By Todd Reicher
Wednesday, April 25, I conducted a season-ending interview with the Vice President of Communications and “Voice of the IceHogs” Mike Peck. During our 45-minute session, we discussed everything from our surprises of the year to the brawl in Milwaukee.
Todd Reicher (TR): Before the start of the season, we sat down and talked about the upcoming season and what kind of things we could expect. I recall one of the first things we talked about was some of the young new talent coming in, and I asked who you thought the fans would connect with immediately. A few names were rattled off, and the names Rob Flick and Andrew Shaw were brought up because of their gritty, edgy play. I recall you saying that it would be a good year for those guys if they each potted 10 goals.
Mike Peck: Yeah (laughs), I remember. I don’t think either of us expected to see what took place with Shaw, but the injuries to the Blackhawks and the IceHogs moved him up from a third-, fourth-line player up to the second line. Shawsy took full advantage of the opportunity that was given to him, and he ran with it.
TR: That kind of brings me to my first question. Who were some of your bigger surprises of the year?
MP: I would say Ben Youds stood out as having a great year. At first, he had a hard time cracking the lineup, but with (Dylan) Olsen getting called up and Cons (Brian Connelly) getting traded, it opened up a spot for him in the lineup. He really showed quick progression in his play, and you’ll notice towards the end of the season he was playing a lot more minutes.
TR: That was going to be one of my pleasant surprises as well. Just like you mentioned, he really stepped up when the void was left by Olsen and Cons.
MP: Yeah, totally. Although being a rookie he did start getting tired towards the end of the year, and you could start to see it in his play, but that comes with the territory of dealing with the transition from juniors to the pro game.
TR: I noticed that. In one of the last games of the season, I think it was either the Milwaukee game or the last game against Charlotte, I think I counted four or five defensive zone and neutral zone turnovers, so that would explain why he seemed off his game.
MP: That’s the one thing the younger guys have to deal with when they make the switch from the juniors to the pros, is they play quite a few more games here and it takes time to adjust.
TR: I could imagine. So, another surprise, and I think this is a no-brainer, was Carter Hutton.
MP: You know, Hutts was on the radar from the get-go and the team was very high on him during training camp, but there wasn’t a place for him. Alec Richards already had a contract, and (Alexander) Salak was fighting with Ray Emery for the backup position in Chicago, so one of the guys was going to have to go down (to the ECHL), and it was Hutton. He’s another one of those guys that benefited from the injuries to the team.
TR: I was a little surprised when Salak returned to the lineup that Richards was sent down as opposed to Hutts, but I think his play was starting to carry the team right around that time.
MP: Absolutely. And Richards wasn’t getting as much playing time with Hutts playing well. So, sending him down gave him the opportunity, and he played very well in Toldeo.
TR: Speaking of injuries, there were a few injuries that took place over the season that kind of changed the course of the season. One of the biggest injuries was to Kyle Beach. How do you feel the team responded to Beach going out of the lineup?
MP: The injury to Beach gave a lot of guys the chance to step up, and quite a few guys did. Shaw, as I mentioned earlier, certainly benefited from the injury to Beach, and also with the injury to (Daniel) Carcillo up with the Blackhawks.
TR: Let’s go back to some other guys during the year. Last year, Jeremy Morin missed quite a bit of time with a concussion and got pretty much a full season under his belt this year. One thing I noticed is that Morin changed to more of a physical game and wasn’t afraid to mix it up. I’m looking at the stats for the season, and next to Ryan Stanton, he had the second-most penalty minutes on the team (besides Brandon Bollig, who ended the season with Chicago).
MP: Morin is one of those guys that you wouldn’t think would have that type of edge to his game. There are some guys out there like Beach that once you talk to him for five minutes, you know what kind of a player he is, but Morin is different. Off the ice, he’s kind of quiet, but when he’s on the ice, he likes to be a motormouth and get under the opponent’s skin.
TR: Speaking of Bollig, was it a shock to you that he got called up?
MP: Bollig really settled into his role here in Rockford, and again, the injuries allowed him to move up. The situation of him getting called up wasn’t a surprise, but his play up in Chicago was. Not to say that he doesn’t have the talent and skill set that others do, because he obviously does, but he played very well.
TR: Another name is Rostislav Olesz. Here’s a guy that’s making a good amount of money and gets sent down to the minors. It seemed that he came here with an open mind and really wanted to play.
MP: Yeah, he did, and he played very well in his first few games here right after being sent down.
TR: Didn’t he have something like 4 points in his first two games, which were against Charlotte?
MP: Yeah, he did.
TR: How did he fit in with the locker room?
MP: I think he was a good fit, and the people looked up to him, and it showed on the ice.
TR: I noticed he was scratched in the lineup towards the end of the season, if I remember. I assume it was an injury that kept him out towards the end?
MP: He was injured in the Milwaukee game that had the big brawl. He was injured before the brawl, so it didn’t happen during the brawl, but he had a knee-to-knee hit, which sidelined him.
TR: How about Brandon Pirri?
MP: He was pretty consistent this season, but tailed off a bit towards the end, as he was banged up a bit as well.
TR: I think we can both agree that Peter LeBlanc played a big role this season.
MP: He’s another guy that benefited from the trades and injuries this year. He really stepped up.
TR: Who was someone else who caught your eye?
MP: Brandon Svendsen was a pleasant surprise. He was a gap-filler, and by that I mean he took the role from the players who were traded or injured. He was with us in training camp this season, but there wasn’t a place for him. But then, with the injuries and call-ups, he was one of the first guys they brought up.
TR: Every season, the IceHogs look to bring in a few veteran players to be both leaders in the locker room and on ice, and Brian Fahey was one of the guys brought in for that role. How do you think he helped younger players and the team?
MP: He’s an easy guy to respect, and the players noticed that. When he started the season with us, I wasn’t “wowed,” but I wasn’t disappointed with him — he was just there. But as the season went on, he really started to impress and he came up huge.
TR: Let’s move on to coaching and Ted Dent in his first year as head coach.
MP: When a coach comes into their first year, they never know what to expect. It’s not like you come in at 7:00, write up some drills and practice, then leave at 4:00. There are many other responsibilities, and I think he handled it very well.
TR: I think one of the things that stood out was when he made the change in his defensive scheme at the end of December, and that obviously turned around the season.
MP: Going to that 1-3-1 neutral zone set was definitely big, and it was a good decision to make. If you look at the first part of the season, Rockford was towards the top in goals scored, but they were dead last in goals against. Now, some of that is defense, some of that is goaltending, but the decision to change the defensive scheme was a big step, and obviously it worked out well.
TR: It looks like the players adapted to the change as well.
MP: Yeah, I think they recognized the situation they were in, and they were all for the change and they adapted well.
TR: So, what are some disappointments in your eyes for the season?
MP: Well, not making the playoffs for one. With many guys returning from the previous season, I think the hopes and expectations were high, but it just didn’t happen.
TR: Yeah, I think this year was the lowest player turnover rate they had since entering the AHL, and I think most people were hoping for a better season.
MP: I think the special teams was inconsistent as well, and part of that is because of the loss of some key guys. (Brandon) Segal was traded, Brett McLean went overseas, and you lose Connelly, who was pretty much your power-play captain, so that certainly hurt.
TR: I’m jumping around again, but another thing that surprised me this year was the play against the Milwaukee Admirals. We’ve always had tough games against Milwaukee, and, of course, the games were tough this year, but we usually finish our yearly record with them around the .500 mark, but this year we won 10 of the 12 games against them. What would you think contributed to those wins?
MP: Well, it was the 1-3-1 defense that really frustrated them. Some teams can handle it, and some teams just have a hard time dealing with it. I mean, look at what happened with Lake Erie. It wasn’t effective against them, and they just skated around it. But for some reason, it really frustrated Milwaukee and they didn’t have an answer for it.
TR: So, I guess that brings us to the offseason. As I mentioned before, typically the ’Hogs will bring up some veteran players for leadership, so who would you see the team bringing in next year?
MP: Well, there really aren’t too many spots open on the roster. You look, and we have quite a few players under contract for next season, so it is going to be tight. Couple that with some of the juniors coming up to the pros, so maybe a Terry Broadhurst or Mark McNeill is on the team next year, but I would say probably one defenseman, someone to take the lead on the special teams, and then maybe one or two forwards. Again, not a lot of people.
TR: So, what about you personally … what are your plans for the offseason?
MP: Well, going to take a deep breath now that everything is over. I’ll do some housecleaning here, go on the IceHogs’ website and post some blogs, and then I’ll do some pieces on projections and the NHL draft.
TR: Thanks for your time, Mike, now enjoy your offseason!
MP: Always a pleasure, thanks!
This concludes my coverage for the 2011-2012 season for the Rockford IceHogs. Keep your eyes open here for any stories related to trades, acquisitions or news. You can also check www.IceHogs.com for updates, and read Mike Peck’s blog under the News section of the IceHogs’ website.
From the May 2-8, 2012, issue