Pair of Iowa Heartlanders rookies becoming early-season standouts

Forward Tommy Parrottino and defenseman Nolan Orzeck have shown they belong in the ECHL.


Isabella Cervantes

Iowa forward Tommy Parrottino challenges two players during a Heartlanders scrimmage at Xtream Arena in Coralville on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022. The Rose Team defeated the Dash Team 4-3.

Isaac Goffin, Sports Reporter

A pair of Iowa Heartlanders rookies are making substantial contributions to the franchise through the first seven games of the 2022-23 season.

Though forward Tommy Parrottino and defenseman Nolan Orzeck arrived in Coralville on different roads, they’ve each found early success in the ECHL.

Parrottino said he fell in love with hockey when he skated on a backyard rink during winters in Rochester Hills, Michigan. His talents led him to compete in the U.S. Hockey League with the U.S. National Team Development Program for two contests in 2015-16.

Then, staying in the USHL, Parrottino moved to Iowa and played with the Des Moines Buccaneers. The left-handed shooter recorded 11 goals and nine assists over 45 games with the Buccaneers. He was traded to the Youngstown Phantoms for the 2017-18 season, where he was an alternate captain.

At Michigan Tech, Parrottino skated alongside current Iowa forward Alec Broetzman from 2018-22. In 124 contests, Parrottino notched 37 goals and 29 assists.

“I would say I’m a forechecking forward that creates some plays and has the ability to score,” Parrottino said. “I like going out there and causing a little bit of havoc.”

Parrottino signed with the Heartlanders before the 2022-23 season after competing in two games for the Idaho Steelheads toward the end of the 2021-22 campaign. So far, he’s tallied two goals in an Iowa sweater.

Heartlanders head coach Derek Damon reflected on Parrottino’s first goal, which came on the road against the Cincinnati Cyclones on Oct. 29.

“It came from the type of player he is,” Damon said. “He’s a smart player, has a good stick, makes good reads. He made a good read, stole the puck, went in on a breakaway, and finished it.”

Damon noted Parrottino is a quiet player who wants to improve every day. Parrottino’s qualities fit into the culture Damon wants to build for the Heartlanders.

Orzeck, a rookie defenseman, was raised in Calgary, Alberta. Unlike Parrottino, Orzeck never competed in college.

Instead, the 5-foot-11 right-handed shooter joined the professional ranks out of the Western Hockey League — one of North America’s premier junior circuits. Orzeck started competing in the league during the 2017-18 campaign.

The blueliner totaled six goals and 37 assists in 67 games while with the WHL’s Winnipeg Ice in 2021-22. While in the ECHL, he’s put four assists to his name.

The 21-year-old said he agreed to terms with the Heartlanders because he felt he was ready to make the jump to professional hockey. Orzeck mentioned he’s gained more confidence after his five professional appearances.

“The guys are bigger,” Orzeck said. “The speed, it’s fast out there. But if I play my game and keep it simple, it’s an easy game.”

Iowa’s youngest rostered player faced adversity head-on when a puck struck his face during the Cincinnati matchup.

He thought he lost teeth, though he was happy to learn he didn’t. After receiving medical attention in West Virginia ahead of Iowa’s contest versus the Wheeling Nailers, he was cleared to play.

Orzeck said he can translate his offensive skills to the Heartlanders because the team has talented forwards, and he said he is confident in his passing ability.

The blueliner was a good find for the franchise, Damon said. He also noted Orzeck is an elite ECHL skater. The bench boss said Orzeck was playing in a professional system in the WHL and is used to a comparable travel and game schedule.

“So, in a way, he’s got a leg up on college guys,” Damon said. “But where he’s lacking right now is just the strength, and that comes with time, comes with experience playing in this league, comes with getting stronger and getting more adjusted.”