Forwards Cole Stallard, Josh Koepplinger returning to Iowa Heartlanders

The skaters combined for 15 of Iowa’s goals during the 2021-22 campaign after spending time in the Southern Professional Hockey League.


Braden Ernst

Iowa Heartlanders watch Cole Stallard shoot a free shot in a hockey game between the Iowa Heartlanders and Utah Grizzlies at Xtream Arena in Coralville on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022. The Grizzlies defeated the Heartlanders, 4-3, to sweep the series.

Isaac Goffin, Sports Reporter

Forwards Cole Stallard and Josh Koepplinger played small but valuable roles for the Iowa Heartlanders in 2021-22 after joining the franchise midseason.

Now, they are seeking to continue their contributions to the franchise as they’ve re-signed with the Heartlanders, the club announced Tuesday. With their additions, the Heartlanders have locked up their first five forwards for the 2022-23 campaign.

Stallard first suited up with the Heartlanders in early November after starting the 2021-22 season with the Evansville Thunderbolts of the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL). Once he signed with Iowa, the right-handed shooter never looked back, as he tallied 12 goals and 13 assists over the first 60 ECHL contests of his career.

The forward from Woodstock, Georgia, said returning to the Heartlanders was an easy decision knowing the number of players who are back in 2022-23. He felt like last season, the Heartlanders held a good group that improved as the year went on but ultimately couldn’t crack the code to qualify for the Kelly Cup Playoffs.

“I think we can definitely win with the guys that we have,” Stallard said. “With the coaching staff we have there as well and everyone around, it’s a great organization, it’s a great city. It’s hard to say no to playing in a brand new facility.”

Though Georgia isn’t a hockey hotbed, the 27-year-old has found places to skate in his home state this summer. He mentioned he spends most of his practices with a group at a rink in Alpharetta, an Atlanta suburb.

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The former Plattsburgh State skater said some of the sessions are scrimmages to push the tempo up to simulate in-game situations.

“Then a couple of other days we run just straight skill work,” Stallard said. “So maybe coming out of a corner, maybe hitting a tight turn, maybe going under a stick, a couple stick handles, take it to the net, odd things that you kind of need to work on. But when it comes game time, all that preparation just gives you the confidence to do what you want freely on the ice.”

The other Tuesday signee, Koepplinger, took a different road to the Heartlanders. The left-handed shooter bounced around the SPHL’s Quad City Storm and Vermilion County Bobcats — plus the ECHL’s Jacksonville Icemen — in 2021-22 before landing in Coralville on Feb. 16.

Though he was put on reserve for part of his first season with Iowa, Koepplinger notched three goals in 12 outings as a Heartlander and said his positive experience with the club was why he re-signed.

Before 2021-22, Koepplinger competed in the SPHL and Federal Prospects Hockey League. He played his college hockey at Lawrence University in Wisconsin.

“It’s a good feeling knowing earlier on in the summer what your plans are for the fall so it keeps you laser focused in your off-ice workouts,” Koepplinger said. “You’re not really worried, I guess, about where your landing spot is going to be come September, October, so getting it taken care of early was definitely better for me and now it’s all eyes on training and getting better this summer.”

Unlike Stallard’s situation in Georgia, Koepplinger has a variety of options of where and who to skate with in Michigan — even unleashing shots against Heartlanders goaltender Corbin Kaczperski. Koepplinger said he’s working on a bit of everything but noted some specifics.

“I’ve been really trying to improve aspects of my game as far as footwork is concerned, skating, edge work, that’s stuff that everybody can work on,” Koepplinger said. “But just doing things with tempo, doing things with higher pace, I think those things will help me translate and bring my game to another level.”