What a year it was for Mike Bishai. The likeable center just returned home to
Edmonton after an eventful season that saw him mostly playing in the AHL with
Toronto, but included a successful six-week stint in the big league. Bishai got to fulfill one of his lifelong
dreams by pulling on an Oiler jersey this past February, but don’t expect the
guy to be satisfied with being able to do it this year, he’s already
working towards 2004-05.
The Toronto Roadrunners reached the
playoffs in their inaugural year, an impressive accomplishment considering
Bishai was only one of a small number of players that were together the season
before in Hamilton. A lot of the
credit, according to Bishai, has to be given to the coaching staff led by Geoff
“Wardie’s a great coach,” described
Bishai who fully expects the bench boss to return for next season. “When we were struggling at the start of the
year he was very calm and told all of us not to panic. All the guys really like him and have a lot
of respect for him.”
Making the playoffs was exciting, but
losing out in the first round was extremely tough to take, especially
considering the Roadrunners won the first game of the best of three series
against Cleveland before dropping the next two games. All three games were played in Strongsville, Ohio because a
figure skating event and a concert by Prince prevented the series from being
played in Cleveland’s home arena. There
were fewer than 900 people in attendance for the opening game of the series.
“And that was capacity!” exclaimed Bishai
on the game.
On a personal level, the playoff loss was
even more devastating because according to Bishai,
Game 2, which went into overtime, could
have been ended on more then one occasion by Bishai himself.
“It was so frustrating, I just couldn’t
bury it and I had a few excellent chances,” the center said with a grimacing
smile. “Man, I even had basically an
empty net at one point in the overtime and I just couldn’t put it in.”
The Roadrunners lost to Cleveland, a team
they had a winning regular season record against, and they had to watch as the
Sharks then took on the Hamilton Bulldogs, Toronto’s top rivals who they were
really eager to play.
“We would have beaten them,” Bishai
stated poignantly. “I think (Hamilton)
only beat us once or something all year.”
But it was not to be and fortunately,
Bishai had other moments this year that he can look back on with great
satisfaction. He was recalled by the
Oilers on January 28th and saw his first NHL action the next night
against the Chicago Blackhawks in front of friends and family in Edmonton. After poking in a loose puck that crossed to
goal line a moment after the referee had blown the play dead, scoring luck
turned against him. He would not score
a single goal while in Edmonton or back in Toronto for the rest of the season.
“If only that first one would have gone
in!” Bishai cringed.
Several times the 5’11” 185 lb pivot came
close to lighting the lamp for the Oilers but he could not buy a goal. In a huge game against Dallas, Bishai slid a
puck through the goaltender only to see it coast through the crease and gently
careen off the goalpost. It’s probably
that near goal that haunts Bishai the most.
As to what his favorite memory of his
time in Edmonton is, it is a struggle to narrow it down.
“I wish I could say it was that
big goal I scored!” He says. “Really I
think I have to say the guys in the room.
Everyone welcomed me in right from the start and made me feel like I
belonged there. You hear about how
tight the room is and you expect that some guys don’t really get along
but everyone does, they’re all a great bunch of guys.”
He may not have a single stand out moment
but the general public certainly has one distinct memory and it is really
surprising to him how many people across the country bring up The Fight.
“Everywhere I go I get asked about it,”
commented Bishai with a bit of a sigh.
“How I ended up in Atlanta’s bench in the first place and stuff like
that. Last week I was driving here from
Michigan and I crossed the border somewhere in Saskatchewan and when I gave the
border guard my passport he says to me ‘Hey, aren’t you that guy who was in
Edmonton and got in that fight from the bench?’”
Certainly what Bishai did
accomplish in his sojourn through Oilerville was to greatly increase his status
in the organization. Few who looked at
the depth chart in September would have expected to see the local boy play in
Edmonton at all this year but after he had, even fewer could say he looked out
of place. The hard working, quick
skating and deceptively talented center impressed fans and more importantly,
“I don’t want to say he came out of
nowhere,” Kevin Lowe told Hockey’s Future in March. “But our projections on him were for a couple of years from now,
but man he hasn’t shown us one thing that says he can’t play here.”
Bishai did play in Edmonton until March 7
when he was sent back down to the AHL after the Oilers acquired Petr
Nedved. It didn’t come as a shock when
he was told about the reassignment.
“There was still some time before the
deadline so you think maybe something else will happen, but I knew when they
got Petr that it was probably coming,” admitted Bishai.
So after 39 days in the NHL, Bishai
returned to the Roadrunners for their playoff push but the taste for the big
league was never far from his thoughts.
In Toronto, Bishai had the opportunity to
play with several key Oiler prospects and had plenty of good things too say
“I played on a line with Brad
Winchester and I really think he’s going to be a good player,” began Bishai
about the rookie who struggled in the first half of the schedule. “I told him that if I had his size
I’d just barrel straight to the net and shrug guys off of me along the
way! Every time I had the puck I just
told him to head to the net and that’s where he was at his best.”
Mike Morrison is another guy who, like Bishai, exceeded expectations this
year. He was not supposed to be a part
of the Roadrunners much at all but by the end of the season he was
statistically the best keeper in Toronto.
“He’s a very good confidence goalie,”
Bishai explained. “When he’s on his
game and feeling good he can win games for us almost by himself.”
According to Bishai, his good friend Jani
Rita is still a player who can make an impact in the NHL and another
Roadrunner he feels Oiler fans should keep an eye on is pesky forward Dan
“He’s the kind of guy you definitely want
on your team, he’s like Tyson Nash,” described Bishai.
“He’s willing to do anything and he has
more talent then he gets credit for.”
Bishai’s closest friends on the team were
also his roommates at home, Nate DiCasmirro and Bobby Allen. The three of them shared an apartment this
past year in Toronto and living together produced almost as many noteworthy
events as playing together. One such
incident involved a malfunctioning dishwasher, some hardwood floor and the laws
“I remember that night,” Bishai laughs as
he recalls the story. “(DiCasmirro) was
laying in bed and he had put stuff in the dishwasher and I was like ‘DiCaz,
don’t forget to turn it off.’ And he said ‘yeah’ but I knew he
wouldn’t. So the next day we wake up
and the whole place is flooded.
We live in an apartment where our kitchen and our living room are attached
so we come walking in the morning and our feet are like ‘squish squish’ and
water is coming up through the cracks of the hardwood. And DiCaz is like ‘we’re not going to have
to pay for it’ and I was like ‘what’s this we crap? I’m not paying for anything!’”
The trio have all since left Toronto and
are not expecting to collect on their damage deposit.
“I’m just waiting for a call from the
landlord!” joked Bishai.
Bishai is back in Edmonton after spending
a few weeks in Kalamazoo trying to take get enrolled in some courses at Western
Michigan, his old college stomping grounds, in order to complete his studies.
Although it could be a very long time
before next season, Bishai has already been active with a workout regiment and
will soon meet with Daryl Duke, Edmonton’s fitness guru, for training over the
off season. Between now and the next
training camp, he’ll will spend his time watching the Stanley Cup finals, as
painful as it may be, because he just loves the game.
Bishai has also viewed the Hockey’s
Future website recently and took special interest in the fact that he is
currently on the outside looking in according to the top 20 prospects list on
the Oiler page.
“You know what, I really don’t look to
see where I rank in lists like that, I just go into camp intent on being better
than the guy ahead of me,” he said although he couldn’t help adding one more
thing with a knowing smile. “I’ll prove
One could argue that Bishai’s rapid
development this year facilitated the midseason trading of Peter Sarno and that
the local kid should be considered to some extent for a NHL roster spot next
year. Should Petr Nedved not return to
Edmonton, Bishai’s chances at a NHL job increase even more so.
The down to earth player is comfortably
back in his hometown housesitting for Raffi Torres over the summer but if he
has it his way, Edmonton would be his home all year round. With any luck, that will be determined in
September when training camps are scheduled to start up once again, days after
the current CBA expires.
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