Iowa Heartlanders begin homestand, look to extend seven-game winning streak

The Heartlanders will play three games at Xtream Arena this week, taking the Fort Wayne Komets and Kalamazoo Wings — two ECHL Central Division foes.


Larry Phan

Iowa forward Ben Sokay tries to stop Utah forward Brian Bowen from shooting during a hockey match between the Iowa Heartlanders and the Utah Grizzlies at Xtream Arena in Coralville on Feb. 9, 2022. The Grizzlies beat the Heartlanders, 5-4, in overtime.

Jake Olson, Sports Reporter

The Iowa Heartlanders will be back in action on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. The Heartlanders played just one game against the Kansas City Mavericks last week on Saturday, picking up a 6-1 win.

Iowa will take on the Kalamazoo Wings and Fort Wayne Komets this week. The Heartlanders will play two games against the Komets on Wednesday and Friday. Then, they’ll take on the Wings on Saturday.

Iowa is currently riding a seven-game winning streak that has propelled it to fifth place in the ECHL Central Division. The Heartlanders have occupied last place in the seven-team division for much of the year.

The top four teams in each division make the ECHL’s Kelly Cup Playoffs. Iowa trails the Cincinnati Cyclones in the division standings. The Heartlanders’ points percentage is .509, and the Cyclones’ is .557.

“Every game is important,” Iowa head coach Gerry Fleming said. “I can’t stress it enough. It is going to be very important to get some points against these guys.”

The last time the Heartlanders played the Wings and the Komets, they found some success.

Iowa swept Kalamazoo in two games Feb. 18-19 and claimed two straight victories over Fort Wayne Feb. 25-26.

“We are going to the net and making things happen,” Heartlanders forward Ben Sokay said. “Linemates are doing what they gotta do and I am just cleaning up the rebounds. It’s been good and hopefully, we can keep it going.”

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With 11 goals and 10 assists throughout the 2020-21 season, Sokay has greatly contributed to Iowa’s seven-game win streak.

“He is keeping his game simple,” Fleming said. “He is moving his feet and the puck well and going to the net. As a result, going to the net has been rewarding him with some goals recently for us.”

On the defensive side of the ice, Connor Russell has been a steady player for the Heartlanders. The defenseman out of Ontario was recently traded from the Greenville Swamp Rabbits to the Heartlanders in February.

“It has been great so far, and all the boys have been welcoming me,” Russell said. “Great coaching staff, and I like everyone in the organization. First time living in the Midwest, and I didn’t really know what to expect.”

Along with his steady defense, Russell has notched an assist in 10 games for the Heartlanders.

“He is starting to understand what we are doing here systematically,” Fleming said. “I like his work ethic. He brings a steadiness to our defense. He knows how to play well.”

As the Heartlanders approach the end of the season, they’re focusing on taking down the Komets. Fort Wayne currently sits firmly in the playoff race at second in the ECHL Central Division with a 28-19-5-1 record.

Kalamazoo is in sixth place in the central division, with a 25-26 mark.

“We are gonna focus on getting the four points playing [Fort Wayne] twice,” Sokay said. “We are just gonna focus on what we have been doing and get some wins.”