Iowa Heartlanders notebook: Hockey club coming together before first game

Iowa City/Coralville’s new ECHL pro hockey team will have its first-ever game in franchise history on Friday at Xtream Arena.


Jeff Sigmund

Players move around the arena during the Heartlanders first practice on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021.

Isaac Goffin, Sports Reporter

The Iowa Heartlanders are in their second week of practice, as they prep for their first game on Friday at Xtream Arena against the Kansas City Mavericks.

 Head coach Gerry Fleming and players said at a Tuesday media availability that they were happy with how the team is coming together. The Heartlanders’ inaugural match is on Friday at 7 p.m.

Team identity forming

Fleming said the club will be known as hardworking, with multiple skaters who have been captains on their former hockey teams.

“They usually lead the way,” Fleming said. “They’re usually the hardest working guys on the ice, and I think they’ve set that tone and standard right from the beginning of training cap.”

Forward Kris Bennett, who played nine games with the AHL’s Stockton Heat last season, said that the Heartlanders aren’t the biggest team, but extremely fast. He also said everyone on the team has each other’s back on the ice.

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The Heartlanders traveled to Missouri last week to face the Mavericks in an exhibition match on Friday. Though they lost, 3-2, the Heartlanders had positive moments during the competition.

“I think we just stuck with it,” Bennett, who scored the Heartlanders’ first goal in the exhibition match, said. “I think we had a good first period. I think we got a little sloppy in the second and then we regrouped in the third and we picked up where we left off in the first period.”

Enjoying the Iowa City area  

Over a week after arriving in the Iowa City area, the players are enjoying what the college town has to offer.

Some players, like forward Ryan Kuffner, are residing at Hawks Ridge Apartments in Iowa City.

“Back at our apartments, we have a great setup,” Kuffner said. “We live with a bunch of the guys, and we have been able to hang out, really get close as a team, and I think that’s been the best part. Obviously, outside of the rink as well, everybody’s gotten really close.”

Kuffner’s experience in Germany

Kuffner competed internationally for the first time in the 2020-21 season with the ERV Ingolstadt in Germany. Previously, Kuffner played in the Detroit Red Wings organization, including a 10-game stint in the NHL in the 2018-19 season.

During the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) semifinals last season, Kuffner’s club faced Eisbären Berlin, where Fleming was an assistant coach. Fleming’s squad won the series and later the league championship.

“Berlin was a phenomenal team,” Kuffner said. “They were coached very well. I only met Gerry this year, but they played fantastic and earned that championship and I’m proud of them, but obviously it was devastating to lose in the semis there.”

Season-opening rosters due

The Heartlanders must submit their season-opening rosters by 2 p.m. on Wednesday to the ECHL office.

For the first 30 days of the regular season, the Heartlanders may carry 21 players on the active roster before cutting down to 20. The number of players does not include those on reserve or injured reserve.

Fleming said he will sit down with assistant coach Derek Damon and team president Brian McKenna to make the decision of who to cut from the Heartlanders.

After the Heartlanders’ first practice last week, Fleming said the difference between players making or not making the roster will be execution through the first month of the season.