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Road Trip Diary Day 3: So What’s Been The Difference?

03/31/2011 9:16 PM - Mike Peck
Former IceHogs coach and current Blackhawks assistant Mike Haviland used to say one of my favorite lines: “There were too many passengers out there tonight”

I think that best sums up why Rockford has been playing so well over the past five weeks-there aren’t a whole lot of passengers on the ice. Everybody seems to be rowing in the same direction, more than just Jeff Taffe have been scoring, and team defense has improved greatly really helping the goaltenders get into a groove.

Hannu Toivonen has a legitimate chance at winning goalie of the month for March as his numbers read 7-2-1-1 with a .932 save percentage and a 2.43 goals against average. The most impressive stat, however, regarding Toivonen’s March is the fact that all seven of his wins came against teams that would be in the playoffs if they started on April 1.

He was the only goalie to beat the Lake Erie Monsters in March, and he did it twice. He beat the Western Conference’s top team, the Milwaukee Admirals, two times as well.

Another player who could earn some consideration for a monthly league award is rookie winger Ben Smith. Smitty tallied eight goals and added an assist in March, nearly doubling his goal scoring output. He now has 17 tallies on the season, second most on the IceHogs.

Back to Taffe for a second.  I don’t think the IceHogs have ever had a player with a more lethal shot than Jeff Taffe. Matt Prefontaine has coined the area above the hash marks and face-off circle in the offensive zone as Taffe’s trapezoid and I love seeing him tee up slap shots from that area. I bet of his 26 goals this season, half of them have been scored from that area on the ice.

My first impression of Jimmy Hayes was very positive as well on Wednesday. Making his pro debut, I thought Hayes used his big 6-5 frame to his advantage and showed that he wasn’t afraid to go to the net. Once again, just a small sample size, but I liked the first look!

Today was another travel day for the IceHogs as we went from wet, snowy, gloomy Cleveland to sunny and warm Oklahoma City. For the first time in the four seasons that we’ve been in the AHL, we had a connecting flight. And we have to do it again on Saturday on our way to Austin.

We actually flew back to Chicago before connecting at O’Hare for OKC. The planes were smaller American Eagle planes and I know there wasn’t a whole lot of head room for Jassen Cullimore sitting behind me.

Our gear went on a bit of an adventure as well. Some of it ended up on the plane with us to Chicago and then to OKC. The rest went to Dallas and then to OKC. I said it before, and I’ll say it again….some fans think our travel is glamorous, but we have to deal with the same headaches as everyone else and most of the time more as you can see here.

We ended up in Oklahoma around 3:30 p.m. today. Our hotel is at a great location as we are right across the street from the Cox Convention on one side and the trendy Bricktown District on the other. So the rink and all the dining is just out the front door.

It’s definitely nice being back in warmer weather and it only gets hotter from here. The 90’s are predicted for this weekend in Texas.

Road Trip Diary Day 2: Hello, My Name Is….

03/30/2011 1:37 PM - Mike Peck
Day 2 of a 9-day road trip for the IceHogs

One thing about minor league sports is that you get to wear a lot of different hats and have a hand in a bunch of different things. Like, a lot of people would be a bit confused when they hear radio broadcasters helping unload hockey gear at the arena.

I know there are a bunch of radio guys around the league that do it and I help Russ Holden, Tim Clive and DJ Jones most times when we are on the road.

Last night we couldn’t get into the Quicken Loans Arena until around 11 p.m. to unload, unpack and hang the gear because the Cavaliers were playing the Miami Heat. We got down to the arena and had to wait for the Heat to clear the locker room hallway before we could get to our room and it was interesting to a group of Cavalier fans going absolutely gaga when LeBron James walked out.

They were screaming for his autograph and begging him to come over and shake hands. I’m sure that these are the same fans/fools that were cursing him all season and booing him all night last night! I don't mind the booing, especially for James, but to do boo and then beg for an autograph? I don't have hard evidence, but I'm sure it happened!

Anyways, just kind of side note of the trials and tribulations of travel and it is kind of cool to see the change overs in other buildings. One other side note, one of my favorite aspects of coming to Cleveland is chatting with Lake Erie’s visiting locker room attendant, John. He’s helped out with the hockey team in Cleveland for a long time and he also helps out with Indians baseball. We’ve been chatting a lot baseball with the season starting Friday and he’s got some great stories.

I always say that one of the biggest perks of the job is getting to meet some great people and it’s not always players/coaches. It’s guys like John that make it enjoyable.

The replacements are here with so many guys out and it kind felt like training camp again today with a few new faces around. I don’t think name tags were  necessary, but there were more than the usual amount of fresh faces. The new guys are Jimmy Hayes and Mike Hedden and then you throw Andy Bohmbach and Chris Didomenico back into the mix and the IceHogs lineup tonight will look a little different.

I’m most concerned about the penalty kill because the Hogs will be without Evan Brophey, Peter LeBlanc and Igor Makarov, three of really the only six forwards used on the PK.  Some other guys like Mathis Olimb and Didomenico will get a chance to kill some penalties tonight (hopefully not too many!)

Hannu Toivonen is back in net tonight and Rockford will need him on his game. No team is hotter in the AHL than the Monsters. They haven’t lost since the IceHogs beat them 3-2 on March 5, and have won eight-straight games in that time span. Incredibly, Lake Erie is 24-6-0-1 over their past 31 games going back to Jan. 14.

They’ve been the best team in the AHL the second half of the season and tonight will be another great test for the Hogs.

I’ve had fans ask what a game day routine is like and the road for me is a little more structured than home games. I actually like my preparation process on the road a lot more than at home because I actually have more time to do “homework”

I typically get up around 8 a.m. and sneak an hour workout in. The hit morning skate and get to the arena around 10 a.m., grab some interviews from both sides including Bill Peters and gab with the other teams radio guy.

I feel it’s important to try to interview players or coaches from the opposing team. First off, just by chatting with them I can get a feel for what’s been going on and it’s a little deeper than just looking at a stat sheet. Secondly, as a fan, I always like to hear some insight on the other team.

I usually leave morning skate around noon, head back to the hotel (or catch the team bus if there is one) and do some Web site stuff. Eat lunch around 1-1:30 p.m. and then catch up on some emails, general work and do some more studying for the game.

I usually head out to the arena around 4:30 p.m., get there, set up my radio gear, find the media room for more food and then settle in the press box for the broadcast and more studying.