Blue Peter: On Horachek, Heartbreak and Inside Jokes

by J.R.

horachek1 In his last second-period intermission interview of the 2013 season, Predators associate coach Peter Horachek wrapped things up as he usually did — by praising, with a hogshead of faux-sarcasm for the questions asked by Pete Weber and Terry Crisp. I know that seems either tautological or oxymoronic, but he is acting like the praise is sarcastic as a joke on his reputation for having disdain for Pete and Terry’s questions.

But then he said something to the effect of “And for J.R. and everyone else out there, I’ve got the gravel all ready for the summer.”

At that moment, a man who had long been a punchline — unknowingly at first and always treated lovingly — gave a big fat wink to the crowd in on the joke, letting them know he was in on it, too.

It was as if a character became ever more cognizant he was a character and then finally acknowledged his author.

And, in this case, that marked the end of the character. Peter Horachek was fired by the Predators, — by phone! —for reasons I don’t fully comprehend (and neither did he), unless someone at the top said someone had to go and decided it would be the second-in-command.

But Peter Horachek wasn’t just a character, of course. He was an actual person with an actual job (at various times in his career with the Predators, he’d been in charge of the power play and/or the defensemen). And his departure from the Preds means, at least for the time being, one of Conference III’s Three-ist men is unemployed.

But let’s go back to the beginning.

I honestly don’t remember where it started, but at some point I noticed that during his little hits with the broadcast crew, Horachek was all but spewing steam from his ears, the by-product of an exothermic reaction when the Predators’ failures — and even in good times, one got the impression that Horachek perceived the team’s shortcomings as legion — and the crammed interview session combined.

So I started fabricating Horachek’s inner monologue. At first the jokes centered around how Horachek wanted to harm Weber, Crisp and/or third man Mark Howard in some hideous fashion for their banalities, but then the character grew into a fully-formed villain — a tough guy who wrestled wildlife barechested, ate everything from raw meat to rusty nails and who fashioned weapons from whatever he could find (such as gravel, explaining his final, perfect joke).

People got on board. My Twitter mentions would be filled with excitement as Horachek’s interview approached. In small part, these quirks I assigned to Horachek became part of Predators’ fan culture, much as @FakeLindback did.

Pete Weber follows me on Twitter and Pete Weber keeps up with Twitter during games. And at some point, Horachek himself started a Twitter account. And on March 30, 2012, this hit my inbox:

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I tweeted that it was “terrifying“.

Let’s let Friend of the III Sam Page tell us what happened over at On The Forecheck:

And if there were any doubts that @peter7716 is the Preds’ assistant coach, Horachek dropped the line “It’s not so terrifying anymore,” a thinly veiled call out of J.R.’s tweet, during the broadcast. Pete and Terry chuckled, knowing the young man was as good as gone.

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And it was on. Playing up our “rivalry” became part of our shtick, but the fact of the matter was that when we’d interact — when I’d cover practice for my day job — we got along famously. It’s one things to bust a guy’s balls when it’s just you and 3,000 of your friends. It’s totally different when he finds out — this is one of the effects of the social-media age; our private jokes are private no more. But the coach took it in stride and he was a great sport (Dirk at OtF has a collection of some of his favorites of my Horachek tweets).

He played along in his hits with Pete and Terry — even this season, the one that would ultimately cost him his job, he had a wonderful sense of humor. Sure, it’s a living and it’s a career, but hockey’s just a game and games are fun. Or they’re supposed to be.

But here’s the thing, before there even was a Conference III, Horachek was Conference III. And I hate that he won’t be a part of it.

He was intense when he needed to be, funny when it was right and self-aware all the time.

He liked to win. He liked toughness and his favorite players, as he’d repeat night in and night out, were guys who’d “go to the hard areas.” But he also knew that he came off as far more intense than maybe he intended, so he played it up.

He didn’t think of himself as a joke — and he wasn’t a joke — but he didn’t think of himself as Very Important To The World At-Large, either. Just like Conference III.

I don’t watch a lot of home broadcasts for other teams, but where else could an assistant drop inside jokes? In Montreal? Please.

There’s very few places a team’s number-two man could get away with such frivolity DURING A GAME and most of those places are right here in the NHL’s best conference. It’s not my place to begrudge Toronto or Montreal or New York or even our brethren in Chicago for their gargantuan fanbases or that their combined passion for their team is a cultural Leviathan. I am, after all, a former student and a current supporter of the University of Alabama, with its almost-mind-bogglingly large fanbase with their definitely-mind-bogglingly devotion to the Crimson Tide.

But there is something romantic about being part of a much smaller subculture, no less intense, but with bywords and shibboleths to identify your fellow travelers. It’s the difference in being a cricket fan living in England in 2005 and one living in America in 2013. As the former, you get caught up in a broad fervor that envelopes everyone; as the latter, you share those moments with a cultivated clutch of people and the moments are more intimate, more private.

Both approaches have virtue; neither is more virtuous than the other.

Horachek was in the running for the Stars job the last time it came open and maybe they’ve kept him in mind. Maybe that’s where he’ll land. In fact, I hope he does. I hope the guys at Defending Big D know what a gem they’re getting if he does. I hope Razor razzes him and I hope Horachek isn’t jaded by the unpleasant surprise Nashville gave him. I hope he still rages at broadcasters and gets pleasure from the joy he gives to fans. I hope this takes The Chambers Pot to the next level.

And if it does, I hope he agrees to one more interview with Pete and Terry and I hope he looks in the camera and scares me to death one last time.

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