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Feature Story

Bucs, Bucs, Bucs!

2/28/2018

The past, present and future of Des Moines’ favorite amateur hockey team

SOLD. Last fall the United States Hockey League announced the sale of the Des Moines Buccaneers hockey team to
Orchard View Sports and Entertainment (OVSE). According to the team’s new president, Nate Teut, OVSE is led by New York City financial investor Michael Devlin, and it also includes former Buccaneers goaltender Scott Clemmensen. Clemmensen is central Iowa’s most prolific homegrown hockey product. He logged more than a decade in the NHL.

As OVSE’s inaugural season winds to a close, CITYVIEW pushed aside the eye-patch and sneaked a peek at the team, its history and its future.

ARENA UPGRADES

Watch for flying pucks! That is what the signs say near Buccaneer Arena entrances. It is unclear if the proclamations are posted to warn of hockey’s inherent risk to spectators or to brag about the fast-paced, breakneck, slap-shot action. Whichever it is, the signs haven’t always been there, and while the stadium is clean and mechanically sound, the ownership change has fans asking if more extensive stadium upgrades are on the way.

Watch for flying pucks: These signs have not always been at Buccaneer Arena. The new ownership group is attempting to bring about more extensive stadium upgrades. Photo by Jeff Pitts

“Obviously, no one wants to lose money,” Teut says of the management’s intentions for the team. “But the main goal is to take the Des Moines Buccaneers and get it back to being viewed as the No. 1 destination in the USHL.”

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Arena renovations are under consideration and could be a big part of that. Teut would like to enhance accommodations for players, make seating accessibility upgrades for fan comfort, and add spectator eye candy such as bigger and better scoreboards. But nothing is set in stone.

Along with the Bucs, the arena hosts youth hockey, figure skating, free skating and high school hockey. The building’s new ownership would also like to host more non-ice-skating events such as music concerts, mixed martial arts and farmers markets.

“We want to be a driver in all economic development,” says Teut.

Although youth hockey numbers are said to be slightly lagging, Teut says the long-term goal includes increasing services to that market. His homerun scenario would include either a new rink or upgrades to the current arena for the Bucs, and anywhere from four to five other ice-skating surfaces to be used for youth sports. But he says
smaller plans are also under consideration.

“We’re not trying to be the Iowa Events Center,” says Teut. “Urbandale is growing, Ankeny is growing, even Des Moines proper is growing. If we could be a place to host graduation parties or rivalry basketball games… Who knows?”

Across the street to the west, the Kmart will reportedly close this spring. The soon-to-be-vacant ground could make sense for the group’s expansion plans.

“It’s the No. 1 question I get right now,” Teut says. But he warns that it is too early, and there are too many moving pieces involved, to predict the future. Nothing is a done deal, except for one thing.

“I can promise you this,” he says. “Something is going to be done. Whether it is a renovation of this place, or building a new building directly next to this place…or a brand new facility across the street, all the cards are on the table. We are looking at all of our options.”

LOVE AFFAIR BRINGS DOUBLE DUTY

Scooter Brickey, Chase Ellingson and Julian Napravnik each returned to play a second season for the Bucs in 2017-18 after a successful campaign the prior year. Photo by Lacie Navin

The guys on the ice aren’t the only players honing their craft and preparing for a higher level of hockey.
“I’m chasing a dream,” says Ben Gislason, the voice of the Buccaneers and its director of broadcasting and communications. “This (league) is very much a launching pad to make it to higher levels.”

The play-by-play man might be the hardest-working man in show business. He doubles as the team’s color commentator, statistician, producer of live streaming for both radio and TV, and, as if that weren’t enough, he also covers the team’s public relations duties. But Gislason is not complaining. During his job interview, he told the team that he would also drive the Zamboni if that is what it took to get the job. The storied Bucs franchise was where he wanted to be.

And that’s saying something. Hockey is in the Minnesota native’s blood. Shortly after learning to walk, his parents put him on skates. After falling repeatedly, he informed them that he never wanted to play again. But here he is, 26 years old, and hockey is still his life.

“I loved playing hockey,” says the former Division III collegian. “But I love calling hockey games even more.”
With the new ownership, Gislason is content in Des Moines. He didn’t come here intending to stay, but he loves the city and now sees the potential to thrive here.

PRESENT – 2018 SEASON

Hometown rink rat Scott Clemmensen, goaltender, is one of 28 Buccaneers who have gone on to skate in the NHL and one of three player images on the exterior wall of Buccaneer Arena. Clemmensen is part of a new Buccaneers’ ownership group that is led by Michael Devlin. Plans for stadium upgrades are in the works. Photo by Jeff Pitts

Thirty or more USHL players have been selected in the past five NHL drafts. The tier I junior hockey league touts itself as the only one of its kind, and more than 400 of last season’s players committed to NCAA Division I schools.

“These are the best players in their age group in the world,” Gislason agrees. “Coming to a Bucs hockey game is an experience.”

USHL players are unpaid 16- to 20-year-old amateurs striving to improve and earn collegiate scholarships or otherwise further their careers. Most of the main contributors from the last season’s Bucs playoff run moved up to Division I hockey, and the current team is stuck in last place and struggling to keep its playoff hopes alive.

“I’ve seen them at their best, and I’ve seen them at their worst,” says Gislason. The young team is talented but inconsistent. He says it can appear unbeatable one night, only to disappear the next.

Steering the ship is fourth-year head coach Dave Allison. Prior to the current campaign, his Bucs teams had improved in each of his previous successive seasons.

“I would call him one of the last great characters of the game of hockey,” says Gislason. “He epitomizes what you expect for an old school, Canadian, hard-nosed, lunch-pail hockey type of guy. He is a man of great character.”

The veteran coach has more than 20 years of coaching experience at nearly every level of the sport. He coached the former Iowa Stars from 2005-08, and after his time with the Stars, Allison kept his home here and regularly scouted Buccaneers players for NHL teams.

Allison also had an impressive playing career of his own. As a pro, he mostly bounced around the minor leagues before breaking through into the NHL as a Montreal Canadian for part of the 1983-1984 season.

Despite his wealth of hockey acumen, the coach’s young team is struggling to find cohesiveness. But Gislason says anything is possible if the Bucs get hot and find a way into the playoffs, because the team features ample young talent. He points to its star left-handed goalie, Roman Durny, and to the 20-year-old lefthanded forward, Julian Napravnik, as prime examples.

IT’S A BUC’S LIFE

Lisa and Bill Wieland are hosting three Buccaneers for the season, (from lower left) Will MacKinnon (defenseman), Tyler Paquette (forward) and Erik Urbank (forward). Photo by Jeff Pitts

Smack dab in the middle of Section 16 at almost every Buccaneers home game are 20-year season ticket holders
Lisa and Bill Wieland.

The Wielands are Buccaneer billets — a billet is a home that accepts players into its care during the season for nominal compensation. Most players are from out of state and living away from home for the first time. The team finds them stable family environments to help them adjust.

Lisa says her home is full this season, and she likes it that way. Besides her, her husband, Bill, and Dolly, the dog, the Wielands have taken three players into their Johnston home.

“We have Will MacKinnon (defenseman), Erik Urbank (forward), and Tyler Paquette (forward),” says Lisa.

Buccaneers players are hungry for on-ice success. They are also hungry to improve and win. But Lisa will testify that, in her experience, these Bucs are also just plain hungry. As such, her “Taco Tuesday” has become legendary amongst the empty stomachs fortunate enough to experience the Wieland-style hospitality.

Once her frying pan starts sizzling on Tuesday evenings, the boys come running and chow down.

The Wielands say that hosting players has made watching Buccaneers hockey more exciting. It also helps the empty-nesters keep life from getting boring.

“This is only a portion of the boys that have stayed here,” says Bill while pointing at his living room wall that is adorned with 22 photos of former Bucs. “These are the ones who have stayed the whole year.”

If you include players who resided in the home for partial seasons, the Wielands have hosted approximately 50 Buccaneers during their 11 years as billets. The players are mostly from the northern U.S., the East Coast and Canada. But Bill says players from Sweden and Russia have also called his house a home.

Besides Tuesday tacos, the players enjoy all of Lisa’s cooking, and they enjoy the whole experience.

“You create a really good bond with your teammates,” says Mackinnon. “We are three of the closest guys in the league.”

Each player has his own room. The trio enjoys playing video games in the basement. And not surprisingly, they like the Wielands’ hot tub, too.

“We have it the best,” says Urbank.

“The best,” echoes Paquette.

The trio offers a word of advice for future Buccaneers… Request to billet at the Wielands! And on Tuesday evenings, you better be sure you are hungry.

IN IT TO WIN IT

Dawn Swanson and Nate Teut are working to lead the Des
Moines Buccaneers into the future. The team was sold to
Orchard View Sports and Entertainment (OVSE), as of Oct.
28, 2017. Photo by Jeff Pitts

The on-ice action is the draw at Buccaneer Arena, according to Dawn Swanson, senior director of business
operations. She says fans attend games because they bleed Buccaneer blue, red and white.

The team’s inaugural season started in 1980. She says some current season ticket holders have been in the bleachers all along, while others began attending because of their involvement in youth hockey or various other reasons. Whatever first brought them, these are the city’s hockey people, and they love the Bucs and want to see the team win.

Many old-time fans have fond memories of a man known as “Crazy Larry.” During the 1980s and 1990s, the super fan’s in-game cheering antics regularly brought attendees at Buccaneer home games to their feet. At critical junctures, the crowd would come alive as Larry left his perch in the top row of the bleachers. The arena thundered as Larry slammed a 50-gallon Rubbermaid trash can onto the stairs, and the crowd echoed his cheers of: “Let’s go Bucs! Let’s go Bucs! Let’s go Bucs!”

“Bucs fans are incredibly passionate,” says Swanson.

Larry doesn’t come around anymore, but memories of the team’s championships remain. Swanson remembers pulling into the parking lot on Monday mornings and seeing a long line of fans waiting to buy tickets for an upcoming Friday game.

“The goal is to get back to that,” she says. ♦

DES MOINES BUCCANEERS’ HIGHLIGHTS

1961: Arena is built at 7201 Hickman Road, Urbandale
1979: Inception of franchise. The “Miracle on Ice” generally refers to an Olympic semifinal hockey game at the 1980 Winter Olympics. But before Team USA beat the Russians and shocked the world, it prepared by touring the country and playing exhibition games. During that run, Head Coach Herb Brooks led his team against the St. Louis Blues at what is now Buccaneer Arena. It was Brooks who first recommended to rink officials that they consider starting a junior hockey team to be the regular tenant at the facility. His recommendation ultimately started the actions that eventually brought the Bucs into being.
Feb. 15, 1980: Buccaneers franchise announces its occupancy at Buccaneer Arena.
1980: Inaugural season of the Des Moines Buccaneers
1990: The Bucs hire Bob Ferguson as head coach; “Fergie” quickly turns the team into a powerhouse.
1992: Breakthrough season. The Bucs go 35-11-2 and finish one point behind Thunder Bay during the regular season. The team goes on to win the playoff tournament for the first time in team history.
1993-1994: The Buccaneers win first regular season title.
1994-1995: In Ferguson’s final season, the Bucs go 38-5-5 to win the regular season title, win the franchise’s second Clark Cup and go on to win the Gold Cup.
1998-1999: Most wins (48) and most points in team history; from Nov. 1, 1998, to Jan. 6, 1999, the team has its longest ever winning streak of 19 straight.
1999-2000: Tom Carroll follows Steve Owens as head coach .
2000-2001: Bob Ferguson returns to coach for another three and a half seasons.
2001-2002: Season attendance record of 102,432 is set.
2005-2006: Led by Kyle Okposo and Trevor Lewis (USA Junior A player of the year and future NHLer), the Bucs finish with a 33-21-6 record and win the 2006 Clark Cup.
Feb. 20, 2010: Set single game attendance record of 3,789.
Jan. 16, 2011: Buccaneers become the second USHL team to win 800 regular season games.

PROMOTIONS

The Madhouse on Hickman earned its name not only for its high intensity in-game action, but also for its assorted promotions geared to enhance the fan’s experience at nearly every game. Some of these promotions include:
• Superhero Night
• Teddy Bear Toss: People donate by tossing bears onto the ice. “It is a lot of bears,” says Dawn Swanson, senior director of business operations.
• Doxie Dash, presented by the Animal Rescue League of Central Iowa. Approximately 40 dachshunds are expected on the ice. “The first year was 67,” says Swanson. This year they want it to be more manageable.
• Big Wheel races for fans to win prizes.

DES MOINES BUCCANEERS’ REMAINING HOME GAMES

March 2 vs. Sioux Falls Stampede, 7:05 p.m.
March 3 vs. Tri-City Storm, 7:05 p.m.
March 16 vs. Sioux Falls Stampede, 7:05 p.m.
March 17 vs. Lincoln Stars, 7:05 p.m.
March 23 vs. Sioux City Musketeers, 7:05 p.m.
April 1 vs. Dubuque Fighting Saints, 5:05 p.m.
April 6 vs. Omaha Lancers, 7:05 p.m.
April 7 vs. Omaha Lancers, 7:05 p.m.

BUCCANEERS CHAMPIONSHIPS

• Anderson Cup – USHL regular season championship: 1993-94, 1994-95, 1997-98, 1998-99
• Clark Cup – USHL playoff championship: 1991-92, 1994-95, 1998-99, 2005-06
• Gold Cup – former national championship tournament: 1992, 1998
The source for much of this historical content was garnered with permission from the team’s website in an article by Scott Montesano. Visit www.bucshockey.com/page/show/602055-tradition for more information.

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