Note: This is part of an ongoing series of exclusive IceMenManiacs.com features, spotlighting the volunteers who make each IceMen home game happen. From folks who are front-and-center as part of the evening’s entertainment to those who keep things running behind the scenes, it takes a small army of volunteers to present each game. This series is intended to help the fans get to know these special people a bit better, and also give them some much-deserved public appreciation. Additional features will follow at various times in the future.
Stephen Rickard was the original “Voice of the IceMen,” when the franchise started in the All-American Hockey Association with a single Public Address Announcer and no radio coverage. This past season, after three seasons of speaking to the Maniac masses via Swonder Ice Arena’s occasionally-functional microphones, he found himself in a new position with the IceMen.
In years past, he introduced starters, announced goals and penalties, hyped up power-plays, and read over a dozen pages of scripted text at every home game. Along the way, he delivered Spudz-N-Stuff the best publicity they could ever ask for (TATERS!), gave “Bingo” a whole new meaning, and earned his very own championship ring when the IceMen won the Davidson Cup crown in the spring of 2010.
Beginning last season, Rickard’s new role became that of Promotional Announcer. He now wanders all over the Ford Center on game nights, usually with the Icicles in tow, conducting intermission and in-game promotions both on the ice and in the crowd. From Chuck-A-Puck to Eye On The Player (“have you been watching the players’ butts?”) and a host of other fun-filled pieces of business, Rickard handles it all with pride and passion. And a distinct Kentucky drawl.
Originally from Greenville, Kentucky, Stephen describes his youth succinctly: “Typical childhood. Typical student. Typical trouble.”
Rickard “was the kid who had a cassette player and a microphone and would ‘play’ DJ.” Stephen the teenager took his lawn-mowing money to the local record store; he admits that his first self-purchased 45′s (look it up, kids) were Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” “Lido Shuffle” by Boz Scaggs, and teen idol Shaun Cassidy’s cover of “Da Doo Ron Ron.”
He got his start in radio at a small Greenville station in 1986, and began working part-time for Madisonville’s WKTG in 1988. Radio at the time was much different than it is now.
“When I first started at ‘Hit Radio 94 KTG’ there were two turntables, a cassette deck, reel-to-reel decks, and Cart Decks that look like 8-tracks and were used to play commercials,” he said. “We had to actually play a song, cue up the next song, and so forth. Nothing was automated. Then we thought it was a remarkable day when they invented the CD player!
“Things eventually went to computers, where almost everything is loaded (digitally). It is so much easier and so much more can be done in a day’s time, so that you can be more creative in how the show sounds during the day.”
Rickard has been with WKTG (now known as “Power Rock 93.9 KTG”) in some capacity since he first joined the station in ’88. For over a decade, he mainly worked part-time while also working for Muhlenberg County’s 9-1-1 service. About 9 years ago, he left that job to become the radio station’s office manager.
So what exactly does an office manager do? “With a small staff, you have to be part ‘this’ and part ‘that’ throughout the course of the day,” he remarked. “Some days are off-the-charts hectic. But at the end of the day, you know you are at a place where thousands of people are tuning in on the radio dial to hear the work you are responsible for. And that makes for a pretty special place to call your workplace. It’s a workplace where your creativity means enjoyment for others.”
And while his daily routine often consists of “sitting at a computer screen for 8 hours,” the job does come with its perks. He’s gotten to interview a number of celebrities, including singer-songwriter Amy Grant (herself a big hockey fan) and actor-musician Ronny Cox (who has appeared in Deliverance and RoboCop as well as the first two Beverly Hills Cop films). [You can listen to both interviews here.]
You might be wondering how a Kentucky radio guy who lives in Central City and works in Madisonville ended up with a hockey gig in Evansville, Indiana.
To explain that, we must first find out how Rickard became a hockey fan. “I was a HUGE Kansas City Chiefs fan from early childhood,” he said. “After many years of bad football, I finally got fed up with football and started watching some hockey. It didn’t take long to get hooked. The Washington Capitals were my team until the Predators came to Nashville. And I drove to Rupp Arena in Lexington to watch the minor-league Kentucky Thoroughblades before the Preds started, which really got me into the sport. Hockey is so much more fun to watch than football!”
So how did he go from hockey fan to hockey announcer? Simple.
“I begged the Chipster (original IceMen General Manager Chip Rossetti) and he let me try it.”
And how did he like it?
“After many years behind a microphone in some form or fashion, I got to put my profession and passion together for the perfect scenario, and in front of the perfect group of fans.”
During the team’s first season, Stephen was the Public Address Announcer and the only “Voice of the IceMen,” because the franchise did not have a radio deal at the time.
At the end of the inaugural season, the IceMen were set to take on the Battle Creek Revolution in the first round of the playoffs. Rickard saw an opportunity, and WKTG.com officially became the home of the first-ever Evansville IceMen radio broadcasts – with the “Voice of the IceMen” handling play-by-play for both games.
The following season, the IceMen were fortunate enough to win the league championship on home ice, with Rickard presiding over the post-game celebration. It’s a night he’ll never forget. “It was, still is, and probably will always feel like a dream. I’ve never experienced a championship moment involving the Kansas City Chiefs or Washington Capitals or Nashville Predators, live or on TV. Now to have actually been part of a professional sports team that won it all? I could die tomorrow!”
A NEW GIG
After a third season as IceMen PA Announcer during the team’s first CHL season and final campaign at Swonder, the Ford Center era presented Rickard with a new challenge for the fourth season (and beyond) of IceMen hockey.
While he misses certain aspects of the primary PA role, he quickly came to enjoy his new position. “I was a little apprehensive when I was approached about being in the crowd. It took a day or two for the shock to wear off, and then I thought how much fun this gig would be. And now, you’ll have to pry my cold dead hands off the wireless microphone. Oh, and having ten of the nicest and most fun-to-be-with girls on planet earth following you around for three hours ain’t a bad part of the job either! Hi, Icicles!”
The adjustment was made easier because of his commitment to being prepared. For the team’s Ford Center debut on November 5, 2011, Rickard arrived at the arena at about 1 PM – more than 6 hours prior to game time. “I always tell folks that preparation is the key to anything. I want to make sure I have a layout of the script and where I’m supposed to be, and have a little time to mingle with all of my IceMen friends before the game starts.”
Rickard says it’s his IceMen friends that make it all so much fun. “I love the interaction I have developed with many of the IceMen faithful. These were all strange faces on Day One. Now, they are family. Having a chance to be a part of a sport you love and having interactions with people you have grown to know is making great memories each game. When someone says they were at another barn watching the IceMen and started hollering ‘TATERS!’ you know you’ve done something memorable.”
Making memories, both for himself and for everyone else. That’s why he drives an hour each way on his own time and with his own gas, just to get to each IceMen home game. That’s why he runs all over the arena without getting paid a dime. That’s why he accepted his new role and has made it his goal to be the best he can be in that capacity, just as he did with his original job as the team’s “voice.”
“I hope I can continue to have fun and continue to make it so you can have fun too,” he said in reference to the IceMen fans. “This journey has only just begun, and it has been my honor to be able to be a part of this passion we all share.”
IceMen fans: Feel free to follow Stephen Rickard on Facebook!