Iowa Heartlanders prepped to ‘seize the moment’ in road series

The Heartlanders will take on the Rapid City Rush in a three-game series without key players in their lineup.


Gabby Drees

Heartlanders head coach Gerry Fleming speaks with the team during a hockey game between the Iowa Heartlanders and the Toledo Walleye at the Xtream Arena in Coralville, Iowa on Friday, Oct. 30, 2021. The Walleye won against the Heartlanders, 10-1.

Isaac Goffin, Sports Reporter

The Iowa Heartlanders are heading into a three-game series against the Rapid City Rush shorthanded.

Captain Kris Bennett and alternate captains Jake Linhart and Riese Zmolek have been called up to the AHL’s Iowa Wild, providing skaters on the active Heartlanders roster a chance to step up.

“This is a great opportunity,” Heartlanders head coach Gerry Fleming said. “I always think of these moments where guys that maybe don’t get the ice time or roles they haven’t played because of the other guy, now is the opportunity to seize the moment. So, I expect them to seize the moment.”

Iowa dropped a two-game road series last weekend without its leadership squad and key forward Yuki Miura on the ice. The Heartlanders only scored one goal in both games combined.

Now, the Heartlanders are last out of seven franchises in the ECHL Central Division with a 9-16-3-1 record.

“We got to get hungry,” Fleming said. “A lot of our stuff has been from the perimeters. You’re not going to score any goals from the perimeters in any way. You got to get to the blue paint, you got to get pucks to the blue paint, you got to be tenacious and hungry around the blue paint. That’s the only way we’re going to start to score goals.”

Despite the recent offensive struggles, the Heartlanders have found a reliable goaltender  — Corbin Kaczperski. Since subbing in for Jack Berry during Iowa’s Dec. 29 matchup against the Tulsa Oilers, the 25-year-old from Michigan has recorded over 145 minutes of play and with a 2.03 goals against average and a .942 save percentage.

His debut with the Heartlanders marked the first time he participated in an ECHL contest as he was added to the Iowa roster on Dec. 27.

Kaczperski began the 2021-22 season — his first as a professional — with the Vermilion County Bobcats of the Southern Professional Hockey League, who like the Heartlanders, are in their first year of competition.

“Obviously, coming from the SPHL, it’s just a lot of fun, honestly,” Kaczperski said. “It’s a little bit faster, but I really love the way the team plays defense in front of me, and they block a lot of shots and make my job easy. So, it’s been a great experience so far.”

Kaczperski competed collegiately at Yale and Denver from 2017-21. He spent his first three seasons at Yale, finishing third in program history with a 2.53 goals against average and a .911 save percentage.

Kaczperski debated going to a professional league after his time with the Bulldogs but opted to move to the Mile High City in the middle of the school year. He appeared in 11 games with Denver and finished with a 2.6 goals against average.

“I just like the way he tracks the puck,” Fleming said. “He doesn’t give up many rebounds. He’s usually there on time, especially anything through the Royal Road. So, hopefully he can just get better and better.”

The Heartlanders will face off against the Rush on Friday and Saturday at 8:05 p.m. and the Sunday game will come at 5:05 p.m. at the Monument in South Dakota. The Rush are 13-13-2-2 — third place in the ECHL Mountain Division. The two clubs have never met before.

“They’re fast,” Fleming said. “They play structured. They play a simple game. They’re a good team. They play sound in all three areas of the ice. We’re going to have to bring our A game to give ourselves a chance.”

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