By Todd Reicher
I know people do not want to think of hockey starting already because it means the end of the summer, but believe it or not, hockey season is only a few short weeks away. I’m fairly confident many Rockford-area residents and hockey fans are not prepared for the hockey season. However, the Rockford IceHogs’ staff and players are getting there.
Quite a bit of work needs to be done before a hockey season can start. It takes months of planning, preparing and talking with not only MetroCentre (now officially named the BMO Harris Bank Centre) staff and City of Rockford representatives, but the American Hockey League (AHL) staff and officials as well, to make sure the season starts off with a bang.
Thursday, Aug. 18, I had the opportunity to talk with IceHogs Vice President of Communications and “Voice of the IceHogs” Mike Peck. We discussed everything from the preseason and off-season staff preparation, the new sponsorship by BMO Harris Bank, to player and personnel changes. In the first of a two-part interview, we’ll hit some of the off-season and preseason highlights, as well as some changes coming to the BMO Harris Bank Centre.
Todd Reicher (TR): Give everyone an insight to what you and your staff have done in the off-season to prepare for the upcoming 2011-2012 hockey season.
Mike Peck (MP): From a team standpoint (being the IceHogs staff), one thing we want to improve is our customer service. We have created a fan adviser council, where we have selected 12 fans out of over 50 that applied. We narrowed the initial choice down to 20 fans, and from there, narrowed it down to 12 through demographics such as sex, whether they are full-season, half-season ticket holders, corporate sponsor, so this way we can get different voices from different perspectives.
We have also organized an alumni game, which is still in process. We have 11 players, possibly 14 players, committed to the game in November. The players will be wearing throwback jerseys from the first year the team played back in 1999, which will be really cool.
Our new marketing campaign is “We R IceHogs,” tying in the IceHogs pride that we are part of the team, and the people, and surrounding areas are part of the team. I feel it will be a very interactive campaign.
TR: We’ve heard that the arena will be getting new dasher boards, and also the penalty box will be moved from the current location between the player benches to the other side of the rink. Was that something handed down from the league?
MP: The league was OK with us having the penalty box on the side of the rink, or they would have made us change it when we first joined the AHL in year one. With the other changes, you might as well have everything standard. The BMO Harris Bank Centre literally was the only arena in AAA, or major league level of professional hockey in North America, with the penalty box on the same side as the player benches. So, you’re talking 60 different buildings, and this was the one that was different. Again, the league didn’t push us, but it was viewed by us that since we were getting new boards, which we needed, we might as well make it uniform to the rest of the league.
TR: Are the boards and glass going to be the same size? Are they going to be taller?
MP: I think they will be a little bigger, and I think the player benches are going to get a little bit bigger. That was one of the quirks (of having the penalty box on the same side as the benches). I don’t think the benches will get any deeper, but they will be longer. The boards will be safer, and the glass will be new, so the people will have nice, new, clean glass to look through. The glass is not seamless, but the sightline will be improved. I think they were 3-foot panels (on the sidelines), but they will be 6 or 5 feet now instead of 3 feet.
TR: What about the Vienna Beef Ice Box, will that change?
MP: No, that will remain, and actually there is going to be another box right in between the benches that we’ll be able to sell on a game-by-game basis. It’s like the CBOE box you have seen at the United Center that the Blackhawks use, exact same type of concept. You’ll be right between the benches, and right on top of the ice. It will be another unique way to watch the game.
TR: With the penalty box being moved over, how will that affect the people currently seated in that area?
MP: It won’t eliminate a ton of seats, but it will eliminate a couple. Unfortunately, they are some of our premier seats, the first two rows. I believe we are only losing parts of two rows. But with the open seats behind them, we are trying to move everyone back as best as we can to accommodate. Of course, these people had first right of refusal since they were being displaced from their original seats. That has been the biggest challenge with changing the configuration of the rink. But everyone that has been affected by it has been really cool, and they understand that’s the way things happen. It’s great that the fans have been as cooperative as they are.
TR: With the penalty box being moved, the people on the other side will have to get used to looking though two panes of glass now.
MP: It will be the same as when the penalty box was across on the other side of the ice. It is looking through two panes of glass, but there are pros and cons for sitting in every seat in the arena. The pros are you are close to the action, you’ll be sitting right behind the penalty box, which is always a unique perspective, and the con will be that you are looking through a couple of panels of glass. Alternatively, if you are sitting up high, you are farther away from the action, but you can see the entire ice. It’s all preference, and why people have the choice of sitting in different seats.
TR: Let’s move on to the IceHogs. Coach Bill Peters and Goaltending Coach Wade Flaherty are no longer with the team. What kind of changes do you think the new coach, Ted Dent, will bring to the team?
MP: Both coaches work under the same philosophy. Personalities may be a little different, but from a structure standpoint, there’s going to be many similarities. A lot of the personnel on the ice will be the same, which will make it seem more seamless. It all starts at the top. If there was a major structure change with the Blackhawks, then it would affect things down here. But Dent has been in the organization for five years now. This will be his sixth, first as head coach, but I think there’s not going to be a lot of “Whoa, this is much different than last year.”
Ted will have his own way of doing things, whether it’s practice structure or behind-the-scenes stuff. But again, it all comes down from the top. He did a lot of the special teams, with the power play and penalty kill, last year. It all depends on your personnel and who is healthy, who isn’t, etc. The players eventually figure it out that the faster you adapt, the faster you go up. It’s frustrating to the fans because they’ll say, “Oh, the power play stinks,” but that’s because the players who have figured it out here, guess what, they’re up with the Blackhawks now. That’s the reason the players are here, to learn how the Blackhawks run it, and that’s the reality of being in the American Hockey League. The guys that are here are inconsistent, but once they become consistent, they’ll be in the NHL.
Next week, in part two of the interview, we discuss the new assistant coaches, as well as the new player changes.
From the Aug. 24-30, 2011, issue