Cup Finals reunite NAHL, Maine alumni Bishop and Darling
June 12, 2015
By Corey Masisak, nhl.com
Ben Bishop was a junior goaltender at the University of Maine, the starter for a highly ranked team with national championship aspirations, when he spent a weekend as the host for a potential recruit, a tall kid like himself who also hailed from a non-traditional source of amateur talent.
Bishop, a 6-foot-7 goaltender from just outside St. Louis, connected pretty quickly with Scott Darling, a 6-foot-6 goalie from just outside Chicago. Darling enjoyed the recruiting trip and eventually committed.
Both goalies played junior hockey in the North American Hockey League... Bishop for the Texas Tornado in 2004-05 and Darling for the North Iowa Outlaws in 2005-06 and 2006-07.
Seven years later, they are on opposite sides of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks, which is tied 2-2 heading into Game 5 at Amalie Arena on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports). Bishop started the first three games for Tampa Bay before missing Game 4 with an unspecified injury; Darling has not seen action in the series for Chicago.
"[Bishop] really took care of me," Darling said. "I was really nervous. He took me out for some food, showed me kind of the ins and outs of campus. [The hockey players] were the big guys on campus, so it was fun to hang out with them. I watched them play that weekend, and he had two great games. I experienced the college life a little, and it made me excited to go there."
When Maine coach Tim Whitehead first saw Bishop with the Texas Tornado of the North American Hockey League, he was looking for a successor for future Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard. Bishop was going to spend a year as Howard's apprentice, but Howard signed a contract with the Red Wings after that season.
Whitehead first saw Darling playing for the Capital District Selects in the Eastern Hockey League, and the same succession plan was eventually put in place after he committed the following year. Like Howard, Bishop left school a year early, signing with the St. Louis Blues.
Darling spent two years at Maine before his career took several winding roads. He battled alcohol and anxiety problems that nearly ended his career. Reaching this point with the Blackhawks in his rookie NHL season, even helping them defeat the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference First Round in relief of Corey Crawford, was one of the great stories of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"We've obviously been on very different routes," Darling said. "He went right to success, and I took the scenic path. When I played down here against Tampa earlier in the year, I saw him after the pregame skate, and we sort of got caught up. He's a really nice guy, like super easy to talk to."
Darling had another member of the Lightning organization to catch up with during the Cup Final.
When Darling was planning to attend Maine, the assistant coach in charge of the Black Bears goaltenders was Grant Standbrook, who had also recruited and coached Howard, Mike Dunham and Garth Snow at the school. Standbrook retired as a full-time coach before Darling's freshman season, and Whitehead ended up hiring David Alexander. Five years later, the Lightning hired Alexander as their assistant goaltending coach.
"Scott was actually a little bit instrumental in me getting [to Maine]," Alexander said. "In the summer, I was going down to a goalie camp, Brian Daccord's camp in Boston. Scott was going there, and we met there. Scotty mentioned just off the cuff that he didn't think he was going to have a goalie guy the next year. I made contact at the University of Maine with Coach Whitehead, and the rest was history.
"It's really neat. Both of these guys have had different routes here. Both have had ups and downs in different ways. To see both of them get here is unbelievable. It speaks volumes for what Maine did for a numbers of years with goaltending. For me, it's been fun to see it all unfold. The biggest thing in all of this is both Scott and Ben are unbelievable people."