The band plays a factor in what is carried on the airwaves throughout the North American Hockey League.
In at least one dinky arena, a lack of bandwith exists to originate two Internet broadcasts on FastHockey.com, a pay-per-view site.
But the bandbox that is home to the Springfield Jr Blues is what raised a recent ruckus in a game involving the Topeka RoadRunners.
There was nothing unusual about the 4-2 victory for the Runners. Topeka enjoys a 36-14-5 edge all-time against Springfield .
But to hear Jr. Blues play-by-play announcer Mike Hickey tell it, the RoadRunners dominate with “a bunch of goons, starting with the head coach on down.’’
Believe me, a number of people back in Topeka heard Hickey tell it. Because of the space limitations at the Springfield rink -- or the unwillingness to create room, take your pick -- the Runners play-by-play was not available with the FastHockey.com video. Those who didn’t click to the Country Legends 106.9 website to hear Arch Ecker heard Hickey instead.
Ecker was accorded a phone line, but he sat in the stands and shuffled notes on a couple of soda crates used for a makeshift table.
Hey, Ecker can adapt. He’s a pro. He’s called roughly 850 games, including all those played by Topeka in the North American Hockey League.
Hickey, meanwhile, crossed his own rendition of the blue line.
Topekans were offended. Enough that they protested as high up as the league office. And with good reason.
One national outlet, Yahoo Sports, happened to pick up on the story and offered these accounts:
RoadRunners coach Scott Langer was called a “greasy little punk” as Hickey screamed at the Topeka bench. When brawls erupted, Hickey moaned, “We got another period of this. And with Topeka’s history, it’s only going to get worse.” As for the RoadRunners, “They’re disgusting. You heard it here first. They’re disgusting.”
A point of clarification is necessary. The NAHL is comprised of amateurs between the ages of 16 to 21 aspiring to sign with Division I college programs. Seven RoadRunners have committed to D-I teams so far this season off a team comprised of 15 new players. Yet Topeka was the first to qualify for the NAHL playoffs and owns the league’s best record (37-9-3, 77 points), while going 18-1-1 since New Year’s Day.
Disgusting? Yeah, if you’re jealous.
“It comes with having a target on your back as being one of the best teams in the league,” said Ecker, who confronted Hickey after the game regarding his on-air venom and defended Langer, the seventh-year coach who doubles as Topeka’s general manager and was named the NAHL’s top GM in 2010.
This season, the league footprint happened to expand. The NAHL grew by seven teams, with Internet access streamed on the FastHockey site. But the talent pool, both for hockey players and broadcasters, was apparently thinned in spots.
Hickey, a grandfatherly figure who houses several of the Springfield players and is on the franchise’s board of directors, apologized two days after the Feb. 19 game for his remarks. He also announced he was taking himself off the air, at least temporarily.
“It showed a total lack of respect toward Topeka, coach Langer and the very fine fans of that city,” Hickey said on the Coach’s Corner show he hosted. “Not only did I disrespect them, but in doing so I disrespected the Springfield Jr. Blues and I feel very badly about that. I’ve always held myself to a high standard. This time I didn’t reach it.”
It doesn’t really matter to RoadRunners owner Don Stone whether league officials privately demanded Hickey’s mea culpa.
“I hate to see it happen to anybody, and it’s unfortunate it happened,” Stone said. “But the guy did the right thing, all on his own, and apologized for his mistake. I’ve got a lot of respect for him for that.”
In turn, Stone deserves credit for reviewing his own operation.
Beginning with a home game tonight against Wichita Falls ($2 tickets commemorate the Runners’ return from a lengthy road swing), slight changes will be implemented to help with crowd control in Landon Arena. Forward seats adjacent to the penalty box will be eliminated and additional security will be used to usher visitors to the tunnel as they leave the ice.
“Players have to learn not to engage fans, but it’s hard to do that when fans are right in your face,” Stone said. “So I’ve tried to make it so opposing players don’t have the fans right in their face. I still want my fans to be passionate, so we’ve got to balance all that.”
Proper balance. Hmm, sounds appropriate.
Kevin Haskin can be reached
at (785) 295-1159