By Steve Robinson | March 25, 2007 - 1:51 am
Posted in Category: Pekin Daily Times, Peoria Rivermen

Norm UlrichPEORIA – When the Peoria Rivermen’s season ends, it will not just be the players who hang up their skates.

Longtime Rivermen broadcaster Norm Ulrich will retire at the end of the season, having spent over 20 years covering some of the team’s most cherished moments, including two championship seasons in two separate leagues. It is a stint that will conclude after 35 years behind a microphone covering sports locally and regionally.

Ulrich has seen many changes in how leagues operate having seen the team go from IHL (1984-96) to ECHL (1996-2005) to AHL (2005-present).

Ulrich said he is looking forward to spending time with his wife of 35 years, Pearl, and their four children and eight grandchildren.

“It’s an exciting game to call,” Ulrich said. “It’s the most exciting game there is as far as I am concerned, to call, because of the speed of the game, because of the hitting, (and) because of the goaltending. It’s just an exciting game.”

It’s also a game of statistics. And Ulrich, like any good sports broadcaster, stays fluent on not just the current players’ stats, but said he has racked up some of his own covering the Rivermen.

By his count, when this season ends, Ulrich, 65, will have covered over 1,400 hockey games, in the U. S. and Canada. In doing so, Ulrich said he has been racking his own personal stats that broadcasters and writers don’t often share with the public.

Those stats include knowing that he has covered hockey games in 77 separate arenas in 69 cities crossing 32 states. He said part of the reason for those numbers is because, in eight of those 69 cities, he covered games in two different rinks.

“The thing that blows my mind is not the number of states, not the number of rinks, but the number of cities,” Ulrich said.

Ulrich notes that his Rivermen coverage has taken him “from Anchorage, Alaska to Estero, Fla., and from Albany, N. Y. to San Diego, and everywhere in-between.”

Ulrich jokes that, now, he wished he had counted the mileage involved to go with those stats. He said the fans of the Louisiana IceGators, the Rivermen’s opponents for the ECHL Kelly Cup at the end of the 1999-2000 Season, were probably friendliest fans he met on the road.

“Fans were great all over the country,” Ulrich said. “But the IceGators’ fans were phenomenal because of how they treated us when they were there. They were unbelievably kind.”

Peoria Rivermen“He’ll Be Tough To Top”: Rivermen management, under the direction of team Vice President and General Manager Bart Rogers, knows watching Ulrich retire will not be easy.

“Anytime you have somebody with his character and knowledge of the game, who has been around for a long time, he’ll definitely be tough to top,” Rogers said.

“He has a lot of knowledge and seen a lot of history,” Rogers said of Ulrich. “He’s seen it all. He’s seen the ups and downs of Rivermen hockey.”

We Knew Him When…: Prior to his stint with the Rivermen, local sports fans remember Ulrich as sports anchor/reporter for WEEK-TV, channel 25, through much of the 1970s and early 1980s. He broadcast Rivermen games for a couple years in the mid-80s, but took a few years off to follow other broadcast options, returning in 1988.

His return to Peoria in 1988 would bring radio listeners the thrills from the team’s 1990-91 Turner Cup championship season when the team belonged to International Hockey League.

Ulrich said he will always remember the Turner Cup-winning season as “the best year. Nothing will ever compare with ’90-91.

“(Having a team with) an 18-game winning streak and winning the Turner Cup…Nothing will ever top that,” Ulrich said.

Ulrich said the championship years were fun, and he said he and those associated with the Turner Cup team, including then head coach Bob Plager, and players like wingers Dave Thomlinson, Jim Vesey, Kelly Chase; defensemen Dominic Lavoie, and goalies Pat Jablonski and Guy Hebert among others, “couldn’t wait to get to the rink.

“Every day was fun,” Ulrich said, recalling those times. “Every trip was fun. Everything about the year was fun.” He said although a lot of work went into putting the game on-air, it didn’t feel like work.”

From there, he would move on to do play-by-play for the IHL’s San Diego Gulls for three seasons before returning to the River City in 1995 to clue Rivermen fans in on how their team did during that season, and has been here ever since.

With a rich voice and knowledge gleamed from daily contact with players and coaches, Ulrich has conveyed the excitement of the game to fans – particularly when the team won both the Turner Cup and again when the Rivermen won the Kelly Cup championship trophy, under then-head coach Don Granato, as members of ECHL at the end of the 1999-2000 season.

“That was an extremely fun year, also, especially the way we won,” Ulrich said of the Rivermen’s most recent championship.

AHLMoods and Times Change: “The IHL was totally different from how AHL is right now,” Ulrich observed. “Everything is serious from the coaches down to the stick boys.” He said players, coaches, and broadcasters enjoyed ribbing with each other, and now, it’s all business.”

On the other hand, Ulrich said he likes the game “the way it is now.” He said when he covered IHL, the league earned the reputation as a “goon league.”

“There were so many players then who, all they wanted to do is hit and fight, and everything else,” he said. “Nowadays, leagues have made it a lot easier for the smaller guy to play because of making more hooking and interference calls.”

By Steve Robinson | February 12, 2007 - 1:24 am
Posted in Category: News, Pekin Daily Times, Peoria Rivermen

Wedding CakeWASHINGTON –- Michael Bell and Annette Kidder will be married on Valentine’s Day. But they will have to wait for the first period of Wednesday’s American Hockey League game between the Peoria Rivermen and the San Antonio Rampage to go into its first intermission first.

That’s because Bell, 29, and Kidder, 26, both Washington, who were married almost 10 years ago and have three small children, didn’t have the traditional ceremony when they first tied the knot.

In his entry letter for the contest, Bell wrote, “(Marrying at the Rivermen game) would give us a get a unique chance for what we consider a new and fun start to our already great marriage.”

Bell and Kidder are one of four couples who won a free wedding ceremony during the Peoria Rivermen’s “Weddings On Ice” promotion.

Bell and Kidder will be joined by three other couples from Galva, Bloomington, and Canton who will tie the knot during the first intermission of Wednesday’s AHL contest.

Although they are not regular hockey fans, Bell said he heard about the wedding promotion that Peoria radio station WIXO FM 105.7 has put on for the last three years, and decided on a lark to enter himself and Kidder for a chance to say their “I do”s in such a fashion.

The station received 30 entries vying for the prize, said Charity Schultz, WIXO FM’s local sales manager.

Peoria Rivermen“I always thought it was kind of funny to get married at a Rivermen game,” Bell said. “But I had known about the contest for the last few years and a friend of mine, Don Maston, and his wife entered and won and were one of the couples last year.”

As part of the promotion, the grooms get a free rented tuxedo, a local florist provides boutonnières and bouquets, the brides get their hair and nails done for free from a local salon, and the team provides for cake and photos taken during the ceremony.

The ceremony will be conducted by Matt Bahan, WIXO’s morning show host, who is ordained.

As an added prize, one of the couples will win airfare to go anywhere in the continental U. S. Kidder said if she and Bell win the trip the station is giving away, they would “go somewhere…probably Florida.”

She said that relatives from both sides of their families were excited to hear that the couple was getting hitched all over again, even during a first period intermission with roughly 5,500 of their closest friends in the Carver Arena stands watching.