by Lindsey Willhite | AHL On The Beat
Over the holidays, Chicago Wolves defenseman Jake Bischoff signed the papers to become a homeowner for the first time.
The 25-year-old didn’t have too many drop-dead demands when searching for his first place. Actually, Bischoff had only one: It needed to be in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, the town of 11,000 found three hours north of Minneapolis and two hours south of the Canadian border.
That’s where he grew up. Where he can relax during hockey’s offseason. Fish. Golf. Work out. Live close to his Brady Bunch-esque family. What else could anyone need?
“I’m really excited for that,” Bischoff said. “I wanted to live in Rapids in the summers. I figured the only way I could do that is if I ended up making my own gym up there. So I needed a detached garage where I could put a gym into it.
“This place is on a lake up there and it’s got a detached garage. It’s more of a cabin-y style home, which is ideal for me.”
If Bischoff has his way, he’ll live Grand Rapids’ version of a hat trick every summer day. At some point during the day – perhaps as the sun rises – he’ll drop a line in the well-stocked Pokegama Lake located along his three-acre property. Then he’ll host a workout in his home gym with other local pro and college players. Then he’ll play 18 holes at Pokegama Golf Course and work on getting his handicap close to scratch.
“The course is right on the lake, too, so I’ll probably take my boat to the course,” Jake said with a laugh.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
But none of these activities would be as much fun if they didn’t take place near his unique family, which has deep roots in northern Minnesota.
Grant Bischoff, Jake’s father, grew up in Grand Rapids. He was so good at hockey that he scored 80 goals for the University of Minnesota from 1988 to 1991, got drafted by the NHL’s Minnesota North Stars after his freshman year and spent six months with the U.S. National team preparing for the 1992 Olympics – only to come down with mono six weeks before the Games. He wasn’t healthy enough to make the final cut and the trip to Albertville, France.
Grant married Jackie Tok, a four-sport athlete, in July 1992. Jake was born in 1994 and, when he was 3, the Bischoffs moved back to Grand Rapids. As time moved along, Jake became a big brother to Jonah, Tyara and Jasmine. The Bischoff family loved sports – hockey in particular – and spending weekends together at the rustic family cabin 45 minutes north of Grand Rapids.
“There’s no electricity, no well,” Grant said. “You have to bring your own water. There’s an outhouse. It’s nothing fancy, but it was a family place in the middle of nowhere that was a nice getaway for us.”
Members of the Bischoff clan would rise before dawn to hunt for ducks or geese. When it was the right season, they’d use their bows to hunt for deer. Later in the day, they’d ride four-wheelers and hang out by the bonfire to eat what they had killed.
“Those are some of the funnest times I had,” Jake said. “Yeah, it was in the middle of nowhere, but it was awesome. It was a huge part of my life growing up, for sure.”
But on Nov. 19, 2010, when Jake was a sophomore at Grand Rapids High School, Jackie Bischoff died of lung cancer at the age of 40. As one can imagine, the family was devastated.
Meanwhile, in the Minneapolis exurb of Elk River, the McLaughlin family was enduring its own bout with grief. Jon McLaughlin, the patriarch of the family and president of the Elk River Youth Hockey Association, had died of a heart attack while jogging on Aug. 10, 2010 – leaving behind his high school sweetheart, Tammi, and their children – Jered, Jordan and Blake.
One year later, Tammi McLaughlin needed someone to appraise the family’s hunting cabin in Squaw Lake (roughly 40 miles from Grand Rapids). Grant Bischoff happened to be an appraiser. As a favor to a friend, he spent a Sunday driving up to the McLaughlins’ place that wasn’t too far from the Bischoff family cabin.
Grant and Tammi felt an immediate connection. Ten months after their first meeting, they got married. According to the Duluth News Tribune, all seven children participated in Grant’s marriage proposal. During their wedding ceremony on Aug. 17, 2012, the theme music from “The Brady Bunch” filled the air.
Eight of them promptly crammed into a four-bedroom home in Grand Rapids – Jered was off at Winona State helping to start its club hockey team – and forged a new life together.
“I’d say it was way better than expected,” Jake said. “They were an awesome family, too, and we have similar interests. They like hockey. They like sports in general. They like hunting and fishing, too. It was like we meshed together and we wound up having two more brothers and a sister, you know? It ended up working out really well.”
The cramped conditions didn’t last long. Grant and Tammi bought an 80-acre property in Grand Rapids and built a six-bedroom home. They’ve watched Jake and Blake move on to play for the Minnesota Golden Gophers – Jake earned Big Ten Defenseman of the Year honors his senior season while Blake (the Anaheim Ducks’ third-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft) is in the midst of his sophomore year.
They watched Jordan become a four-year standout forward at Minnesota State. Jonah played briefly with the NAHL’s Coulee Region Chill before attending the University of North Dakota. Tyara played for Wisconsin-Superior’s hockey team last season. Jazzy, wearing the same No. 22 that Grant wore at Minnesota, serves as a shot-blocking defenseman for the Grand Rapids/Greenway girls team.
“It’s been unbelievable how the seven kids, as a group, have gotten along,” Grant said. “It’s like they’re real brothers and sisters at this point.”
JAKE’S NHL DEBUT
Grant and Tammi spend time watching all of their children compete – but one of this year’s moments has been a little bigger than the rest. The NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights recalled Jake from his loan to the Wolves and put him in the lineup Oct. 19 at Pittsburgh. With Grant and Tammi in the stands, Jake posted two hits, two blocked shots and a +1 plus/minus rating in his first NHL game to help the Golden Knights shut out the Penguins, 4-0.
“It was really cool,” Jake said. “Playing hockey your whole life you obviously dream of that, you know? Living it out was something I’ll never forget. I definitely felt comfortable out there. Made some plays and it was a lot of fun.”
“That was awesome,” Grant said. “Vegas spoiled us. They flew us out there and put us up in a hotel. It was really a lot of fun for us. I was really proud of him.”
Jake played four games for Vegas in October before returning to the Wolves, where he resumed his role as the team’s most reliable defenseman. Need someone always in the right spot? Jake’s your guy. Need someone willing to give up his body to block shots? Jake’s your guy.
“You know what you get with ‘Bisch,’” said Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson. “You have confidence that he’s going to read situations very well, he’s going to defend well and he’ll execute simple plays effectively. And when there’s breakdowns, he’s willing to sacrifice for the good of the team.”
Expect Bischoff to remain part of the Wolves’ top defenseman pairing – except when Vegas needs help on its blue line.
Then, when the season’s over, Jake will spend his summer in Grand Rapids for the first time since he left for the University of Minnesota seven years ago. (Did we mention Tammi, a real estate agent, was the one who spied Jake’s new home on the Grand Rapids market and did a bunch of the legwork to ensure this would happen?)
Everyone will be happy he’s home. Jake looks forward to including Blake, a budding professional, in those morning workout sessions. He’s anxious to get to fish again with his Grandpa Bob (his mother’s father).
Grant, meanwhile, will just be glad Jake’s around.
“I get to see him for a day or two at a time now,” Grant said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing him more.”