Iowa Heartlanders searching for second home win of 2022 calendar year

The Heartlanders will welcome the ECHL Mountain Division-leading Utah Grizzlies to Xtream Arena three times this week.


Grace Kreber

Iowa Heartlanders forward Kris Bennett during the hockey game between the Iowa Heartlanders and Kalamazoo Wings at Stream Arena in Coralville, Iowa on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022. The Wings defeated the Heartlanders 3-2.

Isaac Goffin, Sports Reporter

The Iowa Heartlanders have won once at Xtream Arena since the calendar flipped from 2021 to 2022. Iowa’s post-Jan. 1 home record is 1-2-1-0.

The Heartlanders will have a chance to pick up their second win of the calendar year at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, as they welcome the 26-15-2-1, ECHL Mountain Division-leading Utah Grizzlies to Coralville.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge,” Iowa forward Kris Bennett said. “It’s a new team for us, and we’re just looking forward to going to battle and winning some games.”

Bennett was recently named Inglasco ECHL Player of the Week. The 26-year-old racked up four goals and three assists in three contests from Jan. 31 to Feb. 6

Iowa has fared better in road games than it has in home contests recently. The Heartlanders have gone 7-4-1-0 in their last 12 away games.

“We’re looking forward to the crowd,” Bennett said of Iowa’s upcoming homestand. “We’re looking forward to being at our home soil. We’re not taking anything for granted. We need to come out strong for this homestand and take advantage of the time we have at home and win games.”

In their last home contest, a 3-2 loss to the Kalamazoo Wings on Jan. 29, the Heartlanders welcomed 2,744 spectators to Xtream Arena — the second-highest attendance in the club’s history. Iowa’s opening night game against the Kansas City Mavericks on Oct. 22 brought a club-record 4,017 to Xtream Arena.

“This building has tremendous energy in it,” Heartlanders head coach Gerry Fleming said in his Xtream Arena office. “It’s our first year, but the support that we’ve received, the following that we’re gathering with every game moving forward here, and people come in to see the games are excited, and they leave highly entertained. Our guys play hard, they compete, and as a result, our fans are connected to that.”

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A few new faces will hit the ice with Heartlanders on Wednesday. Forward Austin McIlmurray is one of them.

Iowa is the third team Mcllmurray has played for in 2021-22. He started the season with the Florida Everblades. He was then acquired by the Toledo Walleye.

Toledo traded Mcllmurray to Iowa Feb. 4. The Heartlanders and Walleye played each other later that evening at the Huntington Center in Ohio.

Mcllmurray suited up for the Heartlanders on Feb. 4 and scored a goal against his former team. Iowa ultimately lost the game, 6-5.

“It’s going to be a good fit,” Fleming said of Mcllmurray. “Once he gets comfortable with our systems, and the way that we play, and what’s expected of him, and doing what he does consistently, I believe he will help us.”

Forward Luke Nogard is also new to the Heartlanders’ roster. The Heartlanders acquired him from the Atlanta Gladiators on Feb. 4. Iowa had to trade defenseman Billy Constantinou to get Nogard.

Nogard has been playing in the ECHL since 2017-18. This year, he’s recorded four goals, 18 assists, and 107 minutes in the penalty box.

“He’s going to bring a bit of a veteran presence, that’s for sure,” Fleming said. “Some toughness and grit with a guy that can chip in offensively. It was something that was needed to engage everybody into the battle every night and that’s what Luke does. He brings everybody into the fight.”

Counting Wednesday’s game, the Grizzlies and Heartlanders will face off three times this week. Iowa and Utah are slated to play each other on both Friday and Saturday.