Homecoming games have always been the most exciting contests for high school football players. You get to run out onto the field with your classmates and family cheering you on as you take the field.
A similar homecoming occurred for goalie Ben Bishop on Tuesday night. Only this time, he was wearing the wrong colored jersey.
The 2005 Chaminade College Preparatory School graduate played in his first game at Scottrade Center since March 2011, when he was a member of the Blues. He was traded to the Ottawa Senators at the beginning of the 2011-12 season to make room for Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott with the NHL club and to allow Jake Allen the chance to play the majority of the starts with the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL. Since then, Bishop was sent to Tampa Bay, where he is having a storybook season as the team’s undisputed starter.
Despite his the Lightning’s success this season, the 27-year old admitted before the contest that he may be facing some pre-game jitters.
“There will be a lot of family and friends here,” he told Lou Korac at the morning skate. “It’ll be fun to play in front of them, but I’ve played in St. Louis. They’ve all seen me play. … There will probably be some nerves, but I think it helps that I’ve played a lot of games this year. This one game’s not going to make or break my season.”
Bishop was welcomed to Scottrade Center with a roaring applause when he was announced as the Lightning starter. When he entered the rink, he heard a boisterous applause, followed by a standing crowd that was louder than he probably remembered.
Sadly, it wasn’t all for him.
The Blues faithful was also welcoming a new sight onto the rink. The starter at the other end of Bishop, Ryan Miller, was playing in his second career game at Scottrade Center. More importantly, it was his first donning the home Bluenote.
“Yeah, that [reception] was really special,” he told NHL.com. “I think it’s a great sports town. Everybody’s been telling me how great the fans are and how much they care about their sports teams and all the different sports. I think that’s pretty cool. I’m excited to be here and I wanted to go out and show what I can do out there. … Hopefully I can continue to give them something to cheer about with this group.”
Miller sported a number worn by just three other Blues players, which includes Scott Pellerin, Kelly Chase and Doug Weight. It was a number that was associated with fan favoritism and there’s reason to believe that the trend won’t end this season.
His first game with Blues fans at his back did not start off so memorable. The former Buffalo Sabres netminder surrendered the first goal of the contest to rookie Alex Killorn at 7:08 of the first period after a Kevin Shattenkirk turnover. The Lightning kept at it, scoring 7 minutes, 41 seconds later on their fifth shot of the game when forward Tyler Johnson capitalized while on the man advantage after a pretty passing play.
On the other end, Bishop was enjoying his night through one period, stopping all 12 shots he faced. The ice started to tilt when the goalies re-entered the ice for the second period.
The Blues tallied 10 shots in the period, netting goals from Patrik Berglund and T.J. Oshie. The last goal of the period was particularly impressive.
The Blues added two more lamp lighters in the third period, Alexander Steen even strength and Vladimir Tarasenko in the empty net, powering the Blues to a come-from-behind 4-2 victory against the high-powered Lightning.
“We probably should have won three of the four games,” Bishop told the Tampa Bay Times, noting his team’s 1-3 record since the Olympic break. “We have to fix this fast.”
The victory placed the Blues in sole possession of first place in the Central Division with 88 points while the loss kept the Lightning in third place of the Atlantic with 73 points.
The numbers couldn’t be more opposite for the goaltenders, either. The winner, Miller, snatched just his 17th win of the season while the loser, Bishop, recorded just his 11th loss of the year.
For Bishop, the journey through his first year as the bona fide starter rages on as he still sits in the top five of the league in wins (29), save percentage (.931) and shutouts (4). He is widely considered a candidate for the Vezina Trophy, which has never been awarded to a goalie playing for a Florida team.
Miller, on the other hand, is continuing his long search for hockey’s ultimate prize. The famed goaltender, 33, even hinted that he would consider staying with St. Louis after his contract expires at the end of this season.
“I’m very open to it,” he said at the Blues’ practice facility. “But right now, it’s more about the hockey. We’re going to have a lot of time later on to feel that out.
“I think it’s definitely a possibility.”
Although both goalies skated away with memories from their homecomings, one in particular really seemed to impress his teammates.
“He’s a terrific goalie,” Steen said after the game. “You can tell in practice he’s very sound, is composed. Nothing really rattles him.”