Iowa Heartlanders prepped for inaugural game

Coralville’s new ECHL franchise will have its first official game on Friday night at Xtream Arena.


Jeff Sigmund

Iowa Heartlanders goalie works on some moves during their first practice on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021. (Jeff Sigmund/The Daily Iowan)

Isaac Goffin, Sports Reporter

The Iowa Heartlanders will kick off their inaugural season Friday at 7 p.m. with their first-ever game at Xtream Arena.

Iowa City/Coralville’s ECHL hockey team was announced in September 2020 and formally approved by the league’s Board of Governors in January. The Heartlanders will take the ice against the Kansas City Mavericks.

“Everybody’s excited,” head coach Gerry Fleming said. “It’s finally all coming together. Everybody’s excited, the city’s excited, it’s just going to be nice to drop the puck and finally get a game in.”

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Though the Heartlanders are fresh to the league, Fleming is not. In his 23 seasons behind the bench, the former Montreal Canadien spent seven seasons (2001-08) as the head coach of the ECHL’s Florida Everblades, posing a 320-189-67 record with two conference championships.

The Heartlanders have been practicing since Oct. 11, and the players have high expectations for the 2021-22 season, despite knowing each other for less than two weeks.

“It’s obviously going to be a learning experience, no matter what,” forward Ryan Kuffner said. “I don’t know what our expectations are, obviously it’s to be a winning hockey club. We’re going to learn a lot from this weekend, how we respond playing games after a long training camp, and we’re going to learn a lot about ourselves. It’s going to be awesome.”

Kuffner said fans should expect intensity and fast play from the Heartlanders.

The game will also serve as a revitalized sense of normalcy to the players. The Heartlanders will welcome fans at full capacity — something players have not experienced for almost two years.

“The last year-and-a-half has been pretty crazy with COVID and hockey seasons all over the world,” forward Kris Bennett said. “Without fans, it’s just been so much different. So, for me, I’m pretty excited, and I just can’t wait to get going.”

The Heartlanders traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, last week to take on the Mavericks in an exhibition matchup. Iowa lost to the Mavericks, 3-2.

Last season, the Mavericks finished 31-31-10 — sixth in the ECHL Western Conference. Kansas City did not make the playoffs.

The Mavericks were one of 14 teams to play in the 2020-21 season — 26 teams comprised the league — and Kansas City’s 2.85 goals per game ranked 12th, while its 3.14 goals against average ranked 11th.

Kansas City specialized in power plays — its 18 percent conversion rate ranked fourth in the league.

The match will be broadcast locally on MC-22. Minor League Sports Report will produce a radio broadcast at David Fine, the Heartlanders’ director of broadcasting and communication, will be the play-by-play announcer. NHL Draft and Prospects Analyst Chris Peters will provide color commentary.

The Heartlanders are looking to prove themselves in their inaugural game, Kuffner said.

“Everybody here has something to prove,” Kuffner said. “And as an organization, we have something to prove. We want to be a first-class organization right off the bat, and that starts with practice, that starts with training camp, and everybody’s got to be a part of it from the staff to the players and everyone in between.”