Editor’s note: The following is part one of a three-part interview with Mike Peck, the voice of the Rockford IceHogs, previewing the team’s upcoming hockey season. The IceHogs start training camp Sept. 20.
By Todd Reicher
It’s late August, the kids are back in school, and the temperatures have started to slowly decline. Not only does it mean fall is around the corner, but so is hockey.
Rockford is entering its sixth season of hockey in the American Hockey League (AHL) this year, and this year will be unlike any other the team has had before.
This season will mark the lowest turnover in players and staff the IceHogs have seen. Many familiar faces from last year and previous seasons will be returning, including a player from the IceHogs’ first season in the AHL in 2007-2008.
In continuing the tradition of the last few years, I sat down with Rockford IceHogs Vice President of Communications and the “Voice of the IceHogs” Mike Peck to talk about the upcoming 2012-2013 season of Rockford IceHogs hockey.
Todd Reicher (TR): So, let’s get right to it. One of the big bits of news to come in the offseason is the return of P.A. announcer Chris Toltzman. How was his return brought about? Did you call him, did he call you?
Mike Peck (MP): Personally, I’m good friends with Chris. We see each other several times during the course of the year, and I’ve had a pulse on his feelings and where he wanted to be, and he kind of needed a break from doing this (announcing), and that’s why he stepped down in the first place. Last year he got to do the Chicago Express, and I think that whetted his appetite to get back into it. And if things would have worked out with the Express, he probably would have still been there. [Note: The Chicago Express ceased operations after last season.] It was an opportunity, and he expressed the desire to come back here. Where we are and where we want to get to with our game presentation and our game operations, from an entertainment standpoint, we feel he is an integral part to that. We felt it was important to bring him back into the mix, and have him add what he does to that part of the (fan) interaction.
TR: With the changes that occurred last year, with the move of the announcer’s booth to the lower level and out of the press area, do you think he’ll be able to jump right in where he left off?
MP: Actually, this year we are bringing that section back up into the press box. There were pros and cons with having it on the floor. One of them was the communication was a bit of an issue because they were out on an island. It was nice that they had their own space, and we had more space upstairs, but it added another element in trying to communicate. So now that everything is up in the press box, it will make it that much easier.
TR: I’ve seen Chris at a few games since he took his break, and I think he’s just as much of a hockey fan as any of us.
MP: Right. He never lost any interest in the team, he just needed a break. And now he’s ready to go again.
TR: That’s great news for everyone. Continuing with the fan experience, what is the IceHogs’ new slogan for the year?
MP: Yep, it’s called ‘It All Starts Here.’ At this time, I am not sure how we are going to announce it or unveil it.
TR: Do you know of any merchandising or how they will promote it?
MP: Not yet. I am not sure if it is going to be like last year with the ‘R,’ the ‘We R IceHogs,’ since that was more driven in to merchandising. It will probably be on most giveaway items and things like that. For example, we are doing a calendar on opening night, and it will be all over that.
TR: Any other promotions you know of right now?
MP: I’m trying to think if there is anything drastically new. We are going to try to do a Los IceHogs night this year, hopefully sometime this fall. It should be fun, and very different. Many promotions are contingent upon the schedule, and once we have that, we’ll start plugging things in. It’s hard to plan promotions when you don’t have the schedule, because if we don’t have enough Friday or Saturday games … basically, you can’t have two premium promotions on back-to-back nights.
TR: How about any different on-ice games for the fans?
MP: I can’t answer if there are or not, because it’s all dictated by sponsorship, but I know they are working on some things. As far as other things for the fans, our video introduction will be revamped, and there are always a few tweaks. That goes along with the on-ice promotions as we try to freshen it up. We added those first intermission interviews, and those will be back again. Basically, some stuff to keep it interactive. Maybe some stuff on the concourse, but at this level, it hinges upon sponsorship.
TR: Now, there were some changes that the AHL added this season, and one of the big ones is video review. Have you heard much about how that is going to be handled or how that is going to operate?
MP: I haven’t heard too much on how it will be handled or operated, but I think it’s going to be goal-line cameras. So, probably from an aerial view shooting down on the goal line, and I am guessing the on-ice officials will be the ones reviewing it. I’m not quite sure logistically, like in the NFL, if they are going to have a hood and a monitor. Probably something down the home tunnel, where they can skate off and review it. I guess that’s how it is going to work, but at this point, I’m not sure. That’s probably something they (the AHL) are trying to figure out themselves because every building is different. That was kind of the hold-up because every building is different. You have the extremes like the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, you have Cleveland, Houston, they are all NBA buildings. And then you have us, and Binghamton, smaller buildings, so it’s different. It will be nice to have, and there will be growing pains with it, and hopefully the fans understand. It will be a process, and hopefully they can get everything figured out by the time the playoffs roll around and they’ll get everything ironed out by then.
TR: I’m sure it will help, because I am sure there were at least three or four close calls last year where a review would have certainly helped.
MP: Oh, yeah. We were actually talking about that, with our head of off-ice officials, and that’s about what we estimated, about three to six, and it’s probably going to come up. Like, was the net off, or what was the situation? Did that puck actually go in? It will be impactful, that’s for sure.
TR: I noticed they are testing out the icing rule as well, and adaptation to Rule 81, which will go into effect Nov. 19. Is that going to be similar to the European leagues, the no-touch icing?
MP: Actually, it’s going to be a hybrid icing. Personally, I like it. I hate the fact … there is a play where there’s a chance for injury on a play where there doesn’t need to be, and you penalize a player for making contact and doing his job, and chasing down a puck. What, do you want a guy to dog it back and not give the effort? Basically, what this new rule is, if a player gets to the faceoff circles and the puck crosses the line and it is judged that he will get to the puck before the opponent, then it is automatic icing. Unfortunately, it is going to make the icing a little more confusing for new and casual fans, but from a safety standpoint, and my opinion, it’s a no-brainer. Especially at this level. There is no need for guys to risk injury on an icing play. They use it in college, in the NCAA, and I believe some leagues in the juniors use it.
TR: In relation to hits, do you think this rule was something brought down from the NHL for overall safety? As far as enforcement of hits are concerned, I know from the questionable play in the NHL playoffs and head hits, and I know they have been watching that in the AHL over the last few years, do you think they are going to take a stronger stance on that this year?
MP: I think they’ve made some pretty strong statements. I mean, last year it seemed that suspensions in the AHL were up. We saw it here two years ago with Evan Brophey. He just stepped out of the penalty box, ran into the guy with no malicious intent, and it cost him the final seven games of the season. The year before that, there wouldn’t have been anything. He wouldn’t have even been suspended. So, I think the status has been set, everybody knows what the ramifications are with the head hit. Will that stay the same? I don’t know. What I would like to see are some equipment regulations. Maybe some smaller shoulder pads and elbow pads. But it’s easy for me to say because I am not playing. These guys are moving fast and blocking shots, but I think it’s the next step. It’s the same issue in football. It’s not necessarily the helmet, it’s the shoulder pads. Guys can fly around the ice and throw their bodies around with reckless abandon with little consequence to them because of their padding. It’s pretty drastic from 10 years ago. Not only are people bigger, faster and stronger, but their padding is bigger. To get back to your original question, I think the standard has been set, and I don’t know what the thought process is from the AHL, but you have to let the players dictate where it goes. You have to see what the play and the players dictate where you go from here. They’ve set the standards, they’ve set the rule and what the penalties are going to be, and if it doesn’t catch the attention of the players, then you know what’s going to happen, and they are going to start levying harsher suspensions and penalties. It’s a tough job. If you want to worry about player safety, you have to have an iron fist, and that is the ultimate goal.
From the Aug. 29-Sept. 4, 2012, issue