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Bishai happy with playing in Europe

by Shawn P. Roarke

Mike Bishai has played a fair amount of hockey since achieving his professional dream.

An Edmonton boy, Bishai was able to pull on the Oilers jersey for 14 games during the 2004-05 season. Forget the fact that he had just two assists during his brief NHL tenure; Bishai had done what so many Albertan prairie boys can only dream about -- he played for the team that made his hometown the "City of Champions."

The fact that he did it in such unusual fashion -- as an non-drafted free agent that went the route of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League and the American collegiate route -- Western Michigan University -- only made his accomplishment that much sweeter.

But Edmonton also has lingered as a distant, if not quite haunting, memory in the hockey odyssey that has followed for Bishai; a journey that has included American Hockey League stops in Toronto, Edmonton and San Antonio, a season-long adventure in Moscow two seasons ago playing for Dynamo Moscow, and last season's run with Ilves, a Finnish team located in Tampere.

"It never gets old," Bishai told when asked about his Oilers memories. "I was an Edmonton kid and it was an honor for me to play for my hometown team and put that jersey on. It was only a couple of years ago, but time flies when you are playing over here."

"Over here" is Europe, which Bishai will call home for the third straight winter. This time, he is playing for Jokerit, the Finnish power that will take on the Pittsburgh Penguins in an exhibition game leading up to the Penguins kicking off the NHL regular season with a two-game NHL Premiere 2008 series against the Ottawa Senators.

Bishai, 29, hasn't given up on his NHL dream, but he has no problem deferring it to extend his European adventure.

"I was weighing my options this summer on whether to come back to North American and make another push, but you have to make the decision that is right for you at the time," Bishai said from Helsinki. "I'm not saying I won't come back, but right now this was the right situation for me."

Last season, Bishai put up 41 points in 49 games for Ilves, which finished mid-table in the SM Liiga. So when Jokerit -- one of the biggest clubs in Finland -- came calling, Bishai was all ears.  

"They were looking for a center and gave me a call," Bishai said. "Obviously, I played in the league last year and know it pretty well. And they are a contender, so it's a chance for me to win a championship. Last season, with Ilves, we had a run in the playoffs and it was a really good year, but sometimes you just want to explore your options."

That free-spirit attitude has opened countless European doors for Bishai, who has become somewhat of an ambassador for the European game. While he admits his tenure with Russia's Dynamo as the only North American was tough, he had nothing but praise for the Finnish experience.

"To play in the European leagues, it's less wear and tear, less games and the travel is great in Finland," Bishai said. "It's a personal choice."

Bishai is such a good spokesman that he helped Jokerit land another Canadian in Joey Tenute, a prolific minor-league scorer out of Hamilton, Ontario. Tenute was mulling an offer to play for Jokerit and jump to Europe after three years in the AHL when he ran into Bishai at a wedding.

"I knew of Mike, but I didn't know him," Tenute told "I was actually at a wedding during the summer and I ran into him and he approached me and said he had played in the league last year and had nothing but good things to say about his experience there."

Now both are playing for a Jokerit team that will be a focus of North American fans for a few days this month when the Penguins arrive. Bishai, a mid-level scorer during his North American minor-league days, is eager for the opportunity to again make a name for himself in those North American circles.

"Everyone is excited to step on the ice with those guys," Bishai said of the Penguins. "I think it's going to be great exposure for this team. It gives the players an opportunity to see how the NHL game is played and how they stack up to that game." 

Bishai has already had that chance with the Oilers just three short years ago. Would he welcome another long-term opportunity in North America if it came along?

Of course he would.

But those thoughts no longer consume him.

"I don't really plan on the future," Bishai said. "I take it one day at a time and choose what I am going to do then. If I had a good opportunity to come back to North America, I'd obviously think about it."

And if not, he still has the memories of his time with the Oilers on which to fall back and push him forward to his next hockey adventure.


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