Iowa Heartlanders give community new winter sport option

The Heartlanders, Coralville’s first professional hockey team, will open their season at Xtream Arena in October.


Jeff Sigmund

Minnesota Wild General Manager Bill Guerin talks at press conference held at the Xtream Arena on Thursday June,17, 2021. Guerin was in Coralville to announce the new affiliation with the NHL, Minnesota Wild and the Coralville ECHL team Heartlanders hockey team.

Ben Palya, Sports Reporter

For generations, Iowa City and Coralville sports fans have gathered at Kinnick Stadium, Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and other Iowa City sports venues to view high school and collegiate sports. As a professional sports team in an area lacking them, the Iowa Heartlanders are entering uncharted territory for the local sports scene.

The newly announced East Coast Hockey League team will begin play in October at Xtream Arena in Coralville — the same venue as the Iowa volleyball program.

To accommodate the Hawkeye volleyball team, the Heartlanders will be holding most of their practices publicly at the Coral Ridge Mall.

Nearby, Cedar Rapids hosts several minor league teams. The Cedar Rapids Kernels provide professional baseball and the Rough Riders supply amateur hockey to the area. But for University of Iowa students, the Heartlanders are the most convenient option.

The regular season features 72 games spanning from October 2021 to April 2022, with 36 games at Xtream Arena. So, the Heartlanders’ season will coincide with Iowa’s winter sports.

Iowa City is the definition of a college town, as 35,000 students flock to the University of Iowa campus, blistering the 75,000-person population.

Iowa wrestling, along with men’s and women’s basketball, typically draw large crowds of both students and citizens during the winter months. In the 2019-20 season, the Hawkeye wrestling team set an NCAA attendance record at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, with almost 88,000 spectators across 12 home matches.

For UI junior Kay Swanson, the Heartlanders remind her of good memories back in her hometown of St. Louis.

“Being from the St. Louis area, the Blues hockey team creates a unified dynamic amongst those in the area,” she said. “There is no hockey team here at the university, so having a mid-level hockey team in the area would attract a lot of people who want to watch it, including myself.”

The ECHL averages over 4,000 fans per game — Xtream Arena has a capacity of 5,100.

At a press conference at Xtream Arena on June 17, the Heartlanders announced the Minnesota Wild as their NHL affiliate.

RELATED: Iowa Heartlanders announce affiliation with NHL’s Minnesota Wild

Proximity was a large factor in the Wild’s decision to affiliate with the Heartlanders, as Coralville is a four-hour drive away from Minneapolis.

Minnesota’s other minor league team, the Iowa Wild in Des Moines, is a two-hour drive from Coralville. The Iowa Wild will be one level above the Heartlanders in the American Hockey League.

Minnesota has a history of fostering successful ECHL teams.

The Wild’s 2020-21 ECHL team, the Allen Americans in Allen, Texas, stand at the top of the league standings with a 45-23-3 record and total 94 points.

The Allen Americans are currently competing in the 2021 ECHL playoff semifinals.

“We’ve supplied Allen with a lot of good players, and the coach down there did a really good job,” Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin said at the press conference. “We’re bringing guys in and they know the expectation is to win. I’m a big believer of developing players in a winning culture and that’s what we’re going to expect here. In Minnesota, in [Des Moines], and now here.”

The Heartlanders open the season on October 22 against the Kansas City Mavericks at Xtream Arena.

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