Chat wrap: Chicago’s Spencer Machacek

Chicago Wolves second-year forward Spencer Machacek stepped into the AHL Chat Room to answer fans’ questions on Tuesday, Mar. 23.

Was there anyone or anything that first inspired you to begin playing hockey? – Tim from Worcester, Mass.
My parents gave me the opportunity to try everything. My dad never played hockey. He grew up on a farm and didn’t have the opportunity to play, so he wanted to make sure that myself and my three brothers had the opportunity. So I’d say my mom and dad are probably my biggest inspiration.

Which current or former NHL player do you compare your game to, and why? – Bryce from Kenora, Ont.
One guy I always watched growing up was Doug Gilmour. He was a gritty player, liked to play in both ends of the rink, one of the hardest-working workers out there every shift and every game. So I tried to tailor my game after him, someone who scores some goals and takes care of his own end as well. I think he won a couple Selke Trophies, and he’s just a guy that I’ve tried to model my game after.

What have been some of the differences you’ve noticed in your second pro year compared to your first, and have you had to improve anything in particular? – Jared from Oxford, Mass.
I think first year, you’re always getting used to everything – living on your own, playing against older and stronger guys. But we had good leadership my first year that helped me through it. Obviously it was a tough year for us, we didn’t make the playoffs.

This year I came in, worked on building up my strength and power over the summer, getting a little bigger to play against the bigger guys, and I have to keep working on that. We also brought in guys who had been in Chicago before – like Jason Krog and Kevin Doell – and they’ve really helped me and the entire team. But I think the main thing was just getting stronger, bigger, and faster, because the guys here are stronger, bigger, and faster than in junior hockey.

What have been some of the keys to Wolves’ continued success this season after the slow start and despite some of the injuries you’ve faced? – Jim from Chicago
I just think everyone is on the same page now, that’s the main thing. Going back to last year, nothing was really wrong with the coach, but I don’t think the group of guys were always on the same page. But this year we’ve all come together as a team, and everyone is excited to come to the rink every day. Everybody’s bought into the systems, and the coaches have driven them into our heads pretty good.

Playing as a team is going to be the main thing for us to continue to have success. Every guy’s contributing, too, it’s not the same person doing it every game.

What have been some of the differences playing for Coach Lever compared to Coach Granato? – Arthur from Plainfield, Ill.
They’re different types of coaches, but they’re also both good coaches, obviously both have coached at the American Hockey League level. I think Lever is probably more strict, but he’s definitely a great players’ coach as well. At the start when he came in, he had to make sure we all knew the systems, and the systems were a little different.

Both coaches have done good things for me, and I don’t have anything bad to say about either one. I’m having a great year this year with coach Lever and (assistant coach) Ron Wilson. Obviously it’s unfortunate having to fire a coach – (coach Don Granato) is a great guy, really pulled for everyone on this team, and all the guys liked him – but that sometimes happens when you have that kind of start.

Obviously bringing in a coach like Don Lever, he won the Calder Cup with Hamilton a few years ago, everyone paid attention in practice and got used to him pretty quickly.

What has been your greatest accomplishment in your professional hockey career so far? – Pat from Wood Dale, Ill.
My biggest accomplishment would have to be in 2007, winning the Memorial Cup with the Vancouver Giants. Obviously I keep in touch with a lot of the guys, some of them have gone on to play in the NHL, and some aren’t playing anymore. But when you win a championship, you build that bond, and to this point in my hockey career, that has to be the biggest accomplishment for me.

What is your favorite road building to play in, and why? – Tyler from Lancaster, Penn.
It’s always fun going down to Texas. We always have tough games, and the toughest building I’d say would be Houston. We always have tough match-ups with them, and they can get big crowds there, so it’s a good atmosphere.

I’d also add Winnipeg in there. The town is really behind the team there, being a former NHL city. And being from Canada, it’s always fun going back home, and a lot of family and friends come to those games. They always get a big crowd, and like I said, the town is behind them and they usually have a pretty good team.

Talk a little bit about some of the rivalries that the Wolves have developed with some of the area teams, especially with the Milwaukee Admirals – Josh from West Allis, Wis.
For sure, I think it’s kind of built up the last couple years. Obviously both teams have been competitive, we played them in the first round of the playoffs a couple years ago. You always get up for those big divisional games because every one is a four-point game. It’s a really short trip, so your fans travel and their fans travel to the opposing rink.

I’d also have to put Rockford in there. Being the Blackhawks’ affiliate and only 40 minutes away, I think that’s a big rivalry right there. They’re a competitive team, we’re a competitive team, and Rockford is a pretty tough barn to go into. It’s always a challenge.

You were recalled and played a couple games for Atlanta last season. Can you take us through your first NHL game and first shift? – Bryce from Kenora, Ont.
Obviously it was huge going up. Before you even play hockey, you watch the NHL and want to play in the NHL, and getting a chance last year to go up and play a few games was a huge honor. First game, it was home against Washington. I didn’t sleep much the night before, I was pretty excited and nervous as well, but once you get out there it’s just hockey and another game.

It was a big thrill playing against one of the best players in the game in Alex Ovechkin, playing against him in my first NHL game. It was also on national TV on Versus, so the whole family and friends were watching. There were a lot of nerves at the start, but as the game went on I started to relax more and just play my game.

Again, it always a dream to play in the NHL, so it was an accomplishment to get into my first game, and I’ll never forget that.

What are some areas you think you still have room to improve on in order to make it to the NHL on a permanent basis? – Kevin from Boston, Mass.
Well I think I can improve on pretty much anything. I can work on my skating this summer – that’s really the main thing. I’d also like to work on getting my shots off quicker. As you move up in levels, you don’t have as much time to get a shot off, going up from college or juniors to the AHL, and then from the AHL to the NHL. It’s a quicker pace, so it’s important to get the shot off quickly as well.

Could you name a most embarrassing moment from your hockey career so far? – Dan from Chicago
I’d have to go with one of my first practices last year with Chicago when I went out on the ice with my skate guards still on my skates and almost fell flat on my face.

Do you personally feel any added weight on your shoulders as the playoffs approach? – Klari from Schaumburg, Ill.
I think that just comes with a hockey player and wanting to win. I think everybody puts pressure on themselves heading into the playoffs when you want to win a championship, but I don’t really think there’s any added pressure. I obviously want to do my best and think of how I can hold myself accountable to play my best. I want to do anything I can do to help the team win.

What are some of your favorite parts about the city of Chicago? – Bryce from Kenora, Ont.
Obviously it’s pretty cool playing in the AHL but still living in a big city like Chicago. I’ve gone to some Blackhawks games, and I’m planning to go to a Bulls game for the first time this week; I’ve never been to a basketball game. We do those types of things, and last year we had our team party at one of the Cubs games. A couple guys had their parents in town for it, and my dad came down. It was a cool experience since we don’t have an MLB team close to where I’m from. So it’s cool to see all of those higher sports, and Chicago being such a big and well-known city, it’s fun going downtown.

I know there’s a lot of history in Chicago, so it’s pretty cool to say you’ve lived there.

Besides hockey, what is your second-favorite sport and why? – Stephanie from Palatine, Ill.
I’d have to go with baseball. Growing up, I tried every sport, but the two main ones were hockey and baseball. It got to a point where they were kind overlapping each other, playing pretty competitive baseball and competitive hockey at the same time. So I had to decide which one I wanted to do. But if I had to pick another sport, it would be baseball. I enjoy watching it, and still during the summers with friends, we’ll go out and hit a few balls and try and play some pick-up games.