The memories are legion. The leaping. The celebrating. The dogpiles on the ice. Peter Horachek, the new Rampage coach, stores most of them in his head. He puts others in frames.
There was the Turner Cup Championship he won as a player in 1984, the Turner Cup he won as a coach in 2001. There are snapshots of the division championship he won in the East Coast Hockey League, the postseason victories he won in the National Hockey League.
“In my office, I put up pictures of winning,” Horachek says. “The things that matter to me are when I won as a player, as a coach, and the people I had these experiences with. It’s the best feeling in the world.”
Horachek has not fully moved into his new office at the AT&T Center. When he does, a photo of his wife and son will go up immediately. “Family is first,” he says. Then he will mount hockey images that inspire.
“I will put up pictures that have to do with winning,” Horachek says. “Because when I come into the office and I look at them, it reminds me of the sacrifice. It reminds me of the work that was put in. And it reminds me of the reason why I do this every day -- to get back that feeling again, to get to that place again. When I come into the office, I want to surround myself with things that give me positive thoughts.”
Horachek, 53, has a vast collection to choose from, going back to his junior hockey days with the Oshawa Generals. He won 109 games in three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League. He spent the last nine seasons with the NHL’s Nashville Predators as an assistant or associate coach and made the playoffs seven times.
“Winning is why we do this,” Horachek says.
His arrival in San Antonio marks a reunion with Chuck Weber, the Rampage’s new director of hockey operations and associate head coach. Weber served as Horachek’s assistant in Orlando when the Solar Bears won the Turner Cup in 2001. Weber also served on Horachek’s staff in Trenton, when they led the Titans to a division championship, and in Milwaukee.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Peter,” Weber says. “He’s always been a mentor. And more importantly, we’ve developed a great friendship. It’s been a decade since we’ve worked together. I’m excited about him being here. You couldn’t ask for any better person to work with to make this organization better.”
It’s been almost 30 years since Horachek tasted his first championship in pro hockey. He remembers every detail. Flint Generals, 1984. Marching through the playoffs undefeated. Getting ejected in the first period of the final game for fighting. Sitting in the locker room. Deciding he could not wait for the game to end.
“I snuck back out onto the bench with about a minute left so I could come out and celebrate with my teammates,” he says. “It was a great experience. Everybody was hugging everybody. It was unbelievable.”
Horachek played minor league hockey for parts of nine seasons as a forward and center. He endured six knee surgeries, six shoulder surgeries, four ankle surgeries. He broke his nose nine times. “I wasn’t going to get a lot of opportunities to play again,” he says. “So I got into coaching pretty early.”
Before he turned 30, Horachek became a player-coach. A few years later, he secured his first head coaching job with the ECHL Nashville Knights. They didn’t make the playoffs. But Horachek moved to the Colonial Hockey League, where he made the playoffs every year, and played for the championship twice.
The memory of winning the International Hockey League title with Orlando remains a favorite. A number of his players enjoyed NHL careers, including Mike Weaver, Bryan Adams and the late Dan Snyder. “It was a special team,” Horachek says.
Up 3-1 in the championship series, Orlando took control in the fifth game against the Chicago Wolves, winning 7-2. “At one time it was 5 to nothing,” Horachek says. “They scored a goal with about six minutes left. I was mad. And our assistant coach had to come down to me and say, ‘It’s okay, the game is almost over.’ But I felt them scoring was a detail that said we needed to stay focused.”
In the NHL, Horachek learned how to keep his players focused. He learned a few other things as well, such as how to create a culture of winning. Now here he is, back in the American Hockey League, 10 years after leading the Milwaukee Admirals to the AHL playoffs in 2003.
He’s eager to get to work, to show Rampage players how to reach the NHL. To get there, they must learn how to do what Horachek has done all his life.
“Our position is to win,” he says, “and to prepare them for the next level.”