Iowa Heartlanders notebook | Club seeking to keep momentum on the road

After winning their first game of the season Sunday, the Heartlanders are hoping to grab their first road victory this weekend.


Braden Ernst

The Iowa Heartlanders fast break toward Indy goalie Justin Kapelmaster during a hockey game between the Iowa Heartlanders and the Indy Fuel at Xtream Arena in Coralville on Saturday, April 9, 2022. The Fuel defeated the Heartlanders, 6-2.

Isaac Goffin, Sports Reporter

The Iowa Heartlanders are seeking their first road win of the 2022-23 season as they play at the Kansas City Mavericks on Friday and the Wichita Thunder on Saturday.

After losing six straight games to open the year, the Heartlanders secured their first victory in dominating fashion Sunday. They downed the Fort Wayne Komets, 7-2, at Xtream Arena.

“Our mission right now is to kind of duplicate that performance and bring it on the road,” Iowa head coach Derek Damon said. “Once these guys learn how to play pro hockey, they understand that whether you’re playing at home or the road, it’s the same thing. You got to play the same way. You just got to play a simple game.”


The Heartlanders have struggled on the road so far this year, as opponents have outscored them, 18-7, in four games.

In its lineup on Sunday, Iowa suited up 10 rookies. Elite Prospects lists the Heartlanders with the second-least experienced roster in the ECHL.

Damon mentioned unlike veteran clubs, which tend to start strong and stay steady through the course of the season, young teams like the Heartlanders go through growing pains at the beginning of the season but aim to improve throughout the schedule.

“Coming from the college game to the pro game, it takes an adjustment,” Damon said. “It usually takes these guys 15 to 20 games before they’re settled into playing pro hockey. We knew it was going to be an adjustment with these guys. It’s now, we’re trying to speed that process up.”

The several experienced skaters on Iowa’s roster are boosting the franchise, like forwards Matthew Boucher and James Sanchez, who have combined for 10 points.

Matt Murphy, a defenseman, is also accomplished. He started playing professionally in 2020-21 and has 27 AHL affairs under his belt.

Defenseman Brendan Less, who competed in six contests late last season with the ECHL’s Worcester Railers, has been paired with Murphy in his first two contests with the Heartlanders.

“Obviously, when you’re surrounded by good players, it elevates your game as well,” Less said. “I think it suits my game well. The way I play I like to get the puck in my teammates’ hands where they can make plays. Obviously, Murphy’s a really good player, so if I can get him a puck a lot, that’ll help us.”

Michael Pastujov to face brother

Iowa forward Michael Pastujov is set to compete against his brother, forward Nick Pastujov, on Friday.

Nick Pastujov is Kansas City’s captain and ranks third on the club with eight points this year. Michael Pastujov joined the Heartlanders last week after the Idaho Steelheads traded him, and he has recorded one goal and three assists in two games. The siblings have never met as opposing skaters before.

“I’m telling him they’re trending in the wrong direction and we’re trending in the right one,” Michael Pastujov said. “So, it’s good for us. But I’m excited, and my parents don’t know what to root for, what to do. They’re pretty beside themselves.”

The brothers were a part of the same youth hockey teams and overlapped at the University of Michigan from 2017-20. Nick Pastujov has competed for the Mavericks since 2020-21, while also finding skating time in 14 AHL contests. Michael Pastujov made his professional debut last Friday.

“He’s got a little bit more ‘F you’ to his game, where I play a little bit more of a skilled game, more control of the puck,” Michael Pastujov said of his brother. “But I think people definitely see resemblances, and it should be fun.”