The Belfast Giants today added the last piece to their 2018-19 Pre-Season recruitment puzzle with the addition of Alaska Native, Hunter Bishop.
The 6’00” 185 lb versatile forward inks for your Giants after a four year stint on mainland Europe, his time split between Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia, a CHL stint with the Krefeld Pinguines of the DEL and latterly the last three seasons with HC Innsbruck, the Austrian Capital club, smashing 63 goals along with 53 helpers in just 151 games wearing the red & black.
The second member of this years roster to hail from the United States, hockey was always just a way of life. He first steps in the game were with the Arctic Lions, a AAA PeeWee team where even as a guy who had just graduated into his teens, he showed the leadership qualities that would guide his whole career, he would Captain his team, and through midget and bantam would garner the respect of his Coaches and team mates by carrying a letter on his chest.
Bishop then started his hockey education under coach Erik Drygas at the local West Valley High.
He didn’t remain with the Wolfpack for long however, always keen to progress, Hunter, like so many hockey stories, was supported by parents Bill & Rita, they built a rink in the back yard, dasher boards, floodlights, sound system , the heap, it was hardly surprising that he was a young man on a mission.
“We definitely had the best outdoor rink in my town, put it this way, I’ve never seen a better one.”
It was there that Bishop would spend countless hours working on his shot and playing his sister, Teal (unbelievable Giants fans eh??).
“All the way up until the year I left, we’d both be out there before school, and any chance it was above minus 20′ we would always play one-on-one. She was a defenseman and I was a forward.”
His next move was , whilst the shortest in terms of distance, perhaps one of the biggest in his whole career. Local coach Rob Proffitt took him to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, the youngster gaining such a positive reputation that he saw himself selected for the 2004 Junior World Cup that would take him to Slovakia in the Red, White & Blue of the USA. The young goal getter would take home a first star of the game award in one of the games, an accolade to forever etch on the CV.
Upon his return the ‘Dogs, the coaching team of Proffitt & Roger McKinnon broke the news that they had worked the phones and got him a tryout in the main “48”, landing a spot in Iowa, with the United States Hockey Leagues Cedar Rapids RoughRiders.
It was during his time in “The City of Five Seasons” that the fresh faced 16 year old, playing alongside now Detroit Red Wing Justin Abdelkader, kept working hard and stayed true to his aspirations of playing NCAA College Hockey. A truly remarkable season saw the RoughRiders become the first team to score the Triple Crown of Clarke Cup, Anderson Cup & Corridor Cup.
That dream was to become a step closer when at the end of the playoffs in the US he once again packed his hockey kit into his bag and headed for pastures new, his first Canadian team, the Vernon Vipers, based in British Columbia.
Hunter quickly established himself as a fans favourite with the organisation, leading the team in goals, his incredible skating speed and confidence to shoot the puck marking him down as the most dangerous guy in the whole league when bearing down on a tendie.
It was absolutely no surprise to anyone when the big schools came knocking, albeit a year earlier than planned, UND, a storied College came with the scholarship & once again it was time to hit the road. Unfortunately for Bishop, who just wanted to play, the ice time for a guy who was still growing and in a year early just wasn’t there, so he made the tough decision to hand back the deal and head back to BC.
His next season and a half (he returned midway through the 06-07 season) were epic in terms of production. 89 goals while playing the game the right way in terms of sportsmanship saw him pick up many personal accolades, MVP both years for the club and indeed the league MVP in his final season in BC, Captaining the All-Star and winning the fastest skater at the skills competition.
Unbelievably after his last action for the Vipers ended with game 7 defeat Bishop spent two weeks in the dentist chair, he finished the season 4 and a half teeth lighter, perhaps even more painfully he began the next season $5,000 lighter after he received the reconstruction bills!
Very much on the Red Wings radar Hunter decided to jump back into the NCAA programme and although he had always harboured ambitions to play for UAF he ended up making the move, alongside sister Teal (still amazing eh?) to Ohio State. Teal was patrolling the blue line for the women’s team.
Brother & sister reunited and reminiscing of stories on the backyard rink.
“He’d come down and try and do a sweet move and I’d just take the body, he couldn’t get around me, he’d get frustrated and dump me into the snow bank. For a while I had my glory” laughed Teal, a great player in her own right, Captain of the boys team in Junior High.
Hunter was tasked with finding the twine, and he did just that with 29 goals before once again leaving University early, this time though it wasn’t due to a lack of ice time, The Habs had come calling, and you don’t turn down the Habs!
He was inked to a two year deal and was left with a few hours to clean his apartment and get a flight, assigned to the Bulldogs, first game would be in Manitoba the following Tuesday night.
He finished the regular season well but sadly he saw very limited ice time through 12 playoff games. A training camp injury saw the next season start with Wheeling in the Coast and after a nine game conditioning stint he went back up to the Bulldogs where had 4 goals and 4 assists, another season ravaged by the concussion he took with an incredibly bad hit to the head.
The following season was one of borderline tragedy. Hunter has excelled through the Habs camp, the whiff of an NHL career getting agonising close, the most successful center man in terms of face off stats, he suited up for the Canadiens versus the Sabres but a second period injury put paid to that dream and Bishop would not return that season. Testament however to the man is that he made over 50 appearances on community outreach schemes and ended up with the North American Van Lines Man of The Year Award.
The next season, his Habs deal having expired, now a free agent, Hunter called up old friend, former Ohio State coach, J.B. Bitner, now with the South Carolina Stingrays to ask for an opportunity and again Bishop grabbed it with both hands. He played every game for the club that season except when answering three separate AHL call ups, Lake Erie, Rochester & Manchester the clubs and yet still finished as top scorer for the ‘Rays.
Though he got off to a slow start, he hadn’t played a ton of hockey over two seasons, it was being thrust together with Tyler McNeely (who has gone onto a stellar DEL2 career) that was the catalyst for change.
“You find a handful of guys in your lifetime that from day one everything seems to fit, we hit it off right away, we’ve become great friends off the ice and he’s just made it such a fun place to play” enthused a buoyant Bishop.
The final call up of the season stuck however and turned into a second season in Manchester where just like his days in Vernon the fans lapped up his hard nosed, lightning fast style of play, Bishop receiving the Union Leader Fan Favourite Award.
“I’m honored. This is a hockey city and they know the sport so if they picked me as the fan favorite I’m pretty happy to hear that,” Bishop said. “I’ve prided myself on being a guy that does things the right way and never taking a shift off and trying to give my best effort every night. I’m honored that the fans noticed and it’s something I hope to continue throughout my career. If you look at my stat line, I’m not a top points guy. I might not always be on the scoresheet but hopefully fans can notice the other things I do on the ice and I guess they did,” Bishop said. “It definitely feels good. It’s nice to have the coaches approval and the teammates approval and for them to acknowledge how you play, but to have the fans who come in and spend their hard-working dollars to watch you play, if they respect my game that means a lot.”
The Alaskan Assassin as he has been moniker over his playin days, despite now calling South Carolina “home”, always hankered after a European career, a chance to travel, the appetite whetted by the ’04 Worlds, was wooed across the big pond where he continues to write a quite magnificent hockey story.
Now complete with a young family he will very soon be climbing on board that plane and arriving in East Belfast to pull on a new sweater, that of your team, the home team, your Belfast Giants.