We recently got a chance to sit down and send some questions the way of the Brendan Burke, the radio broadcaster and director of communications for the Peoria Rivermen.
Brendan was kind enough to answer these questions to give the fans a more inside look at what goes on behind the scenes of an American Hockey League franchise.
Now we were curious, here at Bleedin’ Blue, what exactly does Brendan do for the Rivermen? We know he broadcasts games, but what else does he do? So question one asks him just that.
Bleedin’ Blue – You’re job title for the Peoria Rivermen is radio broadcaster and Director of Communications. Obviously other than calling the game on air and making the Ice Time Online videos, what else does your job entitle?
Brendan Burke – I have been lucky enough to wear a lot of different hats during my time in Peoria working in both the business side and hockey operations side of the team. I handle the daily duties of a media/public relations director of any sports team, i.e. fulfilling all media requests, writing press releases, doing everything I can to help the local newspapers and television stations provide the Rivermen as much coverage as possible. I also am responsible for all of the Rivermen web presence. I design, update and create content for www.rivermen.net as well as operate the Rivermen twitter and Facebook accounts.
On the hockey operations side I act as the traveling secretary for the team as well. I book and coordinate all of the flights, buses and hotels that the Rivermen will use all season long as well as setting up meals for the team to eat before and after games. And then speaking of someone who wears a lot of hats – Kevin McDonald (Blues assistant general manager/Rivermen general manager/Blues director of professional scouting) – obviously has a lot of responsibilities outside of the Rivermen so he is not in Peoria on a full-time basis. So that leaves me doing a lot of work with league transactions, drafting contracts for players to sign, and just really doing whatever else pops up.
And of course I get to broadcast the games – which is the fun part.
BB – You’ve been with Peoria for three year now I believe? Who is the best player you’ve seen come through the Rivermen since you’ve been with the organization?
Burke – This year is my fourth season with the organization. I spent two seasons (2006-08) in the ECHL with the Wheeling Nailers and then started with Peoria in October 2008. So it goes without saying that I have seen a lot of player pass through the Blues system on their way to St. Louis, out of St. Louis or somewhere else altogether. There is no easy answer to that question. There are some players that have turned into pretty good players (Lars Eller, Jonas Junland, Nathan Oystrick, etc) but I think the one person that I have seen truly dominate at the AHL level is T.J. Hensick. He seems to get two assists even on his “off-nights” and is one of those special players that makes the guys around him better. He makes passes that other players don’t see, and even if they saw them – they wouldn’t be able to execute them. He has the potential to put up 80+ points this year at the AHL level playing with Brett Sterling and Jonathan Cheechoo. He’s fun to watch for sure.
I will however give honorable mention to Jake Allen. What he did as a rookie has certainly put himself on the path to be in the conversation in a couple of years. The one thing that impresses me nightly about Allen is his positioning. He rarely makes scrambling, highlight-reel type saves because he never seems to be in the wrong place. He is just always there and quietly makes the saves and wins games without grabbing your attention. Don’t get me wrong, he still makes spectacular and flashy saves but they usually come on rebounds or quick passes that goalies aren’t expected to get to.
BB – With many of the Blues newly drafted talent (Ponich, Shields, Fairchild, and Barriball) finding their way to Peoria who do you look forward to seeing most this season?
Burke – I would probably say I am most excited to see Ponich. Whenever there is a player with a special attribute that you can’t teach (like being 6’7”) it ups the ante just a little bit. He is every inch of 6’7” and still has room to put on 20 pounds or so and really grow into his body. He skates well for someone his size and if he can make smart decisions with the puck and impose his will in front of the net he could develop into a very difficult person to play against. He is going to get a lot of ice time this season and could find himself paired up with a offensively-minded partner (like Danny Syvret) and have a lot of defensive responsibility thrown at him as a rookie.
BB – Obviously, you have a first hand look at the practices the players go through all season, who are you expecting to “break out” this year for the Rivermen?
Burke – I am fully expecting Phil McRae to have a “breakout” type year. He was very good as a rookie but his call ups and injuries didn’t really allow him to get into a rhythm. This year I think you are going to see McRae spend the vast majority of the season in the AHL. He may get called up for a stretch later in the year but I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays less than five games with the Blues this year. That’s not a knock on his play but simply what the organization feels he needs to develop properly. There is no reason to rush him. He has looked very good in camp with St. Louis. His conditioning is one of the best on the team, he is faster and stronger than he was a year ago and his maturity can’t help but improve. I think McRae will be a 20+ goal scorer in Peoria and wouldn’t be surprised if he flirts with 30.
BB – What do you personally look forward to most at the start of the year?
Burke – Personally I look forward to getting back on the radio. I really do enjoy broadcasting games. That’s what I have wanted to do since I was nine years old and I have been fortunate enough to land a job broadcasting hockey at a very high level. Couple that with the potential that the Rivermen have this season to be one of the top teams in the Western Conference and it is a pretty exciting time for me.
BB – With the talent the Blues have coming up through their pipelines, even those who haven’t hit the pro level in North America, how do you see this teams future with their many talented prospects?
Burke – There is no doubt that the St. Louis Blues are headed in the right direction as an organization. Watching the evolution of the roster in Peoria over the past four seasons it’s very easy to see what is happening with St. Louis. Take a look at their high-round picks from previous years and how many of them played at all in Peoria. The top draft picks were heading straight to St. Louis whether they were 100 percent ready or not. Now the Blues are deep enough where they are starting to DEVELOP players. Phil McRae, Jake Allen, Ian Cole, Lars Eller, Aaron Palushaj all were/are being given the time they need to develop the way the Blues want them to instead of needing to fill roster spots at the NHL level. The way things are looking there is no reason to think the Blues won’t be in Stanley Cup contention in five years and probably sooner than that.
BB – Yourself, along with Dave Eminian started up Ice Time Online a few seasons ago, where did that idea come from?
Burke – First let me say that Dave Eminian is one of the best writers in minor league sports. He works very hard and is invested in the growth of this team. Not to mention that he has been covering the Rivermen for 27 years. He came to me a few years ago wanting to incorporate more video into the Peoria Journal Star’s web coverage of the team. At that point the newspaper had a few web “shows” for various topics but were mostly just a couple of guys sitting at a table discussing the topic of their choice. We didn’t want to do that and set off on a venture to do our own thing. We didn’t really know where we were going with it when it first started but we just kept trying to find interesting topics and fun ways to give fans some behind-the-scenes access to the team. The players have been great and have had fun with it and it has turned into something that I think a lot of fans look forward to each week.
BB – The depth the Rivermen now have is very strong with many American Hockey League All-Stars including TJ Hensick, Jonathan Cheechoo and Brett Sterling. How does the Rivermen line up compare to the rest of the league?
Burke – On paper this Rivermen team looks to be one of the top offensive teams in the AHL. Brett Sterling scores 30+ goals every season and TJ Hensick is a 70+ point player. Thrown them together and give them Jonathan Cheechoo on the right wing and it creates a line that the league is already talking about and they haven’t even played a game together yet. Follow those three up with Phil McRae, Derek Nesbitt and Evgeny Grachev (possibly) and the top-six forwards are as good as you can get. The goaltending with Jake Allen and Ben Bishop is solid. The defense is the only place where the Rivermen could afford to get a little stronger. Obviously Danny Syvret and Ian Cole are NHL-caliber players. Brennan Evans is a sturdy AHL veteran. Brett Ponich is a rookie with a lot of potential. Mark Cundari has been a good find for the Blues but his upside is on the offensive side of the puck. Guys like Cade Fairchild and David Shields are still question marks at this point. But with the offense and the goaltending being what it is, Peoria is a playoff team with a chance to make a serious post-season run.
BB – Evgeny Grachev has impressed thoroughly in the Blues training camp. If he doesn’t make the team or gets sent down, where do you see him on the Rivermen roster?
Burke – This is going to be a tough call for Jared Bednar to make. The Sterling-Hensick-Cheechoo line is a line that is already feared in the AHL but I honestly think he will break it up if Grachev is added to the Rivermen roster. I could see Grachev playing the right wing with Sterling and Hensick and giving a guy like Cheechoo to Phil McRae to play with. I think that works out for the team and the development of McRae. But either way I see Grachev and Cheechoo being the top two right wings and being used interchangeably.
BB – Lastly, I have to ask, give us your prediction for the Rivermen this season.
Burke – Like I said earlier, Peoria is a playoff team. The AHL has changed their playoff format to mirror the NHL’s with the top eight teams in the conference getting in. I think Peoria will be battling with Chicago (and possibly Charlotte) to win the Midwest Division and depending on how healthy the Blues/Rivermen are in April have the potential to push for the Calder Cup. I think that if this team is pushing down the stretch you may see Kevin McDonald pull the trigger on a deal or two that could make this team championship caliber. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rivermen finish with 45-50 wins (in the new shortened 76-game schedule)
I want to first thank Brendan for sitting down and doing this for us here at Bleedin’ Blue. We really got to see what he does and hear the opinion of a man who sees everything that goes on in the organization. I can’t wait to see the NHL and preferably the Blues call your name in the near future for a broadcasting upgrade.
Next I urge you to five Brendan a follow on twitter, @BrendanMBurke as he’s gives great insight on whats going on behind the scenes, in practice, and whats new with the players as well! He also runs the @PeoriaRivermen twitter page as well!
Be sure to follow us @BleedinBlueFS on twitter. Be sure to follow our writing staff as well, lead writer, @RandallRitchey, and staff writers, @EvanHicks, @EvanParker, and @ScottCowsert. Any questions? Send them in to firstname.lastname@example.org