Saturday, June 17, 2006, 10:09 PMFairbanks Daily News-Miner
By DANNY MARTIN
Friday, June 16, 2006 - On the British Columbia Hockey League Web site, Hunter Bishop called the University of North Dakota his dream college.
The former West Valley High School and Fairbanks Ice Dogs skater is a signature away from making his dream come true.
Bishop, an 18-year-old left wing, verbally committed Monday to skate this coming season for North Dakota, a national powerhouse and member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, which includes the University of Alaska Anchorage and the last three NCAA Division I national champions--Wisconsin this year and Denver in 2004 and 2005.
"I definitely have to say it was their reputation,'' Bishop, in a telephone interview Thursday, said of a reason for choosing North Dakota.
Bishop said his national letter of intent from North Dakota was scheduled to arrive Thursday or today and there will be a signing ceremony sometime today at Sport King.
The Fighting Sioux won seven national titles (1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997 and 2000) and reached the last two Division I Frozen Fours. North Dakota lost to Denver in last year's championship game and fell to eventual national runner-up Boston College in a semifinal in April in Milwaukee.
Bishop skated last season with the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL and recently graduated from Seaton Secondary School in Vernon.
North Dakota coaches started e-mailing him last October, and Bishop had originally planned to return to Vernon for a second season, but he changed his mind after the Fighting Sioux coaches left two messages on his phone recorder when he returned to Vernon May 20 from a senior vacation in Mexico.
"Those calls kind of came out of left field,'' Bishop said. "They expressed that they wanted me to come play next season.''
It's likely that the 6-foot, 190-pound wing could gain a lot of ice time this season. North Dakota graduated only two seniors from last season's 29-16-1 squad, but saw four underclassmen leave the team. Junior forward Drew Stafford, sophomore forward Travis Zajac and junior defenseman Matt Smaby signed contracts with National Hockey League teams and sophomore forward Rastislav Spirko returned to his native Slovakia.
Stafford, who signed with the Buffalo Sabres, was North Dakota's leading scorer last season with 24 goals and 24 assists for 48 points in 42 games and he led the nation in shorthanded goals with seven.
"With the amount of guys they lost, it's a pretty unique opportunity for incoming freshman to contribute and be impact guys,'' Bishop said. "They're a team with a lot of speed and they forecheck hard, and skating is my best asset. I'm hoping to step in and be an impact player.''
Vernon general manager Troy Mick said he thinks Bishop will develop into an effective skater for the Fighting Sioux. Bishop earned a BCHL All-Star honor this past season, when he finished as Vernon's third-leading scorer with 25-29-54 totals in 56 regular-season games. He also posted 1-4-5 numbers in 10 playoff contests.
"He was an absolute gem for us,'' Mick said Thursday from Vernon. "He worked as hard off the ice as he did on it. Once he was on the ice, he dazzled fans with his speed and his intensity. He will be sorely missed this year.''
Bishop's transition to college hockey may be helped by him playing in three different Junior A leagues in three seasons. At 16, he skated with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs of the North American Hockey League, and a year later, he played with Cedar Rapids (Iowa) of the United States Hockey League before heading to the BCHL.
"I think I will have a bit of an edge because I experienced three different styles of hockey,'' Bishop said.
"In the USHL, I learned a lot offensively, but they really focus on defense. In the BCHL, I learned the defensive side of hockey, but they played a lot of high-scoring games, too."
Bishop said he learned a "ton'' from Ice Dogs head coach Rob Proffitt.
"Before I got there, I was a take-the-puck-and-go player,'' Bishop said. "He taught me about systems and that I also needed to backcheck.''
Bishop plans to major in business at North Dakota.
Bishop began his hockey career in the Fairbanks Amateur Hockey Association house program and played for FAHA competitive teams in the Mite and Squirt divisions.
He then played for the Arctic Lions PeeWee, Bantam and Midget U-16 competitive teams under coach Roger McKinnon.
After a short stint at West Valley, Bishop began his Junior career with the Ice Dogs, scoring a goal in his first game.
He was a member of the USA U-18 Junior World Cup Team in 2004 where he earned Game MVP honors against the Czech Republic and assisted on the game-winning goal against Russia.