Editor’s note: The following is part three 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, and part two appeared in the Sept. 5-11 issue. The IceHogs start training camp Sept. 20. Their 2012-2013 regular season begins with a 7 p.m. game at Chicago Saturday, Oct. 13. Their home-opener is at 7:05 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 20, against the Charlotte Checkers.
By Todd Reicher
Todd Reicher (TR): So, now to the nitty gritty. Who are some of your players to watch this season and why?
Mike Peck (MP): I expect Kyle Beach to have a big season. At the beginning of last season, Beach showed he was starting to mature and get used to the pro game. Then, he got injured. The good thing was that he was able to come back and get some games in before the end of the season, so he didn’t have to go almost an entire season and the offseason without any ice time. When he came back from his injury, he appeared to pick up where he left off early in the season showing that same maturity and growth.
Also, Beach’s Entry Level Contract expires at the end of this upcoming season. It’s not like it’s make-or-break for him to have a great season, you know, but having a good season and continuing down his recent path will surely help his chances at getting a contract renewal.
It’s tough for these guys, especially the first-round draft picks that have high expectations, like Beach. They come in here young, with little experience of living alone, and they’re thrown into an adult-type situation where they have to learn responsibility and the like while transitioning to a higher level of hockey.
TR: I can see how that would be difficult at that age. It’s basically like going away to college, but you have the pressure of playing a professional sport on top of it. Who else should we keep an eye on?
MP: Shawn LaLonde is another player in the same situation as Beach. They have both been here a few years, with Shawn entering his third full season in Rockford like Beach, and he also has quite a bit of pressure going into his final Entry Level Contract year.
LaLonde started off a bit slow in the scoring department, but caught up a bit as the season went on. For Shawn, he’s still trying to balance out his game, and I talked to him in the offseason to see what he’s been working on, and he’s trying to raise his overall ability, not just one aspect of his game. Both he and Beach were two guys that decided to stay here in Chicago during the offseason and work with the training staff on the Blackhawks instead of going home for the summer. That shows how much dedication they have and how important this upcoming season is for them.
TR: I know many of the early scouting reports said he (LaLonde) was a very strong skater and had a good shot, but needed to work on other parts of his game, and he seems to have done that.
MP: Right, and it’s a learning process, and that’s why these guys are here in Rockford, to work out those weak spots in their game so they can make it to the top level someday.
TR: One name we haven’t hit yet is Rostislav Olesz. If I recall, Olesz was injured last year and sat out the end of the season.
MP: Olesz was injured in the now infamous “Milwaukee Brawl,” but it happened before the actual brawl. He took a hit that will more than likely keep him out until November or December of this season. Normally, I would say it would hurt that Olesz is out of the lineup, but with how deep this team is in talent, and also the potential lockout, I think they will do fine.
But hands down, Olesz is the most talented player on this team. Not to put anyone on the team down, but he could easily be a top-six forward on any NHL team, and that is saying a lot. The reason he is not with the Blackhawks is because their top six is already stacked with guys like (Patrick) Kane, (Jonathan) Toews, (Marian) Hossa, (Patrick) Sharp, and there’s no way those guys are sitting or getting moved down.
TR: And that’s the problem with guys like Brandon Pirri. You have all of this top-six talent, where a guy like Pirri would fit in, but he can’t crack the lineup over those guys.
MP: And that’s what a lot of fans don’t understand. They’ll say “Well, why isn’t this guy or that guy playing with the Blackhawks?” and it’s like, what are you going to tell, tell Toews he has to sit out? No way. But back to Olesz … it’s nothing against Olesz, he’s a great guy, and he’s well respected in the locker room. The players look up to him, and he doesn’t take that for granted. In fact, on our last road trip of the year, Olesz pointed me out, along with four or five other coaches and trainers, and said “you, you, you, we’re going out to dinner tonight,” and he took us all out to dinner. And not a McDonald’s or anything, he took us out to a nice Brazilian steakhouse. And he has done that for every player on the team.
TR: What a cool story. You see these guys on the ice, and you don’t really get to know them as a person, but hearing something like that makes you look at a player in a different light. Is there anyone else that comes to mind?
MP: I think any of the guys that have their Entry Level Contracts expiring this year will have, at least to them, an important season. The guys like Ryan Stanton, Joe Lavin, Alec Richards and Peter LeBlanc. I also think Ben Smith is going to have a big season if he stays healthy. He’s a guy that was up with the Blackhawks at the end of the 2010-2011 season, came in to 2011 expecting a big year with the ’Hawks and was injured in a preseason game against the Red Wings, and that set him back. Then, later in the season, he was injured again with that labral tear, so that put him out for the season. Actually, he could have had the surgery earlier, but he played through it and had the surgery when it would give him the most time to train this offseason and still give him play time out most of the 2011-2012 season.
TR: With many of these players being “veterans,” at least in Rockford, who do you think gets the “C” (team captain) and the “A” (team assistant captains) this year? You have guys like Smith, Olesz, (Wade) Brookbank and Stanton who have worn an “A” before, so you would think they have an upper hand. You also have (Martin) St. Pierre, who is a proven veteran, so you have to put him up for nomination.
MP: Yep, all of those guys have had a letter some time or another, although St. Pierre only had a letter in the Juniors. I would say all of the guys you named have a legitimate shot at getting a letter, except for Olesz due to his injury. That’s not to say that he couldn’t get a letter later in the year, however. Certain players have that leadership role, whether it’s in the locker room or on the ice, and the people that we’ve seen wear a letter before show that quality. If someone really steps up over the course of the season, they’ll certainly be rewarded, but for now, I think it’s still up in the air to see who will take the reins.
TR: So, that takes us up to the preseason. Now, we talked about the lockout, but is there a specific cutoff date where the players or coaches will say “OK, it’s X date, head over to Rockford for training camp?”
MP: No, not really. I think the players will train in Chicago, or wherever they are training in the offseason, until roughly around Sept. 20, which is when training camp starts. So really, a player who would be training for Blackhawks training camp can stay until Sept. 19, and say “OK, there’s no resolution to the lockout — I’m going to Rockford. I think if the players know a resolution is coming, let’s say around Sept. 15, they are going to stay in Chicago, even if a resolution isn’t reached until Sept. 25. But if there’s no progress, they’ll be here sooner.
TR: Training camp starts on the 20th, and it looks like the preseason schedule has been released.
MP: There are three preseason games, with one at home. The first game is Wednesday, Oct. 3, against the Wolves at the West Meadows Ice Arena in Rolling Meadows, Ill., at 7 p.m. Oct. 4 will be the ’Hogs’ only home preseason game against the Milwaukee Admirals. What’s great is the Rockford Register Star is offering free tickets to the game starting Friday, Sept. 28, running up to the start of the game. The newspaper, and their website (rrstar.com) will have a coupon you can clip for four free tickets. The last preseason game is Saturday, Oct. 6, against the Rivermen at the Carver Arena in Peoria. Rockford’s first home game of the regular season won’t happen until four games in when they play Charlotte on Saturday Oct. 20.
TR: And that takes us into the start of the season. I think I’ve taken enough of your time, and I think we’ve covered everything on my list. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me, and I look forward to catching up with you later in the season for a mid-season review.
MP: My pleasure, and look forward to talking to you then.
One additional note to add to the story that occurred after the interview had taken place. Thursday, Aug. 23, the Rockford IceHogs announced they had formed a partnership with Channel 23-WIFR to broadcast all 76 regular-season IceHogs games, along with any post-season games.
The games will be broadcast on WIFR’s “23 Weather Now” channel, channel 23.2 and Comcast Cable channel 436 in the Rockford market, and will feature play-by-play commentary from Mike Peck.
According to the press release, “each broadcast will feature a 15-minute pregame show featuring an interview with IceHogs Head Coach Ted Dent, interactive intermission segments and a 10-minute postgame show recapping the game.”
From the Sept. 19-25, 2012, issue