Bishai living the dream

By Guy Flaming

Hometown Boy Lives The Dream

At some point in their lives the dreams
of most Canadian boys revolve around one day becoming a NHL star and donning
the sweater of their hometown team. 


Mike Bishai, Edmonton’s newest Oiler, has just achieved that dream.


It was a hectic first week in the NHL for
Bishai and it began in Toronto shortly after 5 AM last Wednesday when his
team’s bus finally got the Roadrunners back home from a game the night before
in Cleveland.  Bishai had planned on
sleeping away the team’s day off but was awoken by a phone call around
noon.  He didn’t really mind for long.


“I had about four hours of sleep, got up
and got the day going,” smiled Bishai as he recounted his tale.  “Our flight was delayed about five hours so
we didn’t get in to Edmonton until about 2 AM (Thursday).”


Bishai and Jani Rita, also
recalled by Edmonton at the same time, both took part in the morning skate
prior to that evening’s tilt against the Chicago Blackhawks.  Completing the whirlwind 36 hours, Bishai
would dress and play in his first NHL game that same night in front of a
hometown crowd.


“Obviously the nerves are there coming
into (my) hometown and playing for the hometown team,” Bishai understated
before the game.  “It’s been a dream
ever since I was a kid so I’m going to take that as a positive and go out and
do my best.”


It was a very solid debut for Bishai who
played a total of 9:37 against Chicago and looked anything but out of place in
the process.  In fact, the hard working
center had one goal waved off and nearly scored on two other offensive


“The one that I dug out ended up going in
but the whistle blew (first),” sighed Bishai. 
“The ref was on the other side of the net and he couldn’t see that it
was loose.  Things like that happen and
you have to rebound off that and come back.”


The 5’11”, 185-pound pivot admits his
timing may have been a bit off and not just due to the fact that it was his
first big league game.  Bishai had just
recently come back from a heel bone injury, with soreness that extended into
the ligaments around his ankle, sidelining him for the better part of a month.


It was a small surprise to many that
Bishai was recalled by Edmonton, partially because of the injury but mostly
because of a lack of familiarity with the player himself.  Even the coach was admittedly unaware of
what he had been given by the farm club but said he was impressed by what he’d
seen on the ice first hand.


“You’re always a little conservative
doling out the ice time in a big game situation on a player that you have
virtually no familiarity with but he showed some really good savvy around the
net,” said Craig MacTavish after the Chicago game.  “He went to the net hard and showed some good hockey sense which
is impressive for a guy playing in his first game.”


In many ways Bishai really did come out
of nowhere and it’s a combination of hard work and good fortune, which cleared
the way for his arrival.  When news of
Mike York’s broken finger reached the Roadrunners, all of the farmhands were
wondering how things would play out. 


Peter Sarno would likely have been the chosen one, but he had recently
sustained a concussion when a puck hit him squarely on the jaw.  J.J. Hunter is sidelined with a knee
injury and Dan Baum has mild whiplash as well so the list of remaining
centers to choose from in Toronto was a short one.  Joe Cullen, a rookie fresh out of college, is clearly not
yet ready to make another jump so Chad Hinz and Mike Bishai were the
only two viable options and the latter player was given the call.


Not only did Bishai play in the Oilers
game against Chicago but he also followed it up with appearances against Los
Angeles on Saturday and again on Monday night versus the Mighty Ducks of


The heartbreaking last minute loss to the
Kings created a mausoleum-like atmosphere in the Oiler dressing room.  The playoff race implications of the loss
far overshadowed the fact that Bishai had managed to earn his first NHL point
on what was at the time, a crucial goal by Georges Laraque. 


“Edmonton has really great fans, some of
the best in the league, and I’ve known that since I grew up here,” whispered
Bishai after the game that night trying to hide the elation he felt for his own
personal achievement.  “That was really
a turning point and the crowd got us going and we got the lead but things
didn’t work out for us tonight.”


Two nights later it was a much more
jubilant dressing room after an incredibly important 2-1 overtime victory over
Anaheim.  In the game, Bishai again
played a large role and saw ice time in the late stages of the tied contest, a
testament of his performance from the coach.


“I’ve been very impressed by the way he’s
played,” MacTavish complimented after the newcomer’s third game.  “I want to see more of him before give him a
lot more ice time but in the way he’s played, he’s more deserving of more ice
time than what he’s got in the last little while.”


“He goes to the net well and puts himself
into position to score goals and that stands out on our team,” continued the
coach.  “He gets his stick on pucks in
front and he reads rebounds well. You never know as a player, how you’re going
to fit in at this level and when you come out and have the type of success that
he’s had in a limited role it can’t help but enhance your confidence in your
ability to compete.” 


He hasn’t scored yet but Bishai has
certainly had his chances.


“The first couple of games you just try
and shoot it and get as many pucks on net as you can without really looking,”
said the rookie.  “As time goes on I’ll
get more comfortable and more patient out there and those bounces will go in
for me.”


One aspect of the Monday night game that was
comfortable for Bishai was playing between Jason Chimera and Georges Laraque.


“Me and Chimmer used to play together
when we were kids so we kind of know each other’s style and we had some
chemistry out there,” said Bishai. 
“They just weren’t going in for us today but we’ll come back next time
and keep going.”


Bishai grew up in Edmonton and then
played BCHL junior in South Surrey B.C. before heading to Western Michigan
University for four years.  Bishai was
never drafted, partially due to a medical condition that he believes was
needlessly overexaggerated.


“It was nothing serious, just an acid
reflux problem,” revealed Bishai about the very minor situation that was
treated with medication.  “Everybody
kind of blew it out of proportion because I had to come home and get it checked
out by doctors.  My draft year was my
freshman year and I wasn’t playing much, none of the freshmen were, so I guess
the draft kind of went out the window but a lot of the teams sign free agents
out of college so that was my goal.”


The Oilers took the bait and signed
Bishai in May of 2002, just in time for the college grad to play in three games
with the Hamilton Bulldogs, the AHL affiliate back then.  Last year was the first full professional
season for Bishai and he split time with the Bulldogs and their ECHL farm club
in Columbus.


GM Kevin Lowe credits Bishai with hard
work over the summer, in training camp and in the minors for earning the recent
call up to the NHL.


“He was noticeable in camp as one of
those guys that kind of catches your eye and makes plays,” Lowe said on Monday
night.  “I was at both of Toronto’s
first two home games and he played unbelievable!  He was one of the best players on the ice. You expect that of
guys ready to make the next level but not from, essentially, a first year guy.”


“One detriment to the split affiliation
last year was that there were guys like Jani Rita, Mike Bishai, Nate
DiCasmirro, and even (Conklin) for that matter, their progress or development
was stunted a bit because they didn’t get as much ice time,” continued
Lowe.  “If we had our own team last year
(Bishai) probably doesn’t go down to the ECHL.”


The fact that Bishai has come in under
the radar is reminiscent of the success Fernando Pisani had last year as a
midseason injury reliever.


“It speaks to the format of our training
camp and the way it exists,” concluded Lowe. 
“Having the rookies and veterans together we’re able to assess them
against veterans and not unlike Pisani some years ago, he didn’t look out of
place and it looked like he could make some plays, likewise with Bishai at this
year’s camp.”


How long Bishai sticks with the Oilers is
anyone’s guess at this point.  If he
continues to play the way he has thus far in the short time since his arrival,
there will be no reason to return him to Toronto until Mike York is ready to
play again. 


In the meantime Bishai is satisfied to be
able to do what most Canadian boys yearn to do, play in the NHL for their
hometown team.  In Edmonton over recent
months, that’s not something that Oiler fans have heard from all of their
homegrown heroes.


“It’s a dream come true playing for the
Edmonton Oilers,” was how Bishai summed up his amazing week.  “I’m a hometown kid and I’ve watched them
all my life.  I’ve enjoyed it and
hopefully there’s much more to come.”