Iowa Heartlanders aim to wrap up season with a bang against Allen Americans

The first-year franchise will finish the 2021-22 season on the road at the Allen Americans in Texas this week.


Ayrton Breckenridge

Iowa forward Josh Koepplinger stands in the spotlight after the Heartlanders scored a goal during a hockey game between Iowa and Kalamazoo at Xtream Arena in Coralville, IA on Friday, April 8, 2022. The Heartlanders defeated the Wings 4-2. (Ayrton Breckenridge/The Daily Iowan)

Isaac Goffin, Sports Reporter

The Iowa Heartlanders are looking to finish the last week of their inaugural season on a high note, despite not being able to qualify for the 2022 Kelly Cup Playoffs.

The 28-32-8-1 Heartlanders will take on the 33-27-8-1 Allen Americans on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:05 p.m. inside the Credit Union of Texas Event Center. The contests mark the first meetings between the franchises.

“I think we’re all feeling pretty good,” Heartlanders defenseman Alex Carlson said. “It was definitely a year to learn everything. So, I mean, we definitely want to end the season on a good note. So, it’ll definitely be good to finish the season out, especially with some nice weather, too.”

The Heartlanders were in the playoff hunt until they fell to the Wheeling Nailers on April 6. The Heartlanders are in last place with 65 points in the ECHL Central Division standings. Iowa could advance to sixth place by the end of the season, as the Indy Fuel, who are currently at sixth place in the central division, have 67 points and three games remaining.

Allen, tied for fourth place in the ECHL Mountain Division with 75 points, is fighting for a postseason berth. Allen has gone 5-3-2-0 in its past 10 games.

In that same span, the Heartlanders have performed poorly, tallying a 2-7-1-0 record. Iowa has been outscored by opponents, 37-21, during that stretch.

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Before the Heartlanders became the NHL Minnesota Wild’s ECHL affiliate in June 2021, the Americans occupied that spot.

“I just think we can simplify our game,” Heartlanders forward Josh Koepplinger said. “Sometimes, we try to make that extra play when we might not necessarily need to, and its cost us recently, but we have the skill and the talent to do it. But I think if we play our style, game, and our structure we’ll be just fine.”

Koepplinger, who joined the Heartlanders on Feb. 16, is about to wrap up his first ECHL season. The left-handed shooter competed at NCAA Division III Lawrence University from 2015-19. Since then, he’s bounced around the Southern Professional Hockey League and Federal Prospects Hockey League.

Koepplinger played with the ECHL’s Jacksonville Icemen, as well as the SPHL’s Quad City Storm and Vermillion County Bobcats, before he signed with the Heartlanders. Koepplinger has recorded three goals in an Iowa sweater over 12 games.

“He’s got good hockey sense,” Heartlanders head coach Gerry Fleming said. “He sees the ice really well. He’s got good poise with the puck, makes good decisions with it. Obviously, there’s things in his game that he needs to improve on, but he’s got a lot of assets.”

The Heartlanders haven’t achieved playoff qualification, but some of their skaters are nearing the end of a successful season. Iowa forward Kris Bennett leads the ECHL with 35 goals and tops rookies with 71 points. He also has 36 assists, the second highest among rookies.

Kaid Oliver, another Heartlander rookie forward, is behind Bennett with 35 assists. Heartlanders forward Jake Smith’s 13 power play goals is first in the league.

“We have a really good group,” Fleming said. “It’s unfortunate that we didn’t make the playoffs, but we got three games left together. And we’re going to go out and play as hard as we can for those three games.”

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