by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
ROCHESTER, N.Y. St. Louis is home to the world-renowned Gateway Arch, a 630-foot high structure that dominates the skyline of the city often nicknamed "The Gateway to the West."
It's also the home of Maine star goaltender, sophomore Ben Bishop. And after backstopping his Black Bears through the East Regional, he not only gets to go to the Frozen Four — he gets to go home.
Certainly, the prospect of playing in his hometown for the national championship — a year after watching many Wisconsin players do the same — has been a motivating factor all year.
"It's been in my mind all summer, all school year, and all weekend for sure," said an elated Bishop, who hasn't played in St. Louis since leaving for junior hockey before his senior year of high school. "Only four teams get to go out of all of college hockey. The fact that it's in St. Louis makes it even more special."
This weekend, Bishop proved once again that he's pretty special to his team as well. For starters, he's a reminder that the Gateway Arch isn't the only St. Louis product that's noticeably imposing. Bishop stands at 6-foot-7 and is the tallest player in college hockey, making it extremely tough for opposing players to find the net that stands behind him.
Friday and Saturday, that task proved particularly difficult, as first-round opponent St. Cloud and second-round opponent Massachusetts managed only one goal apiece, with Bishop making 68 saves out of a possible 70.
But as tall as Bishop stands in net, it seemed like a tall task only two weeks ago for Maine to even advance to the NCAA tournament, yet alone the Frozen Four. The Black Bears lost four consecutive games to UMass that put them on the bubble for the NCAAs.
And it didn't help that Bishop, who had previously made 44 straight starts, had to sit out those games with a groin injury.
Said Bishop, "I was back in Orono rehabbing, so I had to listen to it on the radio. That made it even tougher."
Without even being able to help his team on the ice, the season-long dream of playing for a national title in his home town seemed to be fading fast.
"Watching our chances slip away the last four games of the year [was rough]," said Bishop. "But then we got some help with Miami losing and Denver losing, and we still had a chance. The fact that we had a second life made everybody more relaxed.
"You could tell when we went out there tonight that everyone was just having fun."
Bishop, for one, seemed to be enjoying himself, especially since he was seeing his first in-game action in almost a month. But as fun as playing in goal might be, Bishop has a unique perspective on the position.
His first few years playing hockey, he was a forward.
"I played forward in roller hockey my freshman year of high school too," said Bishop, who was named to the All-Regional team for his efforts this weekend. "I like playing forward. I'd love to go out and play forward today. But because of that, I really have a sense of what they're going to do. I also learned to play the puck a little bit."
Now, years after first picking up a hockey stick in St. Louis, "Big Ben" — as Black Bears fans will chant, channeling a different well-known landmark in a far different city — returns home to try and win a championship in a city that saw a World Series title from the Cardinals last year and a Super Bowl championship a few years ago for the Rams.
And just how many friends and family will be there to cheer him on?
Said Bishop, laughing, "There are going to be so many. I'm going to have to turn off my cell phone for the next two weeks."
"They've done a lot of work down there in St. Louis to make this a special event," continued the netminder. "Now that we get to go down there and experience it makes it special."
But will their special trip include any sightseeing — perhaps a visit to the Arch — while they're there? Probably not.
"We're not just going there for the scenery," said Bishop. "We're going there to try and win the national championship."
And in two weeks, in an effort to attain that goal for himself and his team, in front of hordes of friends and family, Bishop will look to stand taller than ever before.