By Todd Reicher
Last week, I sat down with Mike Peck from the Rockford IceHogs for my annual preseason interview. Here’s a recap of our recent conversation.
Todd Reicher (TR): Good afternoon, Mike. How was your offseason?
Mike Peck (MP): It was good, but short. With the Blackhawks going the distance in the NHL postseason, it kept some of us here busy, as we posted on our Facebook page and other social media sites to keep hockey on people’s minds.
TR: With a new season comes quite a few changes — new faces, new giveaways, slogans, and new changes to the venue. Can you tell us about these changes?
MP: We’ve decided to keep the same slogan as last year with “It all starts here.” Especially with winning the Stanley Cup last year, we felt as an organization it was important to keep the slogan, because for many of these players, it really does start here as they progress into the NHL.
New faces … well, we have a few new faces, but quite a few of the previous players are returning. Now, to a casual fan these players will seem like new faces to them, but they have played a few games for the IceHogs in the past seasons. Guys like Mark McNeill, Phillip Danault, Kent Simpson and Terry Broadhurst have all seen limited time with the ’Hogs after their seasons with their junior team has finished, but most fans wouldn’t recognize the name.
Our promotional nights are always changing, but we bring back the ones the fans like or have worked well with us in the past. The calendar is here every year, the posters, those are always fan favorites. We are bringing back Los IceHogs Night again, as that was a big success with Los IceHogs Dos. There is a list of promotions and special nights listed on our website, www.icehogs.com, and people can check out what days we are running promotions and giveaways. We are always adding new promotions, so people can check often to see what is new. They can also like our Facebook page and follow our twitter account (@goicehogs) for up-to-date news.
We have quite a few changes and upgrades to the BMO (BMO Harris Bank Center). First off, all of the old seats and risers in the lower bowl are in process of being replaced. New risers will be put in place with new seats, which will help in a few ways. One, it will give new seats for the fans, and more of them. I think it will add around 150-200 seats, as there will now be seats above the player entrance over the ice. Two, the side that the fans don’t see, it will be much faster for the staff to put the seats in place and use less manpower. Previously, the staff had to pull out forklifts to move the seats in place, as they were the original seats from, what, 1981, and they weren’t working. The new seats are set up with a motorized mechanism, which moves them in and out quickly.
Another big change is we are having all of the lighting replaced with LED lighting, which is much more efficient than fluorescent lighting. It should be a big change to the fans as it will look similar to the lighting in the United Center (where the Chicago Blackhawks play).
TR: As a photographer and a fan, I noticed that the corners of the ice always seemed to be a little darker than the center, so that should be a big help.
MP: Yeah, down by the Dental Dimensions Club Lounge and the visitor entrance it was a little darker.
Other things the fans won’t see is the rebuild of the visitor’s locker room. Previously, there were separate rooms, and you would have players in different rooms. Now, they will have one big locker room, plus another newly constructed room to give them more space.
And, of course, the Stanley Cup will be coming back to Rockford on Sunday, Oct. 27. It should be the same as last time when the Cup was here where people can get their photo taken with the Cup and see the other trophies.
TR: It sounds as if things have pulled together quite nicely and you guys are prepared for the season. So, let’s get to talking about some players. As you know, I typically ask your thoughts on who is going to be here, who is a favorite to get called up, etc.
MP: The IceHogs have a few players signed under AHL contracts already, and the Blackhawks have only made a few cuts to trim their roster down. That will change prior to the start of the regular season, but here’s a list of names as of Sept. 23 of players who are on the IceHogs roster: Forwards Wade Brookbank, Pat Mullane, Matt Lowry, Daniel Koger, David Gilbert, Jared Brown, Kyle Bodie, Brad Mills, Emerson Clark and Kyle Stroh. Defensemen include Joe Gleason, Jared Nightingale, Viktor Svedberg, C.J. Chartrain, Tristin Llewellyn, Arthur Bidwell, Antoine Corbin, Bobby Shea and Joron Southorn. The only goaltender we have on the list now is Mac Carruth. Again, this is just a preseason roster, so this list will change as the preseason winds down and the Blackhawks make their cuts. The names of players that have currently been recalled to the Blackhawks include forwards Kyle Beach, Marcus Kruger, Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Bollig, Jeremy Morin, Brandon Saad, Ben Smith, Danault, Andrew Shaw, Joakim Nordstrom, Byron Froese, Garret Ross, Brandon Pirri, Broadhurst and McNeill. Defensemen include Adam Clendening, Dylan Olsen, Ryan Stanton, Nick Leddy and Klas Dahlbeck. Goaltender Simpson has also remained in Chicago.
TR: Who would be some players you think have the best chance to stay up in Chicago?
MP: Well, I think Leddy has proven he will be a mainstay, along with Kruger, Saad and Bollig. Other players that have had a smaller taste … I would think Smith, Hayes, Morin and Pirri all have legitimate shots at staying up, but you also have to think about Beach, Danault, McNeill, Stanton. It really depends on certain factors like an injury situation or if the Blackhawks want to give some young guy a good look. I think all of the people I mentioned will get called up at some time this season, it’s just situational. Their play will determine if they are going to stay up or not.
TR: What about captains and alternate captains for the season?
MP: That’s a tough choice because we have some good veteran leadership on this team, and from many different areas. You have Stanton, who has been with this team for quite a few years and has proven that he has good leadership skills. Brookbank is a contender, as well as some of the guys that are still up in Chicago. One guy we haven’t talked about is defenseman Mike Kostka, who, if sent down from Chicago, could be a leader for this team. In my opinion, he was one of the best, if not the best, defenseman during the lockout portion of the season last year for Toronto.
TR: We don’t like to talk about predictions for the playoffs, but how do you think this team will place this season?
MP: One thing we are really strong in this year is defense. With guys like Stanton, Dahlbeck, Olsen and Clendening, we have some great backside support. And this doesn’t include Kostka, if he is shipped here, and same with Theo Peckham. What we are going to lack is a scoring threat, especially if guys like Pirri, Smith, Morin and Hayes stay in Chicago. We don’t have a proven high-scoring forward outside those names, which means it is going to put pressure on some of the younger guys like Danault and McNeill to step up. I mean, if Beach is here, he can put up some goals, but you have to remember, the Blackhawks are going to want him playing a role here similar to what he would play in Chicago. They aren’t going to give Beach first-line minutes if they want him playing a different role in Chicago; they are going to slot him the same so when he would transition to Chicago, it would be seamless. Goaltending is a question, too, because we don’t know, first of all, who is going to get the start, but odds are Antti Raanta will be down here since the Blackhawks have [Corey] Crawford and [Nikolai] Khabibulin locked into contracts, and who knows how Simpson or Carruth will play? I think that a playoff spot will be determined by how well the team is able to score. The saying always goes that defense wins championships, so who knows, the defense could play strong and carry this team far, and late in the year, the forwards may start to pick things up. Either way, it’s going to be a great season, and I’m really looking forward to the drop of the puck.
The Rockford IceHogs begin the regular season at San Antonio Saturday, Oct. 5. Their home opener is a 7 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 19, matchup against the Grand Rapids Griffins. Visit icehogs.com for more details.
Posted Oct. 1, 2013