Iowa’s Corridor to the NHL
Coralville, Iowa – The Iowa Heartlanders officially affiliated with the NHL’s Minnesota Wild Thursday at Xtream Arena, a tremendously important step as the Heartlanders prepare for puck drop in the team’s inaugural season Oct. 22 at Xtream Arena.
The announcement, made at Xtream Arena by Wild General Manager Bill Guerin, Iowa Wild President Todd Frederickson and Heartlanders President Brian McKenna stressed the importance the Heartlanders will play in building a “corridor” to the NHL. Players will be welcomed in to the Minnesota family through the ECHL, then advance to the AHL and NHL.
“This is a critical relationship for the Minnesota Wild,” Guerin said. “To be able to have an ECHL and AHL team in such a close vicinity really gives our development model a shot in the arm and to have the players be able to come to a facility like Xtream Arena is incredible.”
The Wild have played 20 NHL seasons and 31 players that have competed in the ECHL advanced to play for Minnesota. Three members of the 2020-21 Minnesota Wild spent part of their careers in the ECHL: G Cam Talbot, D Dakota Mermis and F Joseph Cramarossa. In total, 121 players that played for the Iowa Wild have spent parts of their careers in the ECHL.
“We want to make sure as the affiliate of the Wild that we provide the medical, the training and the dressing room, the locker room experience that they can expect when they go to the American Hockey League and the National Hockey League,” McKenna explained. “We want to make sure we provide that environment to develop their players and we are proud to be a part of that link in the development chain with the Wild.”
Here are a few specific notes on what to expect from the affiliation.
A triangle of easy travel: The Heartlanders’ proximity to both Des Moines and St. Paul ensures short travel will aid development as players grow from Coralville to the AHL and NHL.
Guerin pointed out Thursday the close distances will allow Wild hockey operations to keep a close eye on Heartlanders players and give the chances for Minnesota and Iowa hockey operations members to have in-person development opportunities with prospects.
Des Moines is a quick, 111-mile sprint west on I-80 and should be frequented by Heartlanders players that are recalled on loan and earn their AHL opportunities. Xcel Energy Center is 271 miles (about 4.5 hours) north and west of Xtream Arena, creating a drive-able “triangle” between the three cities.
I-80 Corridor Excitement: The Iowa Wild and Iowa Heartlanders will develop one of the strongest and closest affiliation ties between ECHL and AHL. In addition to the easy travel for players, Iowa Wild President Todd Frederickson explained the significance for each community in the Hawkeye State.
“In our eight years in Des Moines, we’ve seen youth and adult hockey grow and I know the Heartlanders are going to be a huge part of that youth hockey and adult hockey growth in the Coralville and Iowa City Metro Area,” Frederickson said. “Our organizations are going to create some cross-organizational promotions which will allow fans to follow our players through the system between Xtream Arena, Wells Fargo Arena and Xcel Energy Center. This community is going to benefit from this organization being here. We are here to support and cheer the Heartlanders on and we cannot wait until you drop the puck on your inaugural season.”
What players will be in “The Heartland”? While it will be a few months before re-assignments and loans from the Iowa Wild and Minnesota Wild help bolster the Heartlanders roster, the Wild organization is committed to providing the Heartlanders with players that will help make the team competitive.
Typically, AHL-contracted skaters and goalies that require ice time and are youthful but not quite ready for the AAA level will be loaned to the ECHL. This balance ensures the Wild organization meets their development goals of advancing players to the next level while giving the Heartlanders talented prospects that will help the team succeed.
“You are going to see top-notch goaltending and I know that’s one of the things ECHL teams are famous for developing,” McKenna said. “We want to make sure the ECHL’s tradition of advancing players continues here.”