And now for the second installment of the “Getting to know the Midwest Division.” Before I begin, I have to give a shoutout to the Admirals Roundtable for getting the ball rolling and giving me the idea to do this!
If you missed the first post, here’s the Q&A with the Admirals Roundtable.
Another plug about this experience is by “meeting” fellow bloggers in Milwaukee and now Peoria, I’ve guaranteed two beers when I visit their arenas this season. (And of course, I will be returning the favor if and when they come to Charlotte!) I still need to follow up with Zachary on what the heck a “Prancer” is, and why that was the name of the hockey team that pre-dates the Rivermen… Take note of where he predicts the midwest team ranks. I like it.
So without further adieu…
1. What can you tell us about hockey in Peoria? What’s the history of the team, and hockey in the community? How has the city embraced the team, and the team the city? Do the Riverman get regular media coverage? Anyone Checkers fans should follow in the media or with the team to keep abreast of one of our new rivals?
The Peoria metro is actually several small communities anchored by the City of Peoria. Therefore, the hockey community in Peoria actually draws from several towns. There are two organizations in the area for youth hockey, one centered in Pekin, and the Peoria Youth Hockey Association (PHYA).
We are a small hockey community, really, but we are very tightly bound together. The youth hockey associations and the Rivermen have a very good working relationship, and as such the hockey families are really rabid about supporting and cheering for the Rivermen. Some of the nights the kids talk about the most is when they get to play in front of the crowd at intermission. The Rivermen staff do it up right, sounding the horn when the kids score, and the crowd cheers for each team as if they were their own kids. With the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup in 2010 and Team USA’s silver medal in the Olympics there has been a significant uptick in interest in hockey in the area, and this can only be viewed as a good thing. I coach my son’s mini-mite team, and along with other coaches and the Rivermen we have over 100+ kids just in the 4-6 age bracket alone hooked on hockey. On game nights it isn’t uncommon to see parents, players, or other coaches in the stands. We know each other very well, and all of us really gather around the Rivermen.
I wouldn’t call Peoria a hockey town, at least not right now, but the Rivermen are working to change that. We have decent attendance on the “off nights”, though it could be better. I like to think of the Rivermen as the hidden gem of the sports world in Peoria. Most of the media coverage in the fall goes to the Bears, Bradley University basketball, and then a mention of the Rivermen. It’s okay, though, because those of us who go to the games all the time know that this is our team, and I think that the players know that they have a very,very dedicated core.
Media members to keep an eye on:
Dave Eminian – Peoria Journal-Star Rivermen beat writer. There are times when Mr. Eminian and I do not agree on the finer points of the game, but he is a great guy to have as the beat writer for the Rivermen. Rumor has it he is joining Twitter soon… stay tuned.
Brendan Burke – Rivermen play-by-play man on the radio. Great guy to listen to call a game. He just has a touch. Knowledgeable about the game, does it all without a color analyst and makes it sound seamless. Follow him on Twitter @brendanmburke
As for history, the franchise of the Peoria Rivermen has been around since the 1982-83 season when it was known as the Peoria Prancers. The following year the name changed to the Rivermen and every team to play in Peoria since has had that name regardless of league affiliation. There is a Kelly Cup championship in the team history as well, coming in 1999-2000 season.
The Rivermen have been in the AHL since the 2005-06 season, with 2011-12 marking our seventh year in the league. All seven have been with a St. Louis Blues affiliation. We’ve been to the playoffs three times, all three times opening round losses against the Houston Aeros, twice being swept out, and once losing a game 7 on home ice. If I never see Houston in a playoff game again it will be too soon.
2. Do the Rivermen have icegirls/cheerleaders? Are they well received? In a fight between a Hurricane flag waving polar bear, and a Riverman, who would win?
We do have ice girls! It has been only a couple of season that they have been around, and they are the in-game promo team for the Rivermen. Generally they are well received. I never seem to win the prizes, but then again I wouldn’t know what to do if I did.
I’m going to assume we’re not talking mascots here because yours just jumped out of a plane, and that is setting the bar awfully high. So in the event that a real life flag waving polar bear shows up I am giving the edge to the Rivermen, and the firearms they surely carry. Of course, the idea of a real life flag waving polar bear showing up on a river steamboat might distract the Rivermen enough for the bear to get in a good shot.
3. What style of play do the Rivermen employ? Were they a high flying offensive machine? Did they rely on defense, goaltending and toughness?
The Rivermen are an enigma when it comes to styles. Last year they started the year as a high skill, high reward team. As the season progressed the Blues took a lot of injuries in the defensive corps and that led to a lot of call ups. The Rivermen tried to stay with the plan, but we quickly started getting physically beat in games.
This year the Blues have done a really good job in adding depth at the top which will hopefully filter down to the Rivermen. The additions of Sterling and Cheechoo are great Rivermen pickups (I don’t think either make the big club out of camp) and the resigning of TJ Hensick, but I worry a bit now about our defensive corps.
The biggest change I want to see in the Rivermen for 2011-12 is to end the just depressing amount of blockhead penalties we took. The Rivermen were really penalized a lot, and it is directly related to our early playoff exit.
4. How is the relationship between St. Louis and Peoria? Can you name a couple of players who moved up through Peoria to make a name for themselves in the NHL?
The ownership is the same in Peoria as it is in St. Louis, and right now both are for sale. I have a change jar on my desk just in case I can make a bid. The relationship is good, and Rivermen fans are generally big Blues fans too. In the playoffs there was a small group of Blues fans who made the short trip to Peoria to cheer on the Rivermen. Louie, the Blues mascot even came by to help. Rivermen fans enjoy opportunites to go to St. Louis several times a year as well. It is nice to have the parent club only two hours away and in the local TV market.
In the interest of full disclosure I have to admit that I am a New York Rangers fan first, Blues fan second. I do, however, love watching the Rivermen on call up to the Blues.
Notable Rivermen Alumni from AHL era: David Backes (Blues), Roman Polak (Blues), Lars Eller (Montreal), Trent Whitfield (Boston) – Whitfield is a former Rivermen captain, a third/fourth line center for BOS, a Stanley Cup champion, and someone that I would like my kids to grow up to emulate.
5. The Riverman had a strong season in 2010/11, but was swept in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual Calder Cup finalists, the Houston Aeros. What do you forecast your team being like this season? What three players should be on our radar as guys to watch?
I think we are stronger going into 2010-11 than ever before. I am really excited about the prospects going into the season. I think that the Midwest Division is going to be tight, incredibly so, and that the division will likely have three teams make the playoffs.
Using the SWAG Protocol I foresee the division going like this:
Players to keep on your radar:
I know that’s more than three. The goaltenders are on the list because they are both fighting to be the #2 in STL, and right now it is anybody’s guess who is going to be in STL after camp. The forwards are the big three that everyone has their eye on.
Under the radar:
F Cracknell (I’m trying to get “Release the Cracknell!” to catch on… and I am a dork.)
Those are the three you should really watch.
6. What can you tell a new Western team about life in the West? ANy expectations about the other cities and teams we will face, and what the travel is like? What about division rivalries? Who is Peoria’s biggest rival, and other rivalries within the Midwest?
Life in the West is tough. The West Division last season was a brutal place to play. Simply brutal.
The new Midwest is going to be tough too. With the Texas teams gone I worried about a decline in play. The addition of the Checkers is going to add a contender for the division title right out of the mix.
As for travel, I have heard stories of Chicago being a rough place to go as an opposing fan. I have not personally had any problems, but someone I know and trust has, and that is enough for me. Of course, this is also a byproduct of the rivalry.
If there is a team I hate it is the Chicago Wolves. Oh, I hate them. It’s okay, they hate us right back. Well, that is until they switched affiliations and are now the Vancouver affiliate. I don’t know if the players will know of the hatred, but the fans will. I mean, in a game against Chicago we had a guy LEAVE THE BENCH to fight someone. Who does that?
7. What prompted you to start your blog about the Rivermen?
I love the game, I play the game, I talk the game, I live the game.
To blog about the Rivermen had been in my head for a long time, but never had I thought of actually doing it. They say that there are no such thing as coincidences, and in less than a week I had two conversations on blogging about the Rivermen from two completely different people.
To my knowledge these two people don’t know each other and yet here they were urging me to go forward. Originally the idea was to wait for the start of the 2011-2012 season and start with a new season. But then the playoff push happened. Plus, the idea rattled around in my brain and got louder and louder until I could no longer ignore the sound.
So I started the blog just in time for a playoff push. It has taken off a lot more quickly than I would have imagined.
My wife also urged me to start a blog, only because I think she was sick of me trying to talk to her about hockey.