My daughter graduated from high school this year and one of the neat things they did was have seniors visit their old elementary school one morning.
About 40 kids descended upon her school and mingled with teachers and administrators while wide-eyed K-6 graders looked on. It was a great reminder of how far they have come and who helped get them get there.
Ben Bishop's year has kind of been like that.
[HIS TIME TO SHINE?: Stars' Bishop named finalist for Vezina Trophy]
The Stars goalie, who is one of three finalists for the Vezina Trophy that will be handed out at the 2019 NHL Awards ceremony tonight in Las Vegas, was able to return to his hometown of St. Louis to play in a playoff series that was both emotional and educational. After the Stars lost in double overtime in Game 7, Bishop then watched the Blues go on to win the Stanley Cup and begin a summer-long celebration in the city that he and his family calls home.
"It's been interesting, for sure," Bishop said. "It was obviously hard to lose that series, and I'm still not over that. But then to see your family and friends be able to get into this so much. … That's been something that they've been waiting to do for a long time now."
Bishop has been waiting a long time, too, and he's hoping this year has put him in a perfect place. And like a student looking back on his schooling experience, the 32-year-old goalie knows that all of the lessons have made a difference.
"I've definitely paid my dues, so I think that's made a difference for me," Bishop said. "All of time in the minors, getting traded, having to fight to become a No. 1 goalie, it all adds up."
Bishop was drafted by his hometown team out of the University of Maine and spent four seasons with the Blues organization, most of it in Peoria. He then was traded to the Ottawa Senators and played 23 NHL games there. Then, he was traded to Tampa Bay at the trade deadline in 2013, and finally got the chance to be a team's No. 1 goalie.
Video: Bishop shops for red-carpet look ahead of NHL Awards
Bishop went 37-14-7 with the Lightning in 2013-14 and was third in the Vezina Trophy voting that season. Bishop hurt his leg late in the season and did not play in the playoffs, but the next season took the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost in six games.
Bishop also battled injuries that season and the next and eventually the Lightning had to make a decision on letting Bishop go and trusting youngster Andrei Vasilevskiy. They traded Bishop to Los Angeles, where he struggled in seven games before the end of the season.
Still, he said all of the ups and downs have helped make him who he is today.
"I look at my time in LA as a good thing," he said. "I got to work with players who have won two Stanley Cups -- with Jonathan Quick, with some great coaches. I think you have to look at everything as a chance to improve, a chance to learn, and that's what that was."
Before he could become an unrestricted free agent, the Stars worked out a trade for Bishop's rights and signed him to a six-year contract extension. He went 26-17-5 last season with a 2.49 goals against average and .916 save percentage. He then improved on that this season with a 27-15-2 record, a 1.98 GAA and a .934 save percentage. Bishop led the NHL in save percentage and was second in GAA.
That was the reason for the Vezina buzz.
"He's a great competitor and a great goaltender," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said. "He's up for the Vezina for a reason."
Added Stars goalie coach Jeff Reese: "He's handled everything very well. … As far as the pressure goes, he has a lot of experience with that. He's been in the finals, he's played a lot of playoff games, and he's got a calm demeanor about him.
Video: Bishop looks to win Vezina Trophy for first time
"He's in a good place."
And it could get even better.
Bishop has four years left on his contract and feels at home in Dallas. He attended Frisco High School while playing with the Texas Tornado, and that was a big reason he agreed to come to the Stars. Now, with his young son, Ben, in tow, he said his family will spend most of its time in North Texas, even during the hot summer.
"We have the house there and that makes things easier. Plus, it's good to be able to go work out whenever I want," Bishop said. "That's pretty much home base now."
Still, he spent a lot of time in St. Louis and said that has been motivational.
"You definitely want that feeling," Bishop said of the celebrations. "Yeah, motivational is a good word for it."
That said, he doesn't completely agree with the comparison to a graduating senior when looking back at his growth curve as an athlete.
"I hope I'm not a senior. I hope I'm a freshman just getting started," he said. "I feel good with what we've done as a team and I feel good with where we're going. I'm excited."
2019 NHL Awards presented by Bridgestone
Where: Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas
When: Tonight, 7 p.m. CT
TV: NBCSN and SportsNet (Canada)
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.