Hockey: Tales from the Trough: Q & A season preview with ‘The Voice of the IceHogs’ — part two

Editor’s note: The following is part two of a three-part interview with Mike Peck, the voice of the Rockford IceHogs, previewing the team’s upcoming hockey season. Part one appeared in the Aug. 29-Sept. 4 issue. The IceHogs start training camp Sept. 20.

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

Todd Reicher (TR): “One of the things I noticed is the new division realignment, which I think is a benefit for us. We’re losing Charlotte from our division, and last year we had a 2-3-0-3 record against them, and we are gaining the Grand Rapids Griffins, whom we have excelled against over the last two seasons with a 7-2-0-1 record. We always seem to play good against the Griffins, so do you think it will benefit us more? Then again, maybe playing them eight times instead of four times a season, the teams will get to know each other better, and they may sneak up on us.”

Mike Peck (MP): “It’s so hard to guess from year to year how teams will play each other. I mean, last year we were unbelievable against Milwaukee, and they didn’t necessarily dominate us, but they certainly had the upper hand on us the last four years. But you are right as far as Grand Rapids is concerned. Their radio guy, Bob Kaser, hates coming here. I mean, he loves the building, doesn’t mind the travel, but they always seem to have bad luck here. Kinda like us, where we had bad luck for the first three to four years at the Allstate Arena. Now, it’s starting to change and even out a bit, but for whatever reason, Grand Rapids really struggles here. But yeah, the realignment makes sense. Everything from geographical to us having Detroit’s farm team in our division, so that’s kinda cool. It’s not that is how they align the divisions, but it just makes sense. Charlotte is a great stop, and we still get to go there once, but it doesn’t make sense to have them in the Midwest Division. It’s not fair to them and their fans, and not like Houston, San Antonio, Texas and Oklahoma City are any closer than Chicago, Peoria and Milwaukee are, but it’s hard to boast a rivalry with Rockford or Peoria when you are in Charlotte, N.C. It’s a work in progress, and the league is playing the hand they are dealt, and it worked last year. Charlotte has to travel regardless, and it makes sense to have them hit the teams in that area and knock off three to four games at a time. Now, it makes even more sense the way we have it.”

TR: “We also have the shorter season last year with four games chopped off. What would you say the overall drawbacks and benefits are of the revamp?”

MP: “The benefit is it’s four less games for the players. I’ve heard the NHL would actually like it reduced even more. In their perfect world, they’d probably like to have it down to 72 games instead of 76, but then it cuts into the financial losses of teams. Even here, you’re talking four less games at home, and that’s a potential of hundreds of thousands of dollars. And that’s not even the big players like Hershey, Chicago, Providence and Manchester. Sure, they’re saving on travel costs, but again, this is a developmental league, and there has to be that partnership. It is what it is, and that is what they feel is best, then that is the route they are going to go. But for the players, it’s four less games, and they are here to develop. Why burn them out and risk further injury, but then again, it’s hockey. It’s the same argument you hear in preseason football. In my opinion, what’s the difference if the guy gets injured in the opening kickoff of the first preseason game or the first kickoff on the first regular season game. It’s the risk you are running. It’s a high-impact game that is played super-fast, and guys are going to get hurt and that is the nature of the game? It’s what these guys know and what they’ve signed up for. From a development standpoint, maybe it will help them to play four less games.”

TR: “When a decision like this is made, is it mostly the AHL, or is it the owners of the teams that make the decision?”

MP: “The Board of Governors, which is sometimes owners, sometimes general managers, sometimes team presidents, it varies, they are the ones that have to vote on it and approve. They do this with the best interest of their organization, however they feel that is. Some NHL teams own their AHL teams, and some may make a decision that will benefit their team more than one that is independently owned. So, it varies. Obviously, there is going to be more resistance on a team with a shorter schedule that draw well consistently. The NHL suggests things and the league as a partnership considers it, and if they are going to be a developmental league for the NHL, they have to work with the NHL. It’s like the icing change. If it works well in the AHL, you know it’s going to be in the NHL sometime. Shootouts are a perfect example.”

TR: “With the potential NHL lockout, there could be an abbreviated, or no season, in the NHL. What are your thoughts on a lockout?”

MP: “I hope it doesn’t happen. It would be, from our standpoint, in the short term, small picture, it would probably benefit the IceHogs. First off, it would decrease the options for fans to see hockey. So naturally, more attention would be drawn to the AHL. We’d probably get some players who have Entry Level Contracts with the Blackhawks, from everyone to Nick Leddy, Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger, Brandon Saad, any of those guys on their entry level contracts could end up in Rockford. That’s being very narrow-minded, though. In the big picture, I hope it doesn’t happen. I don’t want to see the league lockout again. It’s just another black eye. Will they recover? Yeah, every league has recovered, but it’s just something for a league that is growing, gaining popularity and strength, going in the right direction. It’s not just one or two steps back, it’s 10 steps back. And again, they’ll recover. The lockout before was a little different, most people thought it needed to happen to get financials set and straightened out, but this one I just hope they get it worked out. I don’t know all the intricacies. I do know it’s revenue sharing with the teams and players, it all goes back to money, but it’s out of the best interest for hockey that they don’t lockout.”

TR: “In the offseason we have had only a few roster changes. We’ve resigned Wade Brookbank, and we also see the return of Martin St. Pierre. Other than that, it looks like we have mostly the same roster. I know in the first few AHL years we had a high turnover rate, and last year was the lowest turnover rate, but this year looks to be even less.”

MP: Yeah, this is actually the extreme. We usually bring back about half the team, anywhere around seven players. The first year we had a big turnover, and that’s mostly because the team was pretty ripe, and that is what this team is getting to be. I mean, even the guys you said we resigned. … St. Pierre was here, although he is a new face but a familiar face. Brookbank was here. Brandon Svendsen is back. All of those guys on AHL contracts. There’s only a few guys on this updated roster that people may have never heard of and that is Adam Clendening and Klas Dalhbeck. And then you have Terry Broadhurst, who played eight games with us at the end of the season, so he is kind of a familiar name. After that, you have one of the backup goalies, Kent Simpson, who played in a game here last year. Not on this list is Mac Carruth, and he will be battling along with Simpson and Alec Ricahrds for the backup goalie spot. So, let’s say Simpson or Carruth win the backup goalie job, and Richards gets sent down to the ECHL, you are talking only three players who haven’t suited up here before. Well, if Simpson makes it, that will be two. So this is the most consistent roster we will probably ever have come back.”

TR: “Obviously, you would think that creates some continuity with the players, having played and trained together before. Do you think coach Ted Dent is going to keep some of the lines the same as last year, make early changes?”

MP: “I mean, lines never stay the same for more than a couple weeks. And really, I should add that there is a chance that another forward or defenseman will get added to this mix, and there will be a few guys invited to training camp. Rob Klinkhammer was found out of that mix. Gavin Morgan, who wound up being one of the captains, was also brought in on a tryout. But the bottom line is that I think if the lines aren’t producing that Teddy (Ted Dent) will change things up.”

TR: “Some of the younger guys that aren’t on this list include Brandon Saad, Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault. Do you think these guys will come here and skip their last season in the juniors or will they come here?”

MP: “It’s different in the juniors as players have to be 19 by a certain cutoff date or they cannot play in the AHL. They can play in the NHL if the team keeps them up, but if not, they have to go back to the juniors, just like Saad did last year for the Blackhawks. After their season in the juniors is over, they are free to come to the AHL like McNeill, Danault and Broadhurst did last year.”

From the Sept. 5-11, 2012, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!