Iowa Heartlanders 2023-24 Season Preview

Coralville, Iowa- It’s that time of year again around the ECHL. The ice is painted, the uniforms have been printed, team stores are being restocked, and 28 teams turn their eyes toward the Kelly Cup. In Coralville, things will look a bit different for year three of Heartlanders hockey. The puck will drop at Xtream Arena at 6:35 p.m. on Thursday, October 19, against the Rapid City Rush. Let’s break everything down first:

What’s Back

Rosters will be officially set on Wednesday, October 18, at 3 p.m. Eastern. While nothing is official, we can expect the following players to return to the team who played for Iowa last year:

Defenders: Chris Lipe, Kevin McKernan, Nolan Orzeck, Justin Wells

Forwards: Jake Durflinger, Justin Michaelian, Alec Broetzman, Yuki Miura, Tanner MacMaster, Louis Boudon, Jesse Jacques, Nick Campoli, Austin Eastman

Goalkeepers: Hunter Jones

In addition, Derek Damon will be the man behind the bench for his second season. He also retains his General Manager Duties. His entire staff from last season will be returning to Coralville as well, offering some much-needed continuity that was not available to Iowa last offseason. Joe Exter has also taken on the role of assistant GM this season as well as Associate Coach, with Eric Michaud also being promoted to Director of Hockey Operations and Video Coach.

The Heartlanders will also retain both their AHL and NHL affiliations in the Iowa Wild and Minnesota Wild, respectively. This will also continue the Heartlanders’ tradition of opening the season at home on a Thursday Night at Xtream Arena.

TV and Radio Coverage of the Heartlanders will yet again be on FloSports with commentator David Fine.

What’s New

After 2022-23 Captain Riese Zmolek was traded to the Florida Everblades over the offseason, the “C” was left for the taking. Zmolek also spent the second half of last season in the AHL with the Iowa Wild. During this time, ECHL Journeyman Kevin McKernan stepped up as the leader in Iowa’s defensive core and unofficially took over lots of the captaining duties. For this, he was awarded the Captaincy for the upcoming season. McKernan joins Zmolek and 2021-22 Rookie of the Year Kris Bennett as the only captains in team history.

Damon and his scouting team also traveled the world of professional and college hockey to build a solid roster for this season and build on the good things that were established last season.

With this in came Utah Grizzlies goalie Peyton Jones, who Iowans can expect to share net time with Hunter Jones. Everblades standout rookie Will Calverley came in the trade with Florida. Calverley made a name for himself in Florida’s Kelly Cup run, getting better as the postseason went on. Fans checking the stat books will see that Calverley averaged more than 20 points per game in a season with half as many games and will hope this means we can see a 40+ point season from the newcomer.

The Iowa Wild have also assigned Slovak Winger Maxim Cajkovic and Czech Winger Pavel Novák to the Heartlanders. If these two stay with the Heartlanders, we could see major contributions from our “older brother” team.

Another notable story is Defenseman Hunter Lellig, a native of Waterloo, Iowa, and is the first Homegrown Talent in Heartlanders History.

Here is a list of all the newcomers for this season and where they played most recently:

Defenders: Robbie Stucker (U of Vermont/SC Stingrays), Ben Brinkman (Notre Dame), Hunter Lellig (Bowling Green), Jules Boscq (Bordeaux), Landon Kosior (Prince Albert Raiders)

Forwards: Pavel Novák (Kelowna Rockets), Gavin Hain (North Dakota), Davis Koch (Krefeld Pinguine), Will Calverley (Merrimack/FL Everblades), Maxim Cajkovic (OR Solar Bears), Brett Budgell (NFL Growlers), Odeen Tufto (ATL Gladiators/ Krefeld Pinguine), Liam Coughlin (WOR Railers), Michael Knaub (Starbulls Rosenheim)

Goalkeepers: Drew DeRidder (North Dakota, KAL Wings), Peyton Jones (UT Grizzlies)

With Michael Devlin’s new ownership of the team comes new dynamics both in the front office and in sponsorship. The Iowa City Area Sports Commission, a top sponsor of Iowa Hawkeye Athletics, will now be featured on the front of the jersey in place of Steindler Orthopedics. In addition, the Gray outlining of names and numbers on the team’s Black Uniforms will be replaced with the yellow outlining found on their White Uniforms. This should make the names and numbers easier to read.

Regular Season Home Games will start at 6:35 p.m. on weeknights at 6:05 p.m. on weekends instead of a blanket 7:05 p.m. previously. This should allow for more fans to make it to the games.

What to Expect

The Heartlanders struggled on the ice in their first two seasons; there is no way around it. In year 3, we see a team that appears to be much more experienced, conditioned, and prepared for this season. This can be directly attributed to Damon and his coaching staff’s staying together and expanding their recruiting horizons. Iowa is also eager to welcome fans back this season and is eager to expand its fanbase.

Two key faces for the team are Goalkeeper Hunter Jones and Fan-Favorite Yuki Miura. Hunter will be the feature of the Jones-Jones duo in goal for Iowa this season, and the former second-round NHL draft pick still has a chance to climb the hockey ladder. Hunter went through the court of public opinion in the 2022-23 season, and he used this challenge from the fans to prove himself worthy of the starting keeper role. Hunter Jones and Yuki Miura are the only two Heartlanders who were in Coralville on day one and are still around. With Hunter hopefully locking in his role as starting goalie, he and Miura can be real leaders on this team. Miura will almost certainly retain his “A” from last year but will now be without Zach White, who was traded to Worcester. Miura and White were a well-oiled machine together, but the strengthening in the roster this offseason allows Miura to be a reliable player and leader who can be trusted for consistency on any line.

This is also a team that fans should be optimistic about. A playoff push is something fans should be excited to witness. The team had an exciting end to the season with two exciting and convincing wins. The Central Division remains a full set of bitter rivalries, but that leans into Iowa’s strength of winning games that are chippy. A team needs approximately 75 points to make the postseason in the ECHL. Using last season’s record of 22-36-14, Iowa could turn seven regulation losses into wins and lower their overtime losses to the league average (winning the rest of those games); Iowa would finish in the window of 76-80 points. With these improvements to the squad, this appears to be achievable and much closer to a reality than it may have felt in the past.

Right now may be the most exciting point in Heartlander’s History. This team has worked together, gained lots of experience in the ECHL, and, with the help of new ownership, should be ready to do exciting things.

We Got The Jack Inside The Rink

In episode 8 of the Inside The Rink podcast, Matty and Smitty are joined by new co-host Conrad Jack. After the long hiatus, we get back to hockey with a PACKED episode!Matt Rempe & the Devils vs. Rangers Line BrawlCould the Vancouver Canucks squander a playoff opportunity? Have the Winnipeg Jets finally figured out their lines?Flyers Head Coach John Tortorella is a sound byte MACHINEOvechkin is on his way to 895, Who is next?McDavid joins elite company with 100 Assists in a seasonRyan Hartman was suspended 3 Games, was it worth 3 games??Can Auston Matthews hit 70 Goals this season?The Eastern Conference Wild Card race is heating up, who lands the two playoff berths?For all of your hockey news and more from the show, visit us at insidetherink.com and watch us on YouTube! How to support us and our sponsors:TicketmasterColumbia Sports ApparelESPN+ SubscriptionFanaticsDraft Kings – CODE ITR
  1. We Got The Jack
  2. Episode 7. Player Safety First!
  3. Episode 6. Early Trade Season
  4. Episode 5. Longing For The Chiarelli Years
  5. Episode 4. Ottawa’s On Fire

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