Iowa Heartlanders’ struggles continue as Toledo sweeps series

Iowa has won three games since the beginning of December, and the Heartlanders were outscored, 16-2, last weekend.


Gabby Drees

Iowa Heartlander assistant coach Derek Damon speaks with Iowa Heartlander forward Bryce Misley at a hockey game between the Iowa Heartlanders and the Kansas City Mavericks at the Xtream Arena in Coralville, Iowa Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. The Iowa Heartlanders beat the Kansas City Mavericks 4-1.

Sam Knupp, Sports Reporter

The Iowa Heartlanders lost all three games against the Toledo Walleye last weekend at Xtream Arena in Coralville.

The Walleye opened the series by scoring two first-period goals on Friday from Andy Sturtz and Riley McCourt.

Iowa forward James Sanchez — the Heartlanders’ leading point scorer — answered back, cutting the Walleye lead to one goal.

Sanchez’s score proved to be the only bright moment of the night for the Heartlanders, as Toledo tacked on four more goals in the second and third periods, getting a 6-1 win.

Saturday was no better for Iowa as the Walleye defeated the Heartlanders, 5-0. 

In the final game of the series on Sunday, Toledo took a 3-0 lead with a goal in each period from Conlan Keenan, Brandon Hawkins, and Keenan again.

The Heartlanders fought back, as defenseman Bo Hanson scored the first goal of his professional career with a shot from just in front of the blue line.

“We kind of talked about it before the draw,” Hanson said. “They were looking for a one-timer option up top. And I just tried to step into it as best as I could. And good things happen when you shoot the puck, and that one squeaked through.”

Hanson said his dad collects pucks from all of his milestone moments.

“He’ll get this one for sure,” Hanson said.

Despite the comeback effort, the Walleye promptly answered back with a goal from Hawkins. A minute later, Keenan picked up a hat trick, and Iowa surrendered a 5-1 loss.

Toledo has more than six players with AHL and NHL contracts, and Heartlanders head coach Derek Damon said the Walleye’s depth showed on the ice.

“It was a closer game than what the score indicates,” Damon said of Sunday’s game. “It’s just unfortunate. I mean, we had our season-high in shots and we weren’t able to capitalize, but that’s something that’s going to be an area of emphasis that we’re going to focus on this week.”

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The Heartlanders have gone 3-12-6-1 since the beginning of December, putting them at 7-20-8-1 overall.

With 23 points, Iowa sits 32 points back of the first-place Indy Fuel.

Injuries have been a problem for the Hartlanders. Defensemen Brendan Less, Kevin McKernan, and Clayton Phillips, along with forward Michael Pastujav are all out.

“When they’re in the lineup, we’re a different team,” Damon said.

Heartlanders add players

The Heartlanders announced the return of center Joe Widmar on Thursday, who they picked up on waivers from the Florida Everglades.

The 27-year-old played 39 games with Iowa last year, scoring seven goals and assisting 14 more.

Widmar has been a journeyman of sorts this season. The forward started the season in Norfolk, then moved to the Allen Admirals and Florida Everglades before landing in Coralville.

“We feel like he can add a little bit of offense from lower in the lineup,” Damon said. “Didn’t do it this weekend. But you know, there were some spots where he added a little bit of jump.”

Forward Mitchell Balmas was sent back down from AHL’s Iowa Wild on Sunday.

Balmas played two games with the Heartlanders early in the season before getting called up to Des Moines, where he notched one goal in 17 games.

After not getting much playing time in Des Moines, Balmas said it was nice to log some minutes.

“It’s nice to come down and have a big part in the team, have a big role, and get some special teams minutes,” Balmas said.

What’s next?

The Heartlanders will host the Fort Wayne Komets in a three-game series next weekend. The Komets sit one place ahead of the Heartlanders in the central division with 36 points.

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