Jun 16 2006
Hunter Bishop finished third in team scoring with 25 goals and 54 points.
While chuckling at the bickering over scheduling at last weekend's B.C. Hockey League annual general meeting, Vernon Vipers' general manager Troy Mick got a phone call that erased his smile.
All-star winger Hunter Bishop informed Mick he had accepted a scholarship with the NCAA's North Dakota Fighting Sioux for next season.
"We're thrilled for Hunter, but it caught us off guard," said Mick. "It's a double-edged sword because we're ecstatic for him, but on the team side, it's tough to lose a player we had pegged as a 100-point guy."
Bishop, who was voted the Vipers' Most Popular Player, was on holiday in Mexico and then visiting a buddy in California when he got the call from North Dakota. After a quick fly down, he made the decision to commit to the school he's dreamed of playing for since he began his junior career.
"He's an A-plus guy all the way around," said Mick. "He's a great student, he was great in the community and he's a great hockey player. You don't go out and find young men of his calibre at Wal-Mart."
The 6-foot, 185-pound Alaskan speedster was expected to play left wing on the Vipers' top line and improve on the 25 goals and 54 points he put up last season.
"North Dakota has been my dream college to attend so I'm really excited to be getting this opportunity," said Bishop, who turns 19 in September.
"It was something that just came up out of nowhere. I had full intentions of being back in Vernon next season and it is very tough to be leaving the Vipers and Vernon.
"I first visited Vernon for the Pee Wee tournament and fell in love with it right away. I played three years of Junior (two in the USHL) and Vernon was by far my favourite place. It was a real tough decision to decide to leave, but I will never forget my time in Vernon."
Bishop will join Viper grads Chay Genoway and Matt Watkins in North Dakota next season.
"It's going to be a lot of fun playing with Chay again next season," said Bishop. "Having him around will definitely make the adjustment easier."
Bishop's departure leaves a large hole on Mick's bulletin board, but he's confident with the recruiting class the Vipers have coming in, that someone will step up to fill the void.
"This (surprise departure) just shows me that recruiting is never done," said Mick, who is expected to announce the commitment of a prime-time blueliner early next week. "We're thrilled with the players we have coming in, but it's tough to go out and find an all-star in the middle of June."
The Vipers open training camp Aug. 24 at the Multiplex.
The league's 60-game schedule will be unbalanced in the Interior Division. Teams in the conference will play their rivals eight times, meaning the Vipers will have two extra games against Salmon Arm and Merritt, and will play an unbalanced scheduled against the rest of the division.
The home-and-away with the Coastal Conference continues.
Vernon will open its 2006 season at home on Saturday, Sept. 9 against the Quesnel Millionaires.
The 2007 all-star game has been awarded to the Surrey Eagles in January.