TAMPA, Fla. — The 2012-2013 season was a memorable one for former University of Maine goaltender Ben Bishop.
The 6-foot-7 Bishop got traded from Ottawa to Tampa Bay, played for the United States in the World Championships in Sweden and Finland, and also signed a two-year contract extension with the Lightning worth $4.6 million.
Bishop and the Lightning open the season Thursday night in the TD Bank Garden against the Boston Bruins.
Bishop is one of five former Black Bears playing their first NHL games of the season this week.
Joining Bishop on NHL rosters are his Lightning teammate, right wing Teddy Purcell (48 games last season, 11 goals, 25 assists, 36 points), Buffalo Sabres right wing Brian Flynn (26, 6-5-11), Anaheim Ducks left winger Dustin Penner (33, 2-12-14 with Los Angeles) and Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard (42, 21-13-7, 2.13 goals-against average, .923 save percentage).
Left wing Gustav Nyquist, who appeared in all 14 Stanley Cup playoff games for the Red Wings last season, was sent down to Grand Rapids of the AHL due to salary-cap constraints. Defenseman Mike Lundin has left the Ottawa Senators to play for Astana Barys in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.
Nyquist was the only forward who was exempt from waivers. If he hadn’t been, he could have been claimed by another team.
In addition, former Maine defenseman Dave Nonis is the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs and former Maine assistant coach and interim head coach Greg Cronin is an assistant coach with the Leafs. Former Maine goalie Garth Snow is the GM of the New York Islanders and has several ex-Black Bears working for him including head coach Jack Capuano, goalie coach Mike Dunham, player development office staffer Bob Corkum and Bridgeport (AHL) head coach Scott Pellerin. John Tortorella is the head coach of the Vancouver Canucks after being fired by the New York Rangers.
Bishop is looking forward to the season.
He was 2-0 with a 2.61 GAA and a .903 save percentage during the preseason.
“I feel real good,” said Bishop earlier this week. “I had a good preseason. Now it’s a matter of putting it all together in the regular season.
“I think we have a good team. We’ve been working hard on the defensive side of the game. We can score goals. If we play well defensively, we can definitely have a great year,” said the 26-year-old Bishop.
He began last season with the AHL’s Binghamton Senators, but when Craig Anderson suffered an ankle injury, he was called up to Ottawa and was 8-5 with a 2.45 GAA and a .922 save percentage. When Anderson returned, Bishop was traded to Tampa Bay for left wing Cory Conacher and he finished the season with a 3-4-1 record, a 2.99 GAA and a .917 save percentage for the Lightning.
He was 3-2 with a 2.83 GAA in the World Championships before John Gibson won the starting job late in the tournament. The USA captured the bronze medal.
“I was able to play in multiple games this time around and is was a real neat experience. It’s something I’ll always remember,” said Bishop, who played three seasons at Maine before signing with the St. Louis Blues, his hometown team that drafted him in the third round in 2005.
He said he has worked on every aspect of his game in preparation for the season.
“My footwork can always get better. And I love playing the puck so I’ve worked on that side of it, too,” said Bishop. “It’s mostly about mechanics. It’s a long season and you’ve got to be sharp every single night. You can’t get sloppy when you get third.”
Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman told NHL.com that he believes Bishop will “solidify our goaltending” and that he and Lindback have a “tremendous upside.”
Lightning coach Jon Cooper will begin his first full season after taking over for Guy Boucher, who was fired. Cooper replaced him on March 25.
“He’s awesome. He’s a great guy. I love playing for him,” said Bishop. “He’s a winner. He’s won everywhere he’s been.”
Bishop said he enjoys having former Black Bears teammate Purcell on his team.
“He’s the same old Teddy. He’s a lot of fun. He’s a funny guy who has unbelievable skills. He can stickhandle as well as anybody in the league,” said Bishop.
Bishop is vying for the starting job with Anders Lindback.
Last year marked the first time Bishop saw steady playing time in the NHL.
“It’s something I’ve worked for since I was a little kid. Once you get there, it’s hard to stick there and even harder to be a starter. There’s only 30 [starting goalies] in the NHL. I had a good run with Ottawa when Craig Anderson was hurt and I played some big games for Tampa in the last month of the season. I’ve got to keep working hard and when I get my chance to play, I’ve got to run with it,” said Bishop.
After the game against Stanley Cup finalist Boston, the Lightning travel to play Stanley Cup winner Chicago on Saturday night.
“We’ll have a good measuring stick after those two games,” said Bishop.