Fleming off to strong start in his welcome to the Heartland
By: David Fine/Coralville, Iowa – With a towering 6-foot-5 frame and an easy, approachable stride, Gerry Fleming officially introduced himself to The Corridor with a mix of confidence, passion and affability the Iowa Heartlanders craved in the first Head Coach in team history.
“I talked to our staff before I was officially introduced and said, ‘it’s all skittles and rainbows right now on a beautiful day in July, but that’s not the way it is come January and February fighting through the dog days,’” Fleming said. “That’s the real test of whether you’re sticking to the process. Getting the opportunity to set that marker and push it forward every day. If you’re not working to improve every day, it’s time to step away.”
Fleming checking the boxes
The match the Heartlanders hope is “made in heaven” is borne out of the belief that two veteran hockey minds, Fleming and President Brian McKenna, will push the Heartlanders to a winning season on the ice and a successful one in the community. McKenna hired Fleming as he prepares for his 24th consecutive season as a professional Head coach or assistant coach.
“He checked all the boxes,” McKenna explained. “We wanted someone with a winning pedigree, embraced the development model with Minnesota. We wanted an individual that understands how important this team is to the community. Lastly, we preferably wanted someone that had a history in start-ups before.”
Fleming is as close as you can get to a hockey Silicon Valley when it comes to start-ups. Indeed, he was the Head Coach of the Florida Everblades in their early infancy (2001-08) and saw the club develop into an ECHL powerhouse in Estero. He coached the ‘Blades to two conference titles and the club made the playoffs all seven seasons he was in charge. Fleming later moved with the Edmonton Oilers organization from Oklahoma City to Bakersfield in 2015-16, becoming the first Head Coach of the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors.
“I’ll draw upon my experience in Florida,” Fleming explained. “When I arrived there, youth hockey was starting to take off the same way we hope in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. We put a lot of time to working with young coaches there. You learn just as much from them as they did from you. It was very appealing for me to help grow that in addition to putting a winning team on the ice.”
Speed, energy and passion
While Fleming intends for the Heartlanders to play an up-tempo game suited to the modern minor leagues, he also spends time to reflect on his own career path. He was raised in Montreal, Quebec and fulfilled his life-long dream of making the NHL by skating in 11 games with the hometown Canadiens.
“I remember tying my skates before that first game and I was taken aback. I went back to my childhood and coming up the escalators from the Metro … the scalpers and the t-shirts and the energy. The first time you come through the tunnel and see the bright lights and the people dressed up in the Montreal Forum. Just that feeling that someone is coming with their family to watch the Montreal Canadiens for the first time and you’re on the bench. It was moving.”
Fleming and McKenna each share the vision that the Minnesota Wild’s strong minor league model will aid Heartlanders players as they advance from Coralville to Des Moines and eventually St. Paul.
“What we want to do here is develop young hockey players and allow them to achieve their goals in addition to building a team that Coralville, Iowa City, this county and this area can be proud of,” Fleming said. “It’s been a great journey for me. You’re constantly growing and developing. I can’t thank the people enough that have helped me to get to this point. It’s not just you and your ability. It’s the selflessness of other people that help you achieve your lifetime goal.”
Rose Club Season Ticket Memberships are now available by visiting iowaheartlanders.com and calling the ticket office. Call 319-569-4625 (GOAL) and visit iowaheartlanders.com/tickets for more information.
The Heartlanders’ AHL affiliate, the Iowa Wild, will host the Rockford IceHogs for an AHL preseason game Fri., Oct. 8 at Xtream Arena in the first professional hockey game in the new building. Tickets are available for the Oct. 8 game by calling the Heartlanders box office or by visiting https://bit.ly/XtreamArenaPreseason.