Grant Standbrook recruited the lanky teenager to Maine and now the legendary coach reflects on one of the NHL's best goaltenders
The first time Grant Standbrook saw Ben Bishop was at the Chowder Cup tournament, just north of Boston. Standbrook, who was coaching at the University of Maine, didn't get too excited.
"I thought he was OK," Standbrook said. "He was really tall, but we didn't need a goalie at the time."
But then he saw Bishop again at a tournament in Minnesota and the wheels began to turn. Before long, Standbrook was heading down to Dallas to see Bishop play for the NAHL's Texas Tornado. When Maine did need to start thinking of future goalies, head coach Tim Whitehead asked Standbrook who he wanted. The reply?
"I want the big kid."
And so began a very fruitful relationship. In the newest issue of The Hockey News, which hits stands this week, I wrote about Bishop and his interesting mould-breaking ways. After all, 6-foot-7 goalies aren't supposed to play like he does and St. Louis wasn't a hotbed for NHL talent when Bishop was growing up in the city. But here we are.
Though Standbrook is quoted in the magazine story, there was only so much room and the now-retired college coach had so much more to say than I had space for. Bishop called him one of the best goalie coaches ever and Bishop's dad said he was a huge mentor for his son.
"He was the first goalie coach I ever had," Bishop said. “To have somebody tweak my game and teach me a lot, he set me on the right path.”
Standbrook, a Winnipeg native, was a forward when he played at the University of Minnesota-Duluth in the late 1950s and early 1960s. But when he got into coaching a few years later, he realized that he would have to be dealing with netminders, too.
"That hit me right between the eyes," he said.
So Standbrook strapped on the pads to see what it was like. Starting his NCAA coaching career at Dartmouth, he eventually went to Wisconsin. There, Standbrook was an associate coach under Bob Johnson, winning three national titles with the Badgers. Along the way, he became a bit of a goalie whisperer to recruits such as Mike Richter ("he was always overthinking things," Standbrook said). In 1987, Standbrook headed to Maine and goalie success followed. Garth Snow, Mike Dunham and Jimmy Howard (Bishop's predecessor) all went from being Black Bears to NHLers and two more national titles were added to Standbrook's resume. Bishop, who helped the team to the Frozen Four his first two seasons, was another fun one.
"I had an athlete," Standbrook said. "That's what I go for. I don't try to change kids too much."
He did convince Bishop to stop flopping on his side so much, instead getting the big netminder to pop back up in order to make a second or third save if necessary. Skating drills were huge, with Bishop jumping over bluelines, hopping on one skate and doing edgework. Bishop also developed his poke-check at Maine and the fact he has become such a good puckhandler in the NHL is no surprise to his old coach.
"He could really shoot the puck," Standbrook said. "He was originally a forward, growing up."
You can read the rest of Bishop's history in the magazine piece, but it goes without saying that the kid turned out pretty well. He has been one of the best goalies in the NHL since coming to Tampa Bay and the Lightning could very well win the franchise's second Stanley Cup this year. But everyone needs help along the way and Standbrook was definitely there for Bishop in his formative years.