said…everything.
“I’ll never forget that,” Bishop said. “It sounds kind of corny, but it really was a dream come true. Watching (the Blues) my whole life, always rooting for them. To get a chance to play for them and (hopefully) win a Stanley Cup with them…”
His voice trails off. There are no words to describe the excitement he feels to be part of the St. Louis Blues organization.
Rest assured, the feeling is mutual.
While winning a Cup with the Blues may still be a bit down the road for Bishop, he took the first step three months ago when he wrapped up his junior season at the University of Maine and joined the Peoria Rivermen for the late season stretch run.
Bishop went 2-2-0-1 for Peoria with a 2.40 goals against average and a .908 save percentage in five games. With Peoria’s playoff hopes fading, the team gave Bishop the rest of the season to rehab a nagging knee injury, but Bishop says getting a taste of the pros should speed up his development.
“I didn’t really want to leave my school and all my teammates there,” Bishop said about the decision to leave Maine. “But I felt it was time to move up and start my pro career. It’s a good chance for me to get some experience here in Peoria. I’m real excited to be here.
“It’s a lot different,” Bishop added. “The way (the game is) played, the way it’s controlled. The guys are a lot better passes and shooters.”
While many prospects have a long and windy road to the pros, Bishop’s route was especially long and tough on a young player. After his junior year in high school, the St. Louis native headed to a small town outside of Dallas to play junior hockey with the North American Hockey League’s Texas Tornado.
At 6-foot-7, Ben Bishop provided a big presence in net for the University of Maine before joining the Peoria Rivermen (Getty Images).
“It was tough to send me out of here early,” Bishop said about his parents decision to further his hockey career. “(But) they were real supportive and they made it down quite a bit.”
Living away from home, Bishop focused on hockey while finishing his senior year of high school nearby. He recorded a 35-8 record for the Tornado and finished the season with a 1.93 goals-against-average, a .920 save percentage and five shutouts.
From there, it was three seasons at the University of Maine.
“When I started to look at colleges, I looked at the Michigans and Maines, the schools with the real good goalies,” Bishop said. “When Maine came calling, I went on a visit there and it was a no brainer.
“It was a great experience. Everybody I talked to said it’s the best place to play hockey. Best fans, best arena, just a great experience.”
Although he never claimed a national championship, Bishop reached the Frozen Four twice while playing for Maine, including the 2007 tournament, which was held at Scottrade Center in St. Louis. In three seasons at the university, Bishop ranks fifth all times in wins (55), fourth in goals-against-average (2.29) and third in games played (99).
But from here on out, it’s about getting to St. Louis and wearing a Blue Note on his chest.
“I’m not there yet, so I can’t let it get to me,” Bishop said. “(But) I’m one step away and I’m really excited to eventually be putting that jersey on.”