Peckham set to go out on a high note

On the other end was Chuck Kaiton. Peckham and Kaiton were long-time friends, the two having worked together for 11 seasons with the Hartford Whalers when Peckham was the Whalers’ television play-by-play announcer on SportsChannel New England while Kaiton did the same for the team’s radio broadcast.

The two talked about their families, about golf, about vacations they’d been planning or had to cancel because of coronavirus.

Then, almost as an afterthought, Kaiton got to the real reason for his call. Kaiton serves as the president of the National Hockey League’s Broadcasters’ Association. The group was selecting Peckham as this year’s winner of the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award, an honor given to the best of the best in hockey broadcasting. Kaiton was delivering the good news to his buddy.

Video: Peckham named Foster Hewitt Memorial Award Recipient

“I almost drove into a ditch when he tells me,” Peckham recalled. “I thought he and his wife Mary were going to come down for a visit.”

Peckham will be just the 40th honoree for the prestigious award. He’ll receive it at a luncheon November 16th – provided coronavirus allows the ceremony to take place — and his award plaque will be displayed in the Esso Great Hall at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto alongside past award recipients.

“I was shocked at first, but it’s a very, very happy moment,” Peckham said. “I’ve heard from a ton of people from spanning my college years right on through. It’s great to have the opportunity to touch base with so many people for such a happy moment.”

After 42 seasons in broadcasting, Peckham is signing off for the final time at the conclusion of the 2019-20 Tampa Bay Lightning season.

Whenever that may be.

Peckham, like the rest of the hockey world, is stuck in limbo. Were 2019-20 to have concluded normally, he would be in England right now watching Wimbledon with his wife Vicki, the two enjoying the early stages of his retirement. He had plans to be in the gallery for the British Open this summer too.

But if this year has taught us nothing else, it’s that the best-laid plans often go awry.

That trip to Europe is on hold.

“I was planning to go see Ohio State-Michigan in Columbus in the fall. I’m a big fan of the Green Bay Packers and was hoping to make it back to Lambeau Field. Everything’s on hold now. Everything’s been turned upside down as far as plans,” Peckham said. “It’s going to be interesting as we get started with (retirement) just what we’re able to do. Obviously travel and see various family and friends we might not have time to do with the hockey season looming. Who knows when we’ll be able to do that again?”

And Peckham doesn’t know if he’s worked his last game and is officially retired or if he still has more games to call.

Tweet from @TBLightning: How lucky have we been to have Rick on our call all these years? pic.twitter.com/USA2RMZXvo

If the NHL season resumes as is the hope with the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Lightning will play three round-robin games against the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers to determine seeding for the quarterfinal round, all four teams getting to bypass the best-of-five qualifying round the teams seeded five through 12 in each conference will have to play. Local networks like Peckham’s FOX Sports Sun were contracted to broadcast the quarterfinal round of the playoffs under normal circumstances and then the national networks would take over for the remaining three rounds.

Peckham is assuming he and color analyst partner Brian Engblom will call the Lightning’s round robin and quarterfinal games. But he hasn’t heard if that’s definite. And with the way the coronavirus has postponed some plans, cancelled others and forced the league to change up on the fly, assuming anything at this point can make an…well, you know the rest.

“I really don’t know,” he said.

One thing is likely assured: Peckham has probably called his last game from a press box booth in front of a packed arena, that coming March 10 at Scotiabank Arena in Tampa Bay’s 2-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Two days later, the NHL season paused.

If the season does resume, Peckham and Engblom will likely call the game off a monitor inside an empty AMALIE Arena. It’s an unusual scenario for the veteran broadcaster – this season is his 42nd in professional hockey with stops in Rochester and Hartford before joining the Lightning for the last 24 — but not an entirely unfamiliar one. When Versus had the NHL contract and the League was starting to contest games in Europe at the beginning of each season, he called a couple of games being played at, oddly enough, The Globe in Stockholm, Sweden from a monitor stateside.

This season, Peckham got to call a game from inside The Globe in person when the Lightning played a pair of games against the Buffalo Sabres as part of the NHL Global Series.

“It was early in the HD years, which really makes a big difference with the viewers being able to follow the play and the puck with HD cameras and made a big difference in calling off a monitor,” Peckham said of working those games in Sweden remotely. “A lot of experience with tennis and basketball using a monitor. It’s just an adjustment in describing what you can see and leaving alone what you can’t.”

Peckham said he’ll view the game off the world feed through the same wide game camera the viewer sees at home and describe what he can see while adding in anything from the intensity of the play.

“Hopefully, we can come as close as we can to actually being there to call the action,” he said.

While he waits for his final assignment, Peckham has been hitting the links pretty hard, rotating between area golf courses — his favorites are TPC Tampa Bay, Lake Jovita and Fox Hollow – whenever his schedule allows, which these days is pretty often.

“I have four tee times this week alone,” he said, laughing.

One of his regular playing partners is Bobby “The Chief” Taylor, his longtime FOX Sports Sun broadcast partner with the Lightning.

Taylor is the one who gave Peckham his latest nickname: the Wedgemaster General.

“His wedge play is so good. I’m always busting on him about that. ‘You must sneak out and practice without letting anybody know,'” Taylor said, laughing.

Peckham’s not so sure.

Tweet from @RealStamkos91: Congrats Rick. Amazing career . Hopefully one more year 🤞 https://t.co/x1D6K8HFvd

“The Wedgemaster General did report for duty,” Peckham said of his latest round with Taylor on Tuesday. “He had been AWOL recently.”

Taylor said sharing a booth with Peckham in a working capacity was as much fun as playing a round of 18 with him.

“Most guys want to talk all the time and hold the mic,” Taylor said. “Rick wasn’t like that. Most of the time, it felt like sitting in the bar just having a conversation.”

He recounted one of his favorite stories from working with Peckham during a Lightning game in Calgary.

“It was right around my birthday, so (FOX Sports Sun pre- and post-game host) Paul Kennedy gives me a cake and Harvey the Hound I think was there, the mascot for the Flames. He had Harvey the Hound come up to deliver it. He comes into the booth with the cake and the candles are on it and there are so many on it that it could have started a forest fire. I’ve got my back to the entrance to the booth to call the play. All of a sudden, I turn around here’s this Harvey the Hound. It startled me. I hit the cake. It falls on the floor. The carpet starts to catch fire. Harvey takes off. Rick can’t call the play because he’s laughing so hard.

“I think a lot of times nobody could figure out what was going on because we were laughing so hard, but nobody knew what we were laughing about.”

Peckham hopes he has a few more entertaining moments calling games remaining.

But, if his broadcasting career is over, he’s fine with that.

The next chapter will be fun too.

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