Bishop Holds His Own
by Matthew Conyers/CHN Correspondent
BOSTON For the first time in over a month, Maine netminder Ben Bishop watched his opponents celebrate a victory in front of him.
They weren't just celebrating either; they were jumping with joy. And rightfully so. His opponent, the Boston College Eagles had just punched a ticket to the Hockey East Tournament final against Boston University with a 4-1 win and all put assured themselves a NCAA Tournament berth.
Bishop, on the other hand, had officially experienced his first heartbreaking postseason defeat.
"I thought we had a good choice to win it in the end," said Bishop, who despite the 4-1 score, let in two goals on Friday. The other two were empty netters.
"We just didn't have that luck that we usually have."
To be exact, it was Bishop's first loss since Feb. 4.
On Friday, in a game where the Black Bears dictated the flow for a large portion of the decision, the 6-foot-7 freshman keeper hauled in 25 saves and nearly matched highly-touted sophomore goaltender Cory Schneider.
With Schneider holding center court at the TD BankNorth Garden, making steady save after save, Bishop decided to make his own presence felt.
"I thought Bishop played great," said Schneider. "It's tough playing in this environment as a freshman, but he held his team in the game late. He helped me elevate my game and made me want to compete hared and answer him at the other end."
Relaxing his gigantic frame, Gentle Ben silenced the Chestnut Hill faithful with his own flair for the dramatics. Despite surrendering a disappointing shorthanded goal at 6:27 of the second and an opportunistic shot by the powerful Brian Boyle, Bishop allowed his Black Bears a chance to avenge a 2005 semifinal loss to the Eagles. However, by the time the final siren had sounded, Bishop, the property of his hometown St. Louis Blues, was on the losing side of another gut wrenching Black Bear postseason defeat.
But for the always optimistic Bishop there is a sliver lining in his first loss of the season to Boston College.
"I think this might help us in the long run with winning a national championship," said Bishop. "We just have to take this game and make it help us in the NCAA tournament."
Bishop had previously beaten the Eagles three games in a row to start off his collegiate career.
"BC played a great game; my hats off to them," said Bishop. "Schneider played tremendous."
Most of the time, any goalie, whether it be a senior or a freshman stopper, would be hard pressed to steal the limelight from Schneider. Not Bishop. Emulating Schneider's freshman performance from last season against the Black Bears, Bishop shook off the big game jitters early on.
"That really goes away in the first minute of the game," said Bishop discussing the thought of being nervous in front of the 16,909 person crowd. "Once the game starts you kind of just focusing in on the puck and not thinking about the crowd. I don't think that had anything to do with it."
According to Maine captain Greg Moore, this type of attitude has defined Bishop from the start.
"He played great. I don't think he looked nervous. He looked like his normal self," said Moore. "He is a great kid with a great attitude and a great goalie, with tremendous focus."
It doesn't hurt either that Bishop was facing a fiery competitor in Schneider, who has a 2.17 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage. Both statistics were good enough for first place in Hockey East and helped him finish second place in the Goalie of the Year race.
"It's always fun when both goalies are playing well; you can kind of feed off each other," said Bishop. "But you're just trying to play your own game. You don't really think about what saves he is making."
The biggest of those saves came at 16:26 and 3:13 of the second period. Although the game was deadlocked at the time, the first saw Bishop make an canyon stretching split across the crease to glove down a Stephen Gionta wrister. On the second, with Maine trailing by two and in desperate need of a pick-me-up, Bishop stacked the pads on the speedy Joe Rooney. After only a few dramatic saves, Bishop had ushered himself into the Maine big-game goalie family.
"I was just trying to keep our team in there," said Bishop. "We played a good game. We just couldn't get that goal."
That's not to say he isn't beyond making improvements. After the game, Bishop discussed improvements he felt were necessary for his game.
"I need to be a little more patient," said Bishop. "I think [Saturday] I was a little more antsy."
Now, though, Bishop and the Black Bears will have to await their fate. Despite a lofty record of 26-11-2, Maine could be in jeopardy of making the NCAA Tournament. In all likelihood, Maine has to pray for a North Dakota victory in the WCHA final tomorrow night if they want to sit comfortably come selection Sunday. Bishop, however, isn't worried.
"We still feel like we have a great chance to be in it," said Bishop. "Our team feels like we are one of the best teams in the country and we need to have that type of confidence going into NCAA tournament. We want to show the rest of the country what we can do."
Bishop isn't above making a plea to the committee either. When asked what he would say to the NCAA selection committee, the holders of Maine's postseason fate now, Bishop pointed to Maine's win total.
"Just look at our record, we are one of the best teams in the country," said Bishop. "If they can't see that, then they have problems."
One thing is for sure, no matter what happens to Maine, the nation can expect to hear Ben Bishop's name for quite some time.
"Ben has shown that he is going to be a great goaltender for years to come in this league," said Maine junior Josh Soares.