Iowa Heartlanders forward Kris Bennett wins ECHL Rookie of the Year Award

The club’s first captain received the John A. Daley Memorial Trophy in recognition of his 35-goal, 73-point season.


Ayrton Breckenridge

Iowa forward Kris Bennett maneuvers the puck during a hockey game between Iowa and Kalamazoo at Xtream Arena in Coralville on Friday, April 8, 2022. The Heartlanders defeated the Wings, 4-2.

Isaac Goffin, Sports Reporter

Iowa Heartlanders forward Kris Bennett was named the 2021-22 ECHL Rookie of the Year Monday. Bennett received the John A. Daley Memorial Trophy in recognition of his achievement.

The winner of the ECHL Rookie of the Year Award is decided by league coaches, broadcasters, media relations personnel, and reporters.

Bennett accumulated 35 goals and 73 points this season. He played in 50 of the Heartlanders’ 72 games in 2021-22.

“It’s an unbelievable achievement,” Bennett told The Daily Iowan. “I’m super proud, and I guess individually, I don’t think I could have pictured a better year.”

The left-handed shooter, who competed with the Heartlanders on a one-year, two-way contract with the AHL’s Iowa Wild, tied for the league lead in goals with Toledo Walleye forward Brandon Hawkins. The last time a rookie owned at least a share of the league lead in goals was the 1991-92 season.

Bennett was first in power play points among rookies with 25. He also ranked second in the ECHL in assists among rookies with 38. Forward Ryan Kuffner led the Heartlanders in assists with 46.

Bennett did compete with the Wild during the 2021-22 season, notching one goal in 12 contests.

Bennett, the first captain in Heartlanders history, gave his teammates credit for his success. Bennett added that Iowa’s hockey operations staff allowed him to play a lot of minutes and helped him develop on the ice.

Bennett tallied four game-winning goals in a Heartlanders sweater, including one in a 6-5 overtime thriller at Toledo on Feb. 4. He recorded a natural hat trick in the first period against the Cincinnati Cyclones on March 25 at Xtream Arena.

“It’s been a great year for me and my development in hockey,” Bennett said. “As much as I wanted to be at the AHL level this year, I think this could have been the best thing for my hockey career and my development. So, I’m just super grateful for the path that I’m on and playing here. It’s been an awesome year.”

Bennett was previously named to the ECHL All-Rookie Team and All-Second Team. The 26-year-old from Brampton, Ontario, was the lone ECHL All-Star selection for the Heartlanders. He did not participate in the ECHL All-Star Game because he was on the Wild’s roster when the contest was held.

As a captain, Bennett was responsible for leading one of the youngest rosters in the ECHL.

“I think he elevates everyone that he plays with, whether it’s on his line and defensively just helping out a ton,” alternate captain and defenseman Riese Zmolek said. “He just raises everyone’s level. Obviously, he’s got that speed that he has, and it just makes him a tremendous hockey player.”

With his season over and his Wild contract expiring, Bennett doesn’t know where he’ll play in the 2022-23 season. In the offseason, the forward will train at home to become stronger and faster.

“It’s just so hard to predict what’s out there because you really don’t know,” Bennett said. “So, whether that’s playing for the Heartlanders next year or playing at the next level or pretty much anywhere, I just don’t really know what’s available and what’s out there.”

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