Sunday, March 21, 2010

Habs Track Down Hunter:

This is in todays Morning Star Newspaper:

Habs track down Hunter

By Kevin Mitchell - Vernon Morning Star

Published: March 21, 2010

Hunter Bishop was doing laundry, packing and making plans to vacate his apartment in Columbus, Ohio Friday.

The day after the Montreal Canadiens officially announced they had signed the Ohio State Buckeye star to a two-year contract was somewhat harried.

“I don’t even know if I realize what has really happened yet,” said Bishop, in a phone interview. “They want me in Hamilton (AHL Bulldogs) at 11 on Monday and then we catch a 4 p.m. flight to start a road trip against Manitoba (Tuesday).”

Hamilton plays twice next weekend in Abbotsford versus the Heat. Bishop is looking to upgrade his dinner menu in the American League.

“I’m not going to be a broke college student like I’ve been the last two years,” he laughed. “When it was either chicken breast or steak, it was always chicken breast because it was cheaper. Things will be different now. ”

One of the most dazzling forwards in Vernon hockey history, Bishop and his agent Steve Bartlett started negotiating Monday.

“Everything was finalized Wednesday around one and then they announced it Thursday. In Montreal, I couldn’t imagine playing for a more respected organization. Hockey is life there. It’s die-hard. I was at their development camp last summer, so I know five or six guys on their AHL team and obviously I know Scott Gomez from Alaska. I’ve skated with him in the summer and I remember reading an article where he called Montreal the mecca of hockey, and that’s so true.”

The Fairbanks native, nicknamed the Alaskan Assassin while in Vernon, wrote on Facebook: “Today is the greatest day of my life. One step closer to a 22-year dream. Thanks to everyone who helped me get here!”

Habs’ GM Pierre Gauthier announced he had signed the free agent, who recorded 15 goals and 27 points in his second season with the Buckeyes.

There was really never any doubt that some NHL team would lock up the 6-foot, 196-pound muscle-bound forward with roadrunner speed.

“That offer was there last year, but between the two of them (Bishop and his agent), he decided to go back for one more year (of school),” said Viper head coach Mark Ferner.

Bishop ranked fourth in scoring with the Buckeyes this season and was third last year with 14 goals and 31 points. He was injured for part of this season.

Bishop dazzled BCHL fans for two-and-a-half seasons. He made the mistake of signing with the NCAA North Dakota Fighting Sioux just before the 2006-07 season.

The Fighting Sioux were stacked with talent and he hardly saw the ice. He left after Christmas and then racked up a point a game with the Vipers. The year after, he amassed 57 goals and 97 points.

I used to see him in the gym after a Viper practice. He would be the only player there, and Fitness West owner Brian Doyon and I would marvel at how hard he worked out. Doyon said Bishop was in a league of his own when it came to junior A player fitness regimes. We both agreed he would sign an NHL deal one day.

“Yah, it (hard work) paid off. Like I said on the Book (Face), the NHL has always been my goal and I’m very excited to be one step closer.”

His teammates would razz him about flashing shirtless photos all over Facebook. He was chiselled and not afraid to show the world. He wanted a life in pro hockey and he wasn’t going to cheat himself at any angle.

He did special power skating drills with Bernie Pimm to pick up his wheels before going to North Dakota, and scored some beauties while motoring down the wing at Wesbild Centre.

“He’s such a resilient, dedicated, hard-working player, that once he got back in the groove of things... it doesn’t surprise me one bit that he signed a pro contract,” said Ferner. “I’m sure he’ll have a very good pro career.”

From 2005 to 2008, Bishop registered 93 goals and 177 points with the Vipers. He outpointed Zac Dalpe of the Penticton Vees by 34 points in his final BCHL year.

Dalpe, a Ohio State teammate, also left school early, and signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday.

“Everyone here knows how hard Bish works, what kind of person he is, and how he plays the game,” added Ferner. “If there’s one player that I’ve had the pleasure to work with, this is one that is very well deserved.”

Ferner, whose laid-back style behind the bench drove Bishop bonkers, added: “I’m not sure how Bish is gonna figure out that French language, he has trouble sometimes with the English one.”

Dalpe, 20, recently completed his sophomore season at Ohio State, where he led the Buckeyes in goals (21), points (45), and power play goals (eight), and ranked second in assists (24).

Ohio State also fired their head coach John Markell, who had been their 15 years. A below .500, eighth-place season in the CCHA and dwindling attendance cost Markell a new contract.

The Buckeyes averaged just 3,096 fans a game this year. Four seasons ago, they averaged 6,556.

The Buckeyes have a history of grooming hard-hat style players for the NHL. Ryan Kesler, R.J. Umberger and former Viper Rod Pelley (now with New Jersey Devils) all wore Buckeye red. Bishop and Dalpe are both from the same mold.

Added Ferner: “Now that school is done, we’ve counted seven or eight that have been signed out of college hockey. The NHL people are kind of identifying that it doesn’t matter where you start, it’s more where you’re at right now.”

Before our conversation ended, Bishop asked if he could pass on some thank yous. He listed his billets: Steve and Tina Cousins, Richard and Stephanie Hewson and Rick and Deb Harries, while also mentioning coaches Pimm, Mark Holick, Troy Mick, Ferner, Jason Williamson and Colin O’Hara.

“The Vernon Vipers did it for me,” he beamed.

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