Hunter Bishop was an exciting goal scorer in his two and a half Viper seasons. He finished with 93 regular season snipes, the most by any Vernon Viper or Vernon Laker. That total included 57 goals in his record setting 2007-08 season. Now his main goal is to develop young players.
While playing this past winter for the Belfast Giants in the British Elite League, Hunter was named as the first head coach and general manager of the Charleston Colonials, who will play in the Florida Division of the 53-team U.S. Premier League, a tier III Jr. A league.
The Colonials ownership group, in a January 27 news release, said they chose Hunter because of his leadership abilities, his varied playing career, and the hockey camps he has run in the Charleston area for the past several years. For Hunter and his wife Tara, whom he met while studying at Ohio State, Charleston is where they want to live. (Hunter had notched 49 points in 48 games for the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays in 2012-13. One of his Stingray teammates was former Viper Cam Brodie.)
That year in South Carolina was his most productive in his North American pro career, most of which was in the American Hockey League in the Montreal Canadiens and LA Kings organizations. Although he played NHL pre-season games, Hunter never did suit up for an NHL regular season or playoff game, the only disappointment in a nine-year professional career. “A string of injuries” in his first couple of seasons helped to derail his NHL ambitions. He explains that “unless you’re an extremely high level talent, you need a little luck to make it to the NHL. You have to be in the right organization with the right coach at the right time with the right opportunity.”
He says that injury prevention is critical to a pro hockey player’s longevity. He adds that “after that injury riddled season, I took injury prevention more seriously and I was much healthier in my last eight years than in my first pro year. Your window of opportunity to make it to the next level might be really small, so you have to be healthy and ready to seize that opportunity when it comes.”
After graduating from the Vipers (in a season that Hunter says “was the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey”) he had two very productive seasons at Ohio State. Then, after signing a pro contract with Les Canadiens, he was assigned to AHL Hamilton Bulldogs. When that association with Montreal ran out, he signed with the LA Kings and played two seasons with the AHL Manchester Monarchs.
Hunter then moved to the 12-team Austrian league, one year with Ljubljana and three with Innsbruck. “It was a great experience,” he says, “because the hockey’s good, the pay is good, and my wife and I got to travel a lot in Europe. But like a lot of guys who hold onto their NHL dreams a little too long, I probably should have gone to Europe a couple of years earlier.” He adds that “the European game with its big ice surfaces really suited my speed game.”
Hunter and Tara wanted to finish his playing career in a new environment, so he signed with Belfast, where one of his fellow forwards was Blair Riley, who started with the Merritt Centennials and then had two 41-goal seasons with the Nanaimo Clippers. Overall, Hunter says that he is happy with his hockey career: “Sure I would have liked to play in the NHL, but I’ve made a good living, had great experiences, and met great people.”
Among those “great people” he cites the Jones twins: “I looked at these two rug rats, 16 turning 17, and I wondered about being on a line with them. But boy could they play, two of the most talented and hard working guys I ever played with. In that 57-goal season, they set me up for so many back door goals. I’d hang around the circle, and they would work their butts off and then find me with a perfect pass. They will do very well in the Swiss league this year, and so will their line mate.”
Hunter says that his season and a half in Vernon after returning from a semester at North Dakota as pivotal in his hockey development: “I was too young when I first went to college. If I had a message for players it would be to make sure that they think carefully about when they go to college. They had better be ready to make that next step.”
“One of the best decisions I ever made was to return to Vernon, to build up my confidence and to improve my strength and skill. Doing that associate degree in order to eventually transfer to another school was incredibly hard but it paid off, both in terms of my studies at Ohio State and in terms of the success I had with the Buckeyes as a 21-year-old.”
After all these years still using the Vernon Viper bag!
As he transitions into a coaching role, Hunter is busy recruiting players. In addition to talent from the Eastern U.S., he is recruiting players from New Brunswick, Toronto, Alaska, Slovenia, and even British Columbia. He has spoken with Viper GM Jason McKee about potential landing places for players.
When it comes to a coaching style and philosophy, Hunter says that his approach will depend on the group of players who make his team. “I have an idea of how I want my team to play, but I’ll have to modify that plan to suit the characteristics of those players. I’ve had good coaches along the way, and I’ll borrow from them, obviously. One of the things I appreciated about Mark Ferner’s coaching style was how calm he was on the bench and I’ll try to emulate that.”
Now Hunter and his wife and daughter Brodi have settled into a new house they’ve had built. As Hunter puts it, “I’ve been living a Peter Pan life for nine years; now I’m in the real world with a mortgage, transitioning to being a grownup.”