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Pucks in the city

10/3/2018

The hunt is on for playoff hockey in Des Moines.

Tune up the Zamboni. Prepare the penalty boxes. Start practicing your slap shot. Here come the power plays, missing teeth, Minnesota accents, red lines, blue lines… In case you hadn’t heard, central Iowa’s on-ice action is starting to sizzle, and hockey fans are asking: “Is Des Moines becoming a hockey town?”

CITYVIEW sifts through the evidence.

HOCKEY TOWN – EXHIBIT A: JAM-PACKED ARENA

More than 14,000 puckheads packed Wells Fargo Arena on Sept. 19 for an NHL exhibition game between the
Minnesota Wild and the St. Louis Blues — the Blues edged the Wild, 3-2. This was the first NHL game played in the area since 1984, and it was the first ever NHL game at Wells Fargo Arena.

Independent of the NHL event, the Iowa Wild also attracts noteworthy crowds. The team welcomed its 1-millionth overall fan last year, and the team set a new single-season attendance record of 233,802, a per-game average of approximately 6,000. In addition, the team announced a five-year lease extension last February, meaning Wild home games will be played at Wells Fargo Arena for the forseeable future. The deal solidifies the team’s status in central Iowa and Des Moines’ status as a two-team hockey town.

NOTE: The Iowa Wild play in the American Hockey League (AHL), which is just one step below the National Hockey League (NHL). The AHL serves as the top developmental league for all 31 NHL teams. More than 87 percent of current NHL players skated in the AHL. Nearly 7 million fans attend AHL games each year.

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HOCKEY TOWN – EXHIBIT B: WILD ON-ICE ACTION

The Iowa Wild play in the American Hockey League (AHL), just one step below the National Hockey League (NHL). More than 87 percent of current NHL players have skated in the AHL. Nearly 7 million fans attend AHL games each year. More than 40 pro players have suited up for both the Minnesota and Iowa Wild, including Jason Zucker, Matt Dumba, Joel Eriksson Ek, Luke Kunin, Alex Stalock, Gustav Olofsson, Mike Reilly and Zach Parise. The action at Wells Fargo Arena consistently offers NHL-caliber talent. Cal O’Reilly (pictured) has played in the NHL and for the Iowa Wild.

With a new general manager, a new head coach and a mostly new roster, the hunt is on to make the playoffs for the Iowa Wild in season No. 6.

More than 40 pro players have suited up for both the Minnesota and Iowa Wild, including Jason Zucker, Matt Dumba, Joel Eriksson Ek, Luke Kunin, Alex Stalock, Gustav Olofsson, Mike Reilly and Zach Parise. The action at Wells Fargo Arena consistently offers NHL-caliber talent.

Last season Iowa featured 14 players who skated at both levels, but the team narrowly missed the playoffs. The offseason was a busy one for the team. The Wild’s new general manager, Tom Kurvers, says that breaking through to the postseason is the goal this year.

Postseason hockey is something Kurvers knows a thing or two about. He has notched more than three decades working in pro hockey, and during his tenure playing in parts of 11 seasons as an NHL player, he won a Stanley Cup as a Montreal Canadien in 1986.

The Wild’s roster wasn’t yet set at the time of CITYVIEW’s interview with Kurvers. He says it is too early to say for sure which players will be in the team’s lineup, but regardless of who laces up skates in Iowa, he is excited about the team’s new head coach, Tim Army, who replaces Derek Lalonde behind the bench.

Wells Fargo Arena sold out for an NHL exhibition gamebetween the Minnesota Wild and the St. Louis Blues on Sept. 19. The Blues edged the Wild, 3-2. This was the first NHL game played in the area since 1984, and it was the first ever NHL game at Wells Fargo Arena.

“This is a very experienced coach and a very enthusiastic guy,” says Kurvers. “He’s a gentleman in every way. He’s a selfless guy who works hard.”

Winning is tricky for AHL teams. The top priority is developing prospects for the organization’s big league club. But, according to Kurvers, winning is often a part of that development.

“The 31 teams are in place to provide reinforcement for the 31 NHL clubs,” says Kurvers. “Development is the priority, but development is best provided in a winning atmosphere.”

Besides coaching, other major factors for AHL success include goaltending and health. Predicting injuries is impossible, but Kurvers predicts Iowa will have a quality goaltender. Netminder Andrew Hammond signed with the organization during the offseason. This preseason, the “Hamburglar” is competing with Alex Stalock to be the backup in Minnesota behind Devan Dubnyk. Whoever makes the Iowa team will have narrowly missed making it in
Minnesota and will be Iowa’s starter between the pipes.

“We’ll have a quality goalie in the net,” assures Kurvers.

HOCKEY TOWN – EXHIBIT C: BUCS. BUCS. BUCS.

BUCCANEER ARENA: Des Moines Buccaneers, established 1980. 7201 Hickman Road, Urbandale. For ticket information, visit www.bucshockey.com. Maximum capacity: contains 3,261 seats; maximum capacity is 3,700. Bucs colors: red, blue, white.

This isn’t Wisconsin, Michigan or Minnesota, but more license plates from those states populate the parking lot at Buccaneer Arena during a recent practice than do plates from Iowa. Also visible are plates representing North Dakota, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Texas and Ontario. Since 1980, junior A hockey players have traveled from all over the world to play here. The squad has struggled on the ice as of late — the team’s lone playoff berth in a decade came in 2016-17 — but the Bucs are one of the most storied franchises in junior A hockey, which is the highest level of amateur hockey before college. Players generally range in age from 16 to 20.

The team’s new ownership group — which includes homegrown hockey hero and long-time NHL goalie Scott Clemmensen — made big changes during its first offseason. Fans hope the team is back on the right track after last season’s lackluster finish. The Bucs missed the playoffs with a record of 20-33-4-3, near the bottom of the Western Conference.

Success seems to follow new Head Coach Gene Reilly wherever he goes. Overall, he boasts three decades of coaching at nearly every level. His hockey journey has led him through the NHL, AHL, European pro hockey, collegiate ranks and junior levels. Reilly spent last season with Hockey East powerhouse University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

“I’ve coached juniors before, many moons before, so I’m familiar with the level,” he says. “I’ve developed a lot of great hockey players, from Bill Guerin, to Scott Lachance, to Chris Clark and Michael Komisarek and many others who have gone on to play at the collegiate level with full scholarships and who have gone on to be leaders on their NHL teams.”

The coach says he isn’t yet sure how good the team will be. He is still implementing his system, creating a new culture and setting the tone for the future.

“We’re setting a standard here that will hopefully allow us to be successful,” he says. “I do know we have wonderful kids here and people here. For me, that is half the battle.”

Reilly believes in treating people the right way, and that includes the fans.

“I hope that we’ll be entertaining,” he says. “I believe in being high tempo, being creative. I don’t want to be a north-and-south, chipchase team if we can avoid it. I’d like to be entertaining for the fans. Whether we win or lose, I hope fans leave saying, ‘I want to come back.’ ”

HOCKEY TOWN – EXHIBIT D: FIVE NEW OUTDOOR RINKS

The Iowa Wild partnered with other sponsors in 2016 to donate an outdoor ice rink to be placed in West Des Moines’ Raccoon River Park. Last year, the team spearheaded two more rink giveaways — one to Waukee and another to Ankeny — and two more of the $6,000 rink systems will be donated this year. The outdoor skating facilities consist of 40-foot wide by 80-foot long boards (like the ones pictured) retaining water onto a plastic liner to be frozen by Mother Nature. Photo submitted

“We’ve got all these wonderful parks in Des Moines that pretty much go dormant in the winter,” says Todd Frederickson, general manager of the Iowa Wild. “So our thought was to try and bring them alive.”

For the winter of 2016, the team partnered with Wells Fargo to donate an outdoor rink to be placed at Raccoon River Park in West Des Moines. Last year, the club gave away two more of the $6,000 rink systems, one to Waukee and another to Ankeny. This year, two more are in the works.

“We donate them to the city, and the parks and rec departments usually take it from there.”

Boards 40-foot wide by 80-foot long hold the water on a plastic liner. Mother Nature freezes the water by the temperature of the air.

The best part?

“You don’t have to worry about falling through the ice into a pond,” Frederickson laughs.

HOCKEY TOWN – EXHIBIT E: SURGING DEMAND FOR YOUTH HOCKEY

Playing hockey can be expensive. The ice time and the equipment is too big of an investment for some families, especially if they aren’t sure if their youngster will enjoy the sport. In response to this problem, the Iowa Wild debuted its Junior Crash Course last year. The program equips kids, age 4-12, who want to play hockey for the first time. The team offered 50 sets of hockey equipment to 50 aspiring youth hockey players along with access to free ice time.

“It’s fun, and it gets kids skating,” says Frederickson.

In the beginning, the team wasn’t sure what kind of response it would get, but, in two days, the team was flooded with kids signing up.

“We provided 50 sets of hockey equipment, head-to-toe, from helmets, to skates to sticks,” he says. The kids also participate in clinics teaching them the basics of the sport.

This year, more than 650 kids applied for the program, and 100 kids will try hockey for free, plus 48 of last year’s 50 are playing hockey of some sort with their free gear.

HOCKEY TOWN – EXHIBIT F: IN-GAME PROMOTIONS… NEVER BETTER

Tim Army is the new head coach of the Iowa Wild. General Manager Tom Kurvers calls him “enthusiastic” and “a gentleman in every way.” Former Wild head coach Derek Lalonde changed the team’s culture while posting a winning record (69-58-25). The coach earned an assistant coaching position with the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning.

After six years on the sheet in the downtown big house, Wells Fargo Arena, Frederickson has seen a number of highlights. Part of the reason for that success is due to the team’s calendar of promotions elevating the fan experience. The team offers nightly promotions at nearly every event. The following are some of the team’s notable promotions.

• Monday home games: $1 hot dogs

• Tuesday home games: Kids 12 and younger receive a free hot dog, soda and small popcorn. Included with the food is an Iowa Wild prize.

• Wednesday home games: For Winning Wednesday, if the Wild wins, everyone in attendance receives a free ticket to the next Wednesday home game.

• Thursday home games: Fans may purchase popcorn for just $1 on Dollar Popcorn Night.

• Friday home games: Drink specials.

• Local concert series before nine Saturday games: In addition to the regular nightly offerings, the team returns its local concert series this year, preceding nine Wild Saturday contests. The music begins an hour and half before the puck drops at Saturday night home games. “It’s all local bands,” says Frederickson. “We have a lot of great musicians and bands in the area, and it’s a way for us to tap into that talent pool.”

Scott Clemmensen is Iowa’s most successful homegrown hockey talent. After developing in the Des Moines youth hockey program and then playing for the Bucs, “Clem” played four seasons (1997-2001) at Boston College. As a collegian, his team won the 2001 National Championship. In 1997 he was drafted by the NHL’s New Jersey Devils and eventually became the first Iowa-born NHL player. Clemmensen played in the league for more than a decade. He is now part of the ownership group that purchased the Bucs last year.

• National bands after two Saturday games: In addition to the local series, for two Saturday night games, national bands will take the stage following the action. As of press time, the national acts hadn’t been named.

• Postgame skates follow seven games: Oct. 7 vs. Manitoba, Nov. 4 vs. Rockford, Dec. 26 vs. Rockford, Jan. 21 vs. Rockford, Feb. 22 vs. San Jose, March 15 vs. San Antonio, April 12 vs. Chicago.

• School Day Game and workbook giveaway: Nov. 8 vs. Bakersfield. Young fans have supported the Wild in a big way. A team attendance record was set two years ago at its annual School Day. The kids went wild again last year, upping the ante and breaking the record again, posting a number of 13,422. Frederickson says this is “the loudest game of the year.” The team hands out educational workbooks at the contest. The kids learn math, by computing various jersey numbers and concession stand story problems; geography, by noting where various players are from, and other lessons.

• New Year’s Eve game – Dec. 31 vs. Chicago: The pucks drops at 2 p.m. for this year’s New Year’s Eve game. A post-game fireworks show is included in the price of admission. Families can come down early in the day, see a fireworks show and still get home before it gets late, according to Frederickson.

THE EXHIBITS ARE IN. NOW FANS DECIDE: IS DES MOINES A HOCKEY TOWN?

The evidence is in. CITYVIEW has presented the exhibits for examination. Is Des Moines a hockey town? That is up to you. Get ready to see your breath indoors. Both the Bucs and the Wild employed a new head coach and a new general manager this offseason. Each team retooled its roster. Each team starts undefeated with a record of 0-0 on Friday, Oct. 5. The puck drops at 7 p.m. for the Wild and five minutes later for the Bucs. Lace’em up tight, and enjoy some fresh ice! ♦

IOWA WILD

Pink in the Rink night is a popular Iowa Wild event that raises awareness about breast cancer and generates funds for Susan G. Komen of Iowa. This season’s event and post-game jersey auction is scheduled for Feb. 9 vs. San Antonio at Wells Fargo Arena. Photo submitted

The Iowa Wild season runs through April. Opening Night 2018-19 is Friday, Oct. 5 as the Wild hosts the Manitoba Moose. The team plays home games at Wells Fargo Arena, 730 Third St., Des Moines. All games listed start at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted. Visit www.iowawild.com for other details and ticket information.
Oct. 5 — vs. Manitoba Moose
Oct. 7 — vs. Manitoba Moose (3 p.m.)
Oct. 12 — vs. Texas Stars
Oct. 26 — vs. Colorado Eagles
Oct. 27 — vs. Colorado Eagles
Nov. 4 — vs. Rockford IceHogs (5 p.m.)
Nov. 8 — vs. Bakersfield Condors (10:30 a.m.)
Nov. 10 — vs. Bakersfield Condors
Nov. 14 — vs. Milwaukee Admirals
Nov. 16 — vs. Milwaukee Admirals
Nov. 26 — vs. Grand Rapids Griffins
Dec. 5 — vs. Chicago Wolves
Dec. 7 — vs. Chicago Wolves
Dec. 8 — vs. Grand Rapids Griffins
Dec. 21 — vs. Stockton Heat
Dec. 22 — vs. Stockton Heat

The Wild roster could include veterans such as Cal O’Reilly and Landon Ferraro (pictured). Both players were standouts in Iowa last season. Photo submitted

Dec. 26 — vs. Rockford IceHogs (6 p.m.)
Dec. 29 — vs. Milwaukee Admirals (6 p.m.)
Dec. 31 — vs. Chicago Wolves (2:30 p.m.)
Jan. 4 — vs. Rockford IceHogs
Jan. 14 — vs. San Diego Gulls
Jan. 18 — vs. Ontario Reign
Jan. 19 — vs. Ontario Reign (6 p.m.)
Jan. 21 — vs. Rockford IceHogs (noon)
Feb. 8 — vs. San Antonio Rampage
Feb. 9 — vs. San Antonio Rampage (6 p.m.)
Feb. 19 —vs. Texas Stars
Feb. 21 — vs. San Jose Barracuda
Feb. 22 — vs. San Jose Barracuda
March 12 — vs. San Antonio Rampage
March 15 — vs. San Antonio Rampage
March 26 — vs. Grand Rapids Griffins
March 29 — vs. Texas Stars
March 30 — vs. Texas Stars (6 p.m.)
April 2 — vs. Tucson Roadrunners
April 3 — vs. Tucson Roadrunners
April 12 — vs. Chicago Wolves
April 13 — (6 p.m.) vs. Rockford IceHogs ♦

BUCS PROMOTIONS
The Madhouse on Hickman earned its nickname for its intense in-game action, but the Bucs also offer an assortment of promotions to enhance the fan experience. Some of these promotions include:

Friday, Oct. 5 vs. Waterloo: Home Opener
The Buccaneers open the 2018-19 season against the defending Anderson Cup Champion Waterloo Black Hawks.

Saturday, Oct. 13 vs. Lincoln: Pink The Rink
For the first time in Buccaneer Arena history, the Bucs will be painting the ice pink for “Pink The Rink” night to raise awareness and pay respect to those affected by cancer. The night will feature pink Bucs jerseys to be auctioned off for charity after the game.

Friday, Nov. 2 vs. Tri-City: College Night
College students can present a student ID at the box office for discounted tickets. ♦

“I’ve coached juniors before, many moons before, so I’m familiar with the level. I’ve developed a lot of great hockey players, from Bill Guerin, to Scott Lachance, to Chris Clark and Michael Komisarek and many others who have gone on to play at the collegiate level with full scholarships, and who have gone on to be leaders on their NHL teams.”
— Gene Reilly, new head coach of the Des Moines Buccaneers.

At the collegiate level, new Bucs Head Coach Gene Reilly has served as an assistant coach at Maine, Harvard, Northeastern, Colorado College, and, last season, as UMass-Lowell’s special assistant/advisor to coaching staff — the first person to hold that title. Other career highlights include:
• 1999: Assistant coach, Maine, Division I National Championship.
• 2004: Assistant coach, Harvard, ECAC Playoff Championship.
• Five championships in five seasons with Red Bull Salzburg of the Austrian Professional Hockey League. Reilly served in various capacities at different points in time, including as the team’s head coach, assistant coach and director of player development.
• Helped develop many pro players, including the following:
– Bill Guerin: Former NHL defenseman, 4-time Stanley Cup champion
– Scott Lachance: Former NHL defenseman, selected fourth overall by the New York Islanders in the 1991 NHL Draft.
– Chris Clark: Former NHL forward, played for the Calgary Flames, Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets.
– Mike Komisarek: Former NHL defenseman for the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes.
– Ron Hainsey: Current NHL defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Stanley Cup champion ♦

DES MOINES BUCCANEERS
The Des Moines Buccaneers are a member of the United States Hockey League, the only Tier 1 Junior Hockey League in the United States. The Bucs have played in the USHL since 1980, winning four Clark Cups as playoff champions and four Anderson Cups as the team with the best regular season record. All home games are played at Buccaneer Arena at 7201 Hickman Road in Urbandale. Visit www.bucshockey.com for complete details. All games listed start at 7:05 p.m. unless otherwise noted.
Oct. 5 — vs. Waterloo Blackhawks
Oct. 6 — vs. Lincoln Stars
Oct. 13 — vs. Lincoln Stars
Oct. 19 — vs. Tri-City Storm
Oct. 26 — vs. Green Bay Gamblers
Nov. 2 — vs. Tri-City Storm
Nov. 4 — vs. Sioux Falls Stampede (3:05 p.m.)
Nov. 16 — vs. Sioux City Musketeers
Nov. 17 — vs. Fargo Force
Nov. 23 — vs. Lincoln Stars
Nov. 24 — vs. Sioux City Musketeers
Nov. 30 — vs. Cedar Rapids
Dec. 1 — vs. Sioux Falls Stampede
Dec. 7 — vs. Chicago Steel
Dec. 14 — vs. Central Illinois Flying Aces
Dec. 18 — vs. Sioux Falls Stampede (6:05 p.m.)
Jan. 4 — vs. Dubuque Fighting Saints
Jan. 12 — vs. Omaha Lancers
Jan. 18— vs. Omaha Lancers
Jan. 26 — vs. Tri-City Storm
Feb. 1 — vs. Central Illinois Flying Aces
Feb. 2 — vs. Tri-City Storm
Feb. 8 — vs. Waterloo Blackhawks
Feb. 9 — vs. Omaha Lancers
Feb. 15 — vs. Waterloo Blackhawks
Feb. 22 — vs. Youngstown Phantoms
Feb. 23 — vs. Youngstown Phantoms
March 5 — vs. Fargo Force (12:05 p.m.)
March 29 — vs. Lincoln Stars
April 5 — Omaha Lancers ♦

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