Iowa Heartlanders notebook | Franchise makes trades while in slump, Riese Zmolek named captain

The Heartlanders completed several moves on Wednesday to improve their roster after a 0-5 start.

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Gabby Drees

Walleye forward John Albert and Heartlander Riese Zmolek fight for control of the puck at a hockey game between the Iowa Heartlanders and Toledo Walleye at Xtream Arena in Coralville, Iowa, on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. Albert scored one goal and earned one assist. The Walleye defeated the Heartlanders 4-0.

Isaac Goffin, Sports Reporter


The Iowa Heartlanders are off to a poor start in the 2022-23 campaign. Iowa has dropped its first five games and has been outscored 25-11. 

Iowa has struggled competing for an entire contest, which was evident in its last three-game road weekend series. The Heartlanders fell behind 3-0 in the first period against the Kalamazoo Wings on Friday and dropped the matchup, 6-3. The following night, the Heartlanders held a 2-1 lead heading into the third period versus the Cincinnati Cyclones but left with a 5-2 loss. 

Iowa allowed one goal in the first period to the Wheeling Nailers in its Sunday afternoon series finale. Though the Heartlanders didn’t surrender a score in the middle frame, they took two shots on goal. Wheeling tallied a goal late in the third period to seal the deal, 2-0. 

“I think it’s a combination of young team, maybe everybody’s a little focused on the result, not the process,” Iowa head coach Derek Damon said. “So, we need to reevaluate some things. Obviously, we’re doing what we can to upgrade the team every day. So, we’ve made some trades and done some things that we think is going to help us in the long run.”

To try and bolster their roster, the Heartlanders made three trades on Wednesday. Iowa acquired forwards Michael Pastujov from the Idaho Steelheads and Tyler Busch out of the Fort Wayne Komets for future considerations. The Heartlanders dealt forward Jake Smith, who recorded two goals and two assists in 2022-23, to the Norfolk Admirals for future considerations.

Pastujov spent the past five seasons at the University of Michigan, notching 35 goals and 37 assists over 147 career games. He was named an alternate captain in his fifth year. He didn’t step on the ice for the Steelheads and is Kansas City Mavericks forward Nick Pastujov’s brother. 

Busch competed collegiately at Arizona State from 2016-20, becoming a captain in his final two years. The 6-foot-3 skater split 2021-22 between the Komets and the AHL’s Henderson Silver Knights. He registered eight goals and 11 assists in 59 games last season with the Komets. 

In other roster moves, the AHL’s Iowa Wild assigned defenseman Matt Murphy to the Heartlanders on Tuesday. The AHL’s Belleville Senators announced they released forward Matthew Boucher on Wednesday, so he will return to the Heartlanders. Boucher put up two goals in the Heartlanders’ first two games. 

Despite Iowa not earning the results it wants so far, Damon believes the club will improve. 

“I have to tell the guys the same message that I tell myself,” Damon said. “It’s the process. It’s not the result right now. There’s 67 more games. As long as we’re getting better every day and we’re going in a positive direction, every game and every day, then at the end of the day, that’s what matters. We’ll get there because we’ve got good players and we’ve got good people in this room that care.” 

Iowa will play at the Indy Fuel on Friday and host the Fort Wayne Komets on Sunday.

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Zmolek named captain 

The Heartlanders announced defenseman Riese Zmolek as their captain on Tuesday. He is the second captain in franchise history after Kris Bennett held the title in 2021-22. 

Damon said Zmolek, who’s in his second season with the club, does all the little things right and is an incredible person on and off the ice.

“He’s a guy that goes that goes to battle with his players, his teammates every day,” Damon said. “You know what you’re going to get from Riese every game and every practice and that’s full out. For us to be able to name him captain, it says a lot about him and what we’re trying to build here.”

Kaczperski to return 

Heartlanders goaltender Corbin Kaczperski will be available for Friday, Damon said. Kaczperski hasn’t played in 2022-23 because he’s been on injured reserve. 

The 6-foot-3, left-handed netminder was Iowa’s best statistical goaltender last season. He recorded a 2.69 goals against average and a .921 save percentage in 21 contests. 

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