Thursday, March 1, 2012

St. Louis Blues Goaltending Coach Corey Hirsch Shares His Thoughts On The Newest Senators Goaltender - Ben Bishop

Ben Bishop in action - making his debut
for the Binghamton Senators
Photo - Bob Howard
Power Play Post Show
One of the surprise teams in the Eastern Conference this season, the Ottawa Senators and their fans expected things to be relatively quiet in the days leading up to the NHL’s annual trade deadline on February 27th. Things can change quickly in the world of professional sports though, as an injury to goaltender Craig Anderson forced the organization to examine their depth at the position.

With Alex Auld, Robin Lehner and Mike McKenna the only goaltenders available to the NHL club while Anderson recovers, Senators GM Bryan Murray looked to acquire a net minder in case of further injuries, while keeping to his plan of not sacrificing short-term gain for future pain. Sending a second round draft pick in the 2013 NHL Draft to the St. Louis Blues, Murray added Ben Bishop to the Sens roster and solidified the position for the final 20 games of the season. A potential unrestricted free agent in the summer, Bishop and the Senators agreed on a one-year, one-way contract extension when he arrived in the nation’s capital.

Knowing that Bishop could play a significant role with the team as they make their push for the playoffs during the remainder of the current season and into next season with his new contract, I reached out to NHL Alumni member Corey Hirsch. As the goaltending coach for the St. Louis Blues and a former NHL goaltender himself, Corey knows the new Senators net minder well and generously took some time from a busy schedule with the Blues to shed some light on Bishop for Senators fans.

What can Senators fans expect to see from their new goaltender when he gets the opportunity to play in Ottawa?

“What’s going to be interesting for them is that they are going to see a big goalie in the net and that’s going to be intimidating for a lot of the teams that they play,” Corey said on the phone from St. Louis. “The shooters are going to be a little intimidated by Ben because he is a big man and you don’t see a lot of net. You are also going to see a fire out of him too and I think Ottawa liked that - we liked that. His puck handling ability is very good too.”

Heading into the season, Bishop was expected to battle former Senator Brian Elliott for the backup role in St. Louis, but ultimately, the organization went with the veteran duo of Elliott and Jaroslav Halak. All things considered, it was a wise move as the pair are near the top of every goaltending category this season. Even though he hoped to break into the NHL lineup on a regular basis, by all accounts Bishop had a great attitude when he arrived in Peoria to play for the Blues AHL affiliate. While he may not have been happy about another season in the minors, he worked hard and excelled with the Rivermen - that says a lot about the kind of person and competitor the Senators acquired.

“The one thing you learn as a player is that things are going to happen that you don’t like,” Corey explained. “That’s part of the game and it doesn’t ever help you to play poorly or have a bad attitude. Regardless of what happens to you - you have to play well because that’s your only way out at the end of the day.”

“With Ben, that’s the approach that he took. He didn’t want to go down to the minors, he didn’t like going down to the minors, but the only way out of the minors is to play your way out. That’s been his attitude and that is what he did. He’s a good success story and long term it’s going to be what helps him become an NHL goalie.”

In our recent NHL Alumni interview, Corey discussed his work at the NHL level with Halak and Elliott, but his duties as the St. Louis goaltending coach includes working with all the goaltenders in the organization, whether they are in Peoria or they are the draft picks still in junior. In our conversation yesterday, he explained that he tries to get to Peoria for at least seven days each month to check in with his goaltenders, but that can be difficult during a busy NHL season. Even when he is not there in person though, he stays in regular contact on the phone to see how the guys are doing and the American Hockey League games are online, which provides Corey with another opportunity to watch for trends and offer insights and advice.

A third round selection (85th overall) in the 2005 NHL Draft, Bishop’s numbers in the AHL have been impressive this season. He has a 25-14-4 win/loss record, 2.23 goals against average and a .930 save percentage in 38 games with Peoria and 1 with the Binghamton Senators. He made his Binghamton debut on Tuesday evening against the St. John's IceCaps - a 41 save performance in a 5-1 victory for the Senators. With Robin Lehner’s impressive play of late in Ottawa as he fills in for the injured Anderson, it is still unclear when or if Bishop will take to the ice in the nation’s capital this season, but hockey observers believe that he is one of the young goalies ready to make the jump to the NHL and Corey agrees with that assessment.

“For sure! He can play at that level,” Corey said. “There’s no question that he can play anywhere in the NHL. It just happened that the guys up here in St. Louis played so well, that he just didn’t get the opportunity this year. He just needs an opportunity; he just needs a chance and he will easily prove that he can play in the NHL.”

Ben Bishop
Photo - Bob Howard
Power Play Post Show
When I asked about some of Bishop’s strengths as a goaltender, it is difficult to avoid the fact that the newest Ottawa Senator is 6’7 - that is certainly an asset. As Corey explained though, his height is not his only strength.

“His size is a strength,” he acknowledged. “That’s the biggest thing that sticks out - he’s a big man! The other thing that I am impressed with is his mental strength; how he deals with things and how he handles situations. He has a very strong mind and things don’t bother him too much. He can shrug things off pretty quickly. You also have to be athletic to be successful at this position and for a big man, he is very athletic.”

As previously mentioned, when we will see Ben Bishop in the NHL with the Ottawa Senators remains to be seen, but we know thanks to Corey’s insights, that when he does arrive, Ben has the abilities and attributes needed to be successful. While Sens fans did not expect a new goaltender to be added at the trade deadline, Anderson’s injury forced the organization to make a move. They now have some much-needed depth at the position should further injuries occur and they have set up a healthy competition for training camp next season, as Bishop and Lehner compete for a place on the NHL roster.

You can follow Corey on Twitter: @CoreyHirsch

*On a personal note, thanks Corey for taking the time to chat - the NHL Alumni truly is “Hockey’s Greatest Family”!

And thank you to Bob Howard from the Power Play Post Show for answering the call on Twitter and sending along the pictures of Ben Bishop in his debut with the Binghamton Senators.

Make sure to visit the Power Play Post Show website and follow Bob on Twitter: @PPPSHOW

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