by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com.
At 6-foot-7, Ben Bishop stands out whenever he’s on the ice. That’s especially true when he’s barreling down it in a foul mood.
And there he was in his second pro game, March 21 vs. Lake Erie last season, doing precisely that. A little tiff had broken out between the Lake Erie Monsters and the Peoria Rivermen, and Lake Erie goalie Jason Bacashihua had decided to wander from his crease to check out some of the action.
Now, fresh out of the University of Maine, Bishop, the Peoria rookie goalie was a little light on experience in the line brawl department. But his teammates on the ice needed help, and those on the bench were watching to see what the newcomer was made of. So, Bishop did his best locomotive act toward the action to tie up Bacashihua.
"I wasn’t worried about it. It was part of hockey. It was a lot of fun," Bishop said. "The guys loved it. They were all for it. They thought it was great."
OK, point proven. With his size and moxie, Bishop is tough enough. But the Rivermen have other players who can take care of the muscle department. They need Bishop to win showdowns with the puck.
Bishop, a third-round pick by the Blues in 2005, will be swallowing up both the net and tons of minutes for the Rivermen this season. He looks to be on even footing with returner Marek Schwarz in a goalie tandem that must work to address one of the biggest factors that put Peoria on the sideline for the postseason last year.
"I think it’s great. Me and Marek are good friends," Bishop said. "Those last five games I played in (at the end of last year), I got a feel for what the league was like. Going into this year, it won’t be a complete surprise."
Bishop, 21, finds himself in the unique position of being caught between home and almost homeless. He grew up about 2½ hours from Peoria in the town of Des Peres, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis.
It was there that he grew up a huge fan of the Blues, imagining himself as Curtis Joseph in driveway games. He first showed his ease between the pipes early, way back around kindergarten. Bishop had originally been a forward, and a high-scoring one at that, but then a little competition at practice changed the course of his future.
"Everybody took a turn being goalie," Bishop recalled. "I took my turn. I was pretty good at it, liked it. My dad said I liked being on the ice the whole time."
While it was easy to settle in at goal, the same could hardly be said about early life in Peoria. The local branch of Caterpillar recently hired a bunch of new employees, and while that is great for the economy it’s made the rental market for Rivermen a real bear.
The situation looked so bleak that Peoria coach Davis Payne joked he might have had to come up with some emergency plans.
"I’d be the only coach with his goalies in the basement," he said.
"We got lucky to find (housing)," Bishop said. "We had to get some beds, some furniture. We looked pretty hard for a week. We were looking at apartments, townhouses."
Bishop comes to the Rivermen prepared for the potentially unpredictable season of a rookie goalie. He left school after an overall solid junior season, one in which he compiled a 2.43 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.
But it wasn’t a vintage Maine team, with injuries dragging it down. Bishop’s record took a hit, bottoming out at 13-18-3 by the end of the season.
"It was a good learning experience," Bishop said. "You have to learn how to take those losses, how to work the downs. When you are winning, things seem to come easy."
Bishop’s size, while an obvious plus in some areas, also forces him to be diligent in his craft. When they aren’t technically precise, big goalies create big holes. Bishop’s athletic ability — he’s a former baseball, football and basketball player — gives him the all-round reflexes to scramble and cover mistakes.
"You look at him, he moves like a guy who isn’t 6-foot-7," Payne said. "He moves the puck extremely well. He skates well. There’s some intelligence there. He’s got a very good understanding of technical aspects of the game."
Bishop said he often gets the standard big-man’s question of whether he excels in another athletic endeavor.
"I always get the question, ‘Do you play basketball?"’ he said. "Sometimes I throw in a curveball, say I play basketball. But usually I just say I play hockey. I’d definitely say it (his height) is an advantage. I’ve never had to work on anything (just) because I was tall. It’s never been a disadvantage."
And at the odd time that a show of force is needed, it certainly comes in handy. If this whole goalie thing doesn’t work out, might Bishop consider a career switch to an agitator?
Nah. He’d go back to the roots of what drew him to the sport in the first place.
"I’d say I’d be a goal scorer if I wasn’t a goalie," he said.