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Feature Story

Hooked on hockey?

10/2/2019

Witness the on-ice action at Wells Fargo Arena as the Iowa Wild take aim at a return to the playoffs while offering an unforgettable fan experience.

Carson Soucy (pictured) helped the Iowa Wild earn its first playoff birth last season. The team begins its 2019-2020 campaign at Wells Fargo Arena on Friday, Oct. 4. The puck drops at 7 p.m. Photo by Shane Abbitt

The Iowa Wild made franchise history last season. For the first time in its six-season existence, the team reached the American Hockey League (AHL) playoffs — faltering in the second round against the Chicago Wolves, the eventual Western Conference champion.

Iowa plays in the AHL, one step below ice hockey’s highest level, the National Hockey League (NHL). The AHL serves as the top developmental league for all 31 NHL teams. Nearly 90 percent of current NHL players are American Hockey League alumni, and more than 100 Hockey Hall of Fame members have laced up skates in the AHL. Last season, more than 6 million fans attended AHL games. The Iowa organization supports the Minnesota Wild.

The Iowa Wild finished with a franchise record 37 victories during the 2018-19 campaign, and central Iowa broke records watching the wins pile up. The team reported nearly a quarter-of-a-million fans (243,558) for its regular season home games, and 27,505 more attended Wells Fargo Arena during its playoff run.

Last season’s success coincided with the arrival of new Head Coach Tim Army and his three decades of coaching experience — including stints in the NHL, AHL and NCAA.

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Penetrate the guts of the ice!

In his second season with the Iowa Wild, Head Coach Tim Army has big plans for the Iowa Wild to pursue playoff hockey and possibly a Calder Cup. Photo credit: Iowa Wild

Iowa Wild Head Coach Tim Army has a need for speed, a plan to penetrate the guts of the ice, and an eye on returning to the AHL playoffs for some unfinished business. Boasting elite prospect Kaapo Kahkonen between the pipes and some fast-skating offseason additions, the team is taking aim at bringing more playoff hockey to town.
After installing an aggressive and fast-paced brand of offense in his first season in Des Moines, Army led the team to unprecedented production. Netting 242 goals, the Wild averaged more than three goals per game, a new team record.

“Making the playoffs was the goal we had set for ourselves and the expectation,” says Army. “I think we were able to redefine the way we play.”

The coach says it is too early to say which players will for sure be on this year’s squad — the team’s roster wasn’t yet set as of CITYVIEW’s press deadline — but whoever laces up the skates in Iowa, the coach is excited for the puck to drop Oct. 4 at Wells Fargo Arena for the team’s home opener and first game of the season.

The Wild will miss some key players from last season, but depending on how things shake out during final tryouts, the team could return all but four players from last season’s record-breaking campaign. Army says his players laid a sturdy foundation to build upon in regards to the off-ice atmosphere as well as the on-ice play, and he is looking forward to his second year behind the bench.

Key departures from the Iowa Wild include Cal O’Reilly. Last season’s star center, captain and points leader signed with Philadelphia during the offseason. Andrew Hammond — who tended goal for more than half of last season’s victories — will also be missed. The goalie signed with Buffalo last summer.

Achieving on-ice success for AHL teams is a delicate balance. The team’s primary function is developing prospects for the organization’s big league club. But according to Army, player development is done best while winning games, and the team should do more of that in the near future.

“This year, the playoffs are again the goal,” he says. “After that, the philosophy is to take it one step at a time.”
Playing aggressively is critical to accomplishing Army’s game plan, and that requires speedy skaters.

“We want to be built on speed,” the coach says. “We want to press with our speed with and without the puck.”

Coaching, goaltending and injuries are all major factors for AHL success. No one can predict injuries, but Army is widely considered to be a top AHL coaching talent, and the team likes its prospects in the net.

Kaapo Kahkonen should be Iowa’s starter between the pipes. He led the team in goals against average last season as a rookie, and he recorded a franchise record shutout streak of 222:22.

“Kaapo Kahkonen returns if he doesn’t make the big club, and we have Mat Robson (from the University of Minnesota),” says Army. “He will replace Andrew Hammond with Kaapo, so we really like where our goaltending is at.”

No matter how the final roster fits together, with the additions the team made during the offseason, Army says his squad could be even faster than it was a year ago. He is counting on that to help the team improve its record away from its home ice at Wells Fargo Arena, which is an area the team needs to improve on if it wants to exceed its expectations.

“We’re excited about our group,” says Army. “We’ve added some speed and size to our lineup. We were fast last year. We are faster this year, and we are a little bit bigger. The extra speed will allow us to penetrate the guts of the ice with more speed and more pace. If we can get in there more often, we will produce more, and that will allow us to have more success on the road this year.”

Hooked on hockey

Allie Brown (left) didn’t know much about hockey when she began working for the team six years ago, but she now serves as the team’s senior director of marketing. Photo submitted.

Promotions, fanny packs, pro wrestling, live music, hot wings, light sabers and free stuff help transform Wells Fargo Arena, furthering the goal of offering fans an unforgettable hockey experience.

Allie Brown is hooked on hockey, but that hasn’t always been the case.

“I did not know anything about hockey when I started this job,” admits the team’s senior director of marketing. “It has been so much fun learning. It is such a fun sport. It is very fast-paced, more than any other sport, and it’s very fluid. It has been a lot of fun.”

Wild games draw an array of attendees including varying ages and demographics, according to Brown. Non-hockey reasons to attend Wild games include a Kids Zone, a plethora of giveaways, pre-game music concerts, free post-game ice skating (skate rental is $2) and weekday promotions such as dollar-dog nights. Young professionals, date-nighters, college students, hockey fans, seniors and kids all have reasons to witness the Wild action.

“It is a fun evening out to have fun with your friends, grab some beers or bring family or friends,” she says. “It is a very social atmosphere, and there is a lot going on.”

This season, the fan experience will be further enhanced with various promotional events offering free fanny packs, professional wrestlers, local live music, hot wings and lightsabers.

“Apart from the play on the ice, there is a ton of other fun activities and promotions surrounding the game to keep fans entertained,” she says.

The in-game atmosphere offers energy, excitement, and, according to Brown, it is not just about hockey.

“You are constantly being entertained with other things, with music and different games that are fun for adults as well as kids,” says Brown. “There are so many fun promotions for people other than hockey, and then, hopefully, they come and have a good time and enjoy the sport and get hooked on hockey.”

Allie Brown hasn’t always been hooked on hockey, but thanks to the Iowa Wild, now she is addicted.

Promotional highlights, giveaways, fan-favorite events

Up-and-coming players such as Center Luke Kunin (#19) played for both the Iowa Wild and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild last season. Photo credit: Iowa Wild

The puck drops at 7 p.m. on Oct. 4 at Wells Fargo Arena for the Iowa Wild 2019 Home Opener. The season begins on fresh ice as the team takes on the Rockford IceHogs. Attendees will receive a free 2019-20 Iowa Wild schedule cup.

Oct. 11: Stranger Things Night (vs. Texas).
Oct. 12: Hoptoberfest (vs. Texas).
Nov. 10: Pucks & Paws Game 1 (vs. Ontario), March 28: Pucks & Paws Game 2 (vs. Rockford) Pucks and Paws Night has been so popular that the team added a second event to this season’s promotional schedule.
Nov. 23: Hockey Fights Cancer (vs. Bakersfield). The gloves come off at this new event.
Nov. 24: Free Wing Night (vs. Bakersfield). Fans roll up the sleeves and feast on free wings.
Dec. 7: WWE Night and Red Kettle Game (vs. Tucson). WWE Night with a special guest appearance by a yet-to-be-named star.
Dec. 21: Iowa Hockey Classic (vs. Grand Rapids). The Des Moines Oak Leafs and Des Moines Capitals — two local high school teams — will compete in junior varsity and varsity level contests on the Wells Fargo Arena ice ahead of the Wild game against the Grand Rapids Griffins. For the price of a single ticket, fans get the chance to see all
three games. The event will also celebrate the history of hockey in Iowa.

Giveaway opportunities include: kids construction helmets (Oct. 6 vs. Milwaukee), fanny packs (Oct. 11 vs. Texas), schedule posters (Oct. 12 vs. Texas), workbooks (Nov. 7 vs. Chicago), military patches (Nov. 9 vs. Ontario), collapsible bowls (Nov. 10 vs. Ontario), mini-stick and socks (Nov. 17 vs. Chicago), winter gloves (Nov. 24 vs. Bakersfield), red bells with donations (Dec. 7 vs. Tucson), baseball hats (Dec. 21 vs. Grand Rapids and Jan. 17 vs. San Jose), bobbleheads (Jan. 31 vs. Grand Rapids), rally towels (Feb. 8 vs. Stockton), youth jerseys (Feb. 9 vs. Stockton), bobbleheads (March 20 vs. Milwaukee), bandanas (March 28 vs. Rockford), scratch offs and team posters
(April 10 vs. Manitoba).

Post-game skates: Nov. 17 vs. Chicago; Dec. 28 vs. Chicago; Jan. 20 vs. Texas; Feb. 9 vs. Stockton; and March 15 vs. San Antonio.

Pre-game concerts: The team will also offer a series of local live music events, but as of CITYVIEW’s press date, the dates and bands had yet to be released.

Other highlights

Last season’s playoff run marked the first time AHL postseason hockey visited Des Moines. The team’s success spilled over into attendance numbers. The Wild set a new attendance record, with a reported 243,558 fans coming to watch at Wells Fargo Arena. The team says another 27,505 came to see the team compete in its first-ever Calder Cup Playoffs run. Photo credit: Iowa Wild

Kids Opening Night (Oct. 6 vs. Milwaukee), School Day Game (Nov. 7 vs. Chicago), Veterans Appreciation Night (Nov. 9 vs. Ontario), Youth Sports Night (Nov. 17 vs. Chicago), Teddy Bear Toss (Dec. 20 vs. Grand Rapids), New Year’s Eve Game (Dec. 31 vs. Texas), Health and Wellness Night (Jan. 3 vs. Rockford), Military Appreciation Night (Jan. 17 vs. San Jose), Marvel Night (Jan. 31 vs. Grand Rapids), Pink in the Rink (Feb. 8 vs. Stockton), Crash’s Birthday Game (Feb. 9 vs. Stockton), Local Heroes Night (Feb. 14 vs. San Diego), Star Wars Night (March 15 vs. San Antonio), and Fan Appreciation (April 10 vs. Manitoba).

Skaters for the Wild will wear specialty jerseys on three nights this upcoming season: Dec. 21 vs. Grand Rapids for the Iowa Hockey Classic, Feb. 8 vs. Stockton for Pink in the Rink and March 15 vs. San Antonio for Star Wars night.

The team will also wear special warm-up jerseys for Hockey Fights Cancer Night on Nov. 23 vs. Bakersfield. Each jersey will be auctioned off to benefit charities. Hockey Fights Cancer will benefit cancer research, Iowa Hockey Classic will benefit ALS of Iowa, Pink in the Rink will benefit the Susan G. Komen of Greater Iowa and Star Wars Night will benefit Make-A-Wish Iowa. 

Iowa Wild home game schedule

The Iowa Wild ice hockey team plays in the American Hockey League, just one step away from the NHL. The team plays home games at Wells Fargo Arena, 730 Third St., Des Moines. Visit www.iowawild.com for other details and ticket information.

Dates, times and other details are believed to be accurate, but changes are inevitable. Be sure to verify the information as the competition nears.

Kaapo Kahkonen, goalie, led the Iowa Wild in goals against average last season as a rookie. Photo credit: Iowa Wild

Oct. 4 — vs. Rockford (7 p.m.)
Oct. 6 — vs. Milwaukee (3 p.m.)
Oct. 11 — vs. Texas (7 p.m.)
Oct. 12 — vs. Texas (7 p.m.)
Nov. 7 — vs. Chicago (10:30 a.m.)
Nov. 9 — vs. Ontario (7 p.m.)
Nov. 10 — vs. Ontario (3 p.m.)
Nov. 17 — vs. Chicago (5 p.m.)
Nov. 19 — vs. Milwaukee (7 p.m.)
Nov. 23 — vs. Bakersfield (7 p.m.)
Nov. 24 — vs. Bakersfield (3 p.m.)
Dec. 7 — vs. Tucson (7 p.m.)
Dec. 10 — vs. Tucson (7 p.m.)
Dec. 20 — vs. Grand Rapids (7 p.m.)
Dec. 21 — vs. Grand Rapids (7 p.m.)
Dec. 28 — vs. Chicago (6 p.m.)
Dec. 31 — vs. Texas (2 p.m.)
Jan. 3 — vs. Rockford (7 p.m.)
Jan. 17 — vs. San Jose (7 p.m.)
Jan. 18 — vs. San Jose (6 p.m.)
Jan. 20 — vs. Texas (noon)
Jan. 24 — vs. Manitoba (7 p.m.)
Jan. 25 — vs. Manitoba (6 p.m.)
Jan. 31 — vs. Grand Rapids (7 p.m.)
Feb. 5 — vs. San Antonio (7 p.m.)
Feb. 8 — vs. Stockton (6 p.m.)
Feb. 9 — vs. Stockton (3 p.m.)
Feb. 11 — vs. San Antonio (7 p.m.)
Feb. 14 — vs. San Diego (7 p.m.)
Feb. 15 — vs. San Diego (6 p.m.)
Feb. 25 — vs. Chicago (7 p.m.)
March 15 — vs. San Antonio vs. (3 p.m.)
March 18 — vs. San Antonio (7 p.m.)
March 20 — vs. Milwaukee (7 p.m.)
March 27 — vs. Rockford (7 p.m.)
March 28 — vs. Rockford (12:30 p.m.)
April 8 — vs. Manitoba (7 p.m.)
April 10 — vs. Manitoba (7 p.m.) ♦

Bucs. Bucs. Bucs.

When and where?

The puck drops at 6:05 p.m., Oct. 5 at Buccaneer Arena for the team’s home opener against the Fargo Force. The Bucs play home games at 7201 Hickman Road in Urbandale. Also known as “The Madhouse on Hickman,” the venue contains 3,261 seats and boasts a maximum capacity of 3,700.

What level of hockey is this?

This is not professional hockey. The players are not paid. Junior A hockey is the highest level of amateur hockey before college. Most Buccaneers and players in the United States Hockey League (USHL) range in age from 16 to 20, and they are working to earn collegiate scholarships. Many players travel some distance to play for the team and live within the homes of central Iowa “host families” or “billets.”

Why go?

The Des Moines Buccaneers ice hockey team was established in 1980. Prior to last season, the once-storied franchise had struggled, missing the playoffs in nine of the previous 10 seasons. That changed in 2018-2019. Before the start of the season, the team’s new ownership group — which includes homegrown hockey hero and long-time NHL goalie Scott Clemmensen — shook up the front office, and the team eventually flourished, making the playoffs before losing to the Tri-City Storm in the USHL semifinals. The head coach who spearheaded last season’s turnaround, Gene Reilly, has moved on. In his place is Peter Mannino. The new head coach looks to build on last season’s success and continue the franchise’s revitalization.

How?

For ticket information, visit www.bucshockey.com.

Des Moines Buccaneers home game schedule

Dates, times and other details are believed to be accurate, but changes are inevitable. Be sure to verify the information as the competition nears.
Oct. 5 — vs. Fargo (6:05 p.m.)
Oct. 17 — vs. Lincoln (6:35 p.m.)
Oct. 18 — vs. Dubuque (7:05 p.m.)
Oct. 26 — vs. Waterloo (6:05 p.m.)
Nov. 1 — vs. Madison (7:05 p.m.)
Nov. 2 — vs. Lincoln (6:05 p.m.)
Nov. 22 — vs. Fargo (7:05 p.m.)
Nov. 23 — vs. Dubuque (6:05 p.m.)
Nov. 27 — vs. Dubuque (6:35 p.m.)
Nov. 29 — vs. Waterloo (7:05 p.m.)
Dec. 6 — vs. Sioux City (7:05 p.m.)
Dec. 7 — vs. Sioux City (6:05 p.m.)
Dec. 27 — vs. Waterloo (7:05 p.m.)
Jan. 3 — vs. Tri-City (7:05 p.m.)
Jan. 4 — vs. Tri-City (6:05 p.m.)
Jan. 10 — vs. Cedar Rapids (7:05 p.m.)
Jan. 24 — vs. Team USA (7:05 p.m.)
Jan. 25 — vs. Muskegon (6:05 p.m.)
Feb. 8 — vs. Cedar Rapids (6:05 p.m.)
Feb. 14 — vs. Chicago (7:05 p.m.)
Feb. 22 — vs. Youngstown (6:05 p.m.)
Feb. 27 — vs. Green Bay (6:35 p.m.)
March 6 — vs. Omaha (7:05 p.m.)
March 7 — vs. Omaha (6:05 p.m.)
March 14 — vs. Cedar Rapids (6:05 p.m.)
March 20 — vs. Sioux Falls (7:05 p.m.)
March 21 — vs. Sioux Falls (6:05 p.m.)
March 22 — vs. Dubuque (3:05 p.m.)
April 3 — vs. Cedar Rapids (7:05 p.m.)
April 17 — vs. Waterloo (7:05 p.m.) ♦

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