‘It was pretty wicked.’ U of T goalie Alex Bishop has a night to remember as a Leaf
Alex Bishop started the day as expected. The sacrificial lamb of a goalie was on the ice early with Auston Matthews, the star centre working his way back from wrist surgery.
The Maple Leafs have a network of goalies they count on from local universities to help out at practices now and then.
But it became apparent before Saturday’s morning skate was over that Bishop’s day was going to be very different than expected.
The former Quebec junior goalie who, at 24, now tends net for the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, was going to be a Maple Leaf for real.
Petr Mrázek’s torn groin meant he couldn’t back up starter Jack Campbell. And the Leafs’ salary-cap limitations and the rules of the collective agreement meant they couldn’t call up Michael Hutchinson until Sunday. So, Bishop signed an amateur tryout and wore No. 70 for the game against the Senators at Scotiabank Arena.
“Yeah, it was pretty wicked,” the commerce major said of his day. “It just started at the morning skate and kind of snowballed from there. Had to turn my phone off eventually. But it was a great experience. I had a lot of fun.”
He practised in the morning skate. Took the pre-game warm-ups.
“That was pretty surreal,” said Bishop. “You never really good look at that flash of the cameras until you get out there and it’s pretty distracting. But it was cool, especially getting in at the end of warm-up there and actually taking some shots.”
He sat at the end of the bench, like every other NHL backup goalie.
“It’s not lost on me that this is a pretty rare opportunity and not a lot of people get to do things like this,” said Bishop. “So I just I’m pretty lucky.”
Not as lucky as David Ayres, a folk hero among emergency goalies because he actually won — against the Leafs — two seasons ago. Bishop was on call that season, too. But it was Ayres’ night.
“I was a day late,” said Bishop. “That could have been me. Yeah, but the comparisons were definitely made today.”
In a weird set of circumstances, Bishop’s roommates — teammates — were on the road in Guelph, so he was left alone with his thoughts through the day. He called his parents.
“My dad’s a diehard, so he was pretty excited,” said Bishop. “My mom was also very excited — less of a diehard, but more emotional. So that was nice.”
As for his nerves, of course he was nervous.
“First period, pretty nervous. Second period, it started to ease, and then the third period, just kind of soaked it all in.”
Part of his time in the Quebec junior league was with the Saint John Sea Dogs. One of his teammates was Thomas Chabot, who patrolled the blue line for Ottawa on Saturday night.
“I kept looking at him, but he didn’t look back,” said Bishop.