Welcome to the jungle10/4/2017
Crowds are preparing to go Iowa Wild for the team’s fifth anniversary season
On many occasions since arriving before the 2013 season, Iowa Wild President Todd Frederickson imagined what Wells Fargo Arena would look like if it was packed with fans that were donned in forest green. But last season, as the team set a new single game attendance record, he realized he hadn’t anticipated the feeling of awe he would feel while absorbing the noise.
“We had more than 10,000 kids in the arena,” he explains. “The sound of the screaming, literally, you could feel it in your bones.”
As the minor league affiliate to the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, the Iowa Wild plays in the American Hockey League (AHL), just one step below the big time. The organization was hosting its Wild About Education day, a day game offering educational programming and geared for school kids. The total crowd exceeded 13,000, and for Frederickson, it meant that three years of hard work were finally coming to fruition. The fans were loud, but the raucous arena was music to his ears.
“I asked the players afterwards what they thought of the experience, and they loved it,” he says. “I mean they felt the energy in the crowd. There wasn’t a moment where the kids weren’t up dancing, screaming and it was just a real special experience.”
But it didn’t start out this way for Frederickson. The Iowa Wild began playing home games at Wells Fargo Arena in October of 2013 after the team moved from Houston. Preceding its first Iowa faceoff, the organization sent Frederickson to Des Moines to pave the way. Upon arrival, there were no cheering crowds. Instead, his ears became the regular audience to an unwelcome and often repeated question.
“AHL hockey has been here before, and it didn’t work,” he remembers hearing. “Why is it going to work this time?”
Des Moines’ previous AHL franchise — the Iowa Stars/Chops — had left a sour taste for some, but Frederickson had a threefold vision to ensure things were different on his watch.
“We wanted people to feel really good about the brand,” he says. “We thought the connection between the Minnesota Wild and Iowa made a lot of sense geographically. We think there’s a lot of Minnesota sports fans here, and it’s easy for our fans to follow players up to Minnesota.”
The second part of his vision dealt with making an impact on bettering the community by using the team’s status as star athletes to generate positive energy and goodwill.
“Des Moines is a wonderful market when it comes to supporting community initiatives and efforts, and that’s something that we’ve talked to the staff about since day one,” he says.
“We’ve tried to give as much as we can back. We feel it’s the responsibility of a professional sports team.”
Growing the sport of hockey in Des Moines is Frederickson’s third key piece of the plan. He says the team has worked hard at growing the sport’s local popularity and at growing teenage participation in floor hockey, as well as ice hockey — the Wild makes significant donations of equipment to high schools and individuals, among other endeavors.
But as in most professional sports, a winning team helps drive success, and for the first time last season, the Wild built momentum on the ice by finishing above .500. Frederickson says the momentum is building at the box office, too.
“This is going to be our best year from a season ticket-holder standpoint,” he says. “The number of seats, number of packages sold, and corporate sponsorship are all at the highest levels they’ve ever been. Things are going in the right direction. We’re headed into our fifth season. It’s a historic year for us.”
The team reports a record average attendance of more than 6,000 per home game last season. So far this year, sponsor revenue has increased by 25 percent, and 2,500 full-season tickets have been sold, which is another team record.
The team soon begins its fifth anniversary season. The puck drops on opening night when the Wild hosts the Milwaukee Admirals, Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena.
Last season was a turnaround year for the Iowa Wild and its first-year head coach, Derek Lalonde. The team finished outside of the playoffs, but it managed its first winning record in team history. Before Lalonde’s arrival, Iowa had suffered through three of the AHL’s worst seasons, finishing dead last in the Midwest Division in each campaign. According to the coach, it was the attitude and expectations of the team that he needed to change.
“When I came in for my interview,” Lalonde remembers, “I took a look around, and the ticket guy was depressed, the security guy was depressed.”
The depression intensified as his club struggled early in the season. But Lalonde credits the players for turning things around.
“I would like to take some credit for the big turnaround last year,” he says. “But in reality, it comes down to the room. Our leadership core put a line in the sand, we had a huge buy in, and we turned it around.”
The wins began coming in bunches. The team went on an 11-game unbeaten streak at one point and won 9 straight road games.
“Only three teams in the last 10 years have done that in the entire league,” Lalonde says, and he expects the success to carryover to this season.
“It came from the room,” he repeats. “And it’s going to have to come from the room again. And now we need to take it to another level. We need to make the playoffs. We’ll be knocking on that door again.”
THIS YEAR’S LOCKER ROOM
The AHL consists of hockey careers at a multitude of stages. Iowa had the luxury of having a rising star like Alex Tuch last year. He was Minnesota’s 2014 first-round draft pick and the team’s second leading scorer, but he was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights during the off-season.
The next rising star could be center Luke Kunin. Iowa is probably the last stop before the NHL for the 2016 first rounder.
“These are the guys that are 18 or 19 years old and knocking on the NHL’s door,” Lalonde says of Tuch’s and Kunin’s tenure in Iowa. “It’s just a matter of when, not if, they go to the NHL.”
But he reminds that not every player is so lucky. The AHL is also a place for aging NHL veterans, or players who have been in the minors for a while and are still pressing to break through. But he says that no matter how you figure it, a lot of premier talent is on the ice in the AHL.
“I think we had 14 guys off our core roster who played NHL games last year,” Lalonde says.
Predicting the roster of a minor league franchise is tricky. The team’s main purpose is to support the big league franchise, so he hesitates to talk about too many specifics of what the roster will look like. With that in mind, the coach figures to retain less than half of last season’s team.
“What I will say is that expectations are different,” he says. “A guy that came into our room last year came into the last-place team and low expectations. This year will be different.”
Tuch will be gone for certain, but the team’s points leader, Center Pat Cannone, figures to return after being called up to Minnesota late in 2016. And Lalonde is looking for his young defensemen, Nick Seeler and Hunter Warner, to improve, as well as forwards Sam Anas and Mario Lucia.
The netminder is still undecided, but whomever it is, it should be a team strength. Alex Stalock’s stellar season has him competing to make Minnesota’s club, but barring a surprise, either he or off-season acquisition Niklas Svedberg will battle with Steve Michalek for playing time in Iowa.
“I’m comfortable where we are in goal,” says Lalonde flatly.
Other key off-season pickups such as Defenseman Alex Grant will also help Iowa.
“He (Grant) was one of the leading scorers in the league who played out East,” says Lalonde. “That was a huge signing for us.”
The team’s potential mix of the young prospects, combined with the older players that are knocking on Minnesota’s door, intrigues Lalonde.
“We have a chance,” he says.
It’s time to take it to the next level.
FAST BREAK WITH PAT CANNONE
This is Center Pat Cannone’s (pronounced kuh-NOH-nee) seventh professional hockey season. He is listed at 5 feet 10 inches, 190 pounds. The right-hander is from Bayport, New York. He attended Miami University before signing with the Ottawa Senators in 2011 as an undrafted free agent. After spending the 2015-16 season with the Chicago Wolves — where he captained the squad and was selected to the Western Conference All-Star team and was named the All-Star MVP — Cannone signed a one-year deal with the Minnesota Wild for the 2016-2017 season. The decision paid off, as Cannone led the team in scoring and also in assists. And he is a big reason for last season’s uptick in wins.
“We wanted to turn things around,” he says about the mindset coming into last season. “And to put ourselves in a position to make playoffs. We fell short of that goal, of making the playoffs, but we feel like we had a positive season with a winning record. Our goal is just to carry that momentum into this year.”
Cannone was called up to Minnesota for a short stint last season. The veteran leader debuted in the NHL as a 30-year-old rookie, playing three games for the NHL’s Wild.
“It’s just a lot of emotions going at that time,” he says. “Obviously pure joy and real excitement.”
The vet doubled down this off-season, and he re-upped with the organization. If he doesn’t make the Minnesota club, he will return to lead Iowa.
“I’m just looking forward to getting back and being with the guys and getting off to a good start,” he says. “I feel like that is important. Our goal this year is making the playoffs.”
The Iowa Wild has a full docket of creative promotions featuring giveaways and celebrating the team’s fifth anniversary. Visit www.iowawild.com to learn dates, times and other specifics.
The freebies begin even before the puck drops on opening night, Saturday, Oct. 7 at the Well, as fifth-anniversary mini banners will be offered to fans upon entrance along with a 2017-18 cling schedule. The club also plans to reveal a new banner in the rafters that night to honor its first five seasons in Des Moines.
New this year is a Saturday night concert series. Local artists are slated to perform before each Saturday night home game.
Other giveaways by the team are spread throughout the season. The team’s most popular promotions are expected to be Kids Fall Fest (Oct. 8), Ladies Night (Oct. 20), School Day Game (Nov. 9), Veterans Appreciation (Nov. 11), Puck N’ Paws (Nov. 12), Red Kettle Game (Nov. 17), Star Wars Night (Dec. 9), Teddy Bear Toss (Dec. 10), New Year’s Day Game (Jan. 1), Kids Winter Fest and Princess Day (Jan. 7), Military Appreciation Night (Jan. 19), Country Night (Jan. 20), Local Heroes Night (Feb. 9), Pink in the Rink (Feb. 10), Crash’s Birthday / Superhero Night (Feb. 18), Social Media Night (Mar. 23), and Fan Appreciation Night (Apr. 13).
SPECIALS AT WILD HOME GAMES
• Monday home games: Kids eat for free on Mondays, Crash’s Kids Meal includes one hotdog, a soda, popcorn, a fruit snack and an Iowa Wild prize for ages 12 and younger.
• Tuesday home games: Eat Drink Play offers food specials, trivia in “The Fort” and two for $10 tallboys.
• Wednesday home games: Wine Wednesdays offer $2 off Barefoot Refresh
• Thursday home games: $1 hot dogs, pretzels, popcorn (small). Maximum of three $1 items per customer.
• Friday home games: $2 beers.
• Saturday home games: Live music precedes all Saturday home games.
• Sunday home games offer postgame skating for all but one game; skate dates include Oct. 8, Nov. 12, Jan. 7, Feb. 18, March 11 and April 4. On Sunday, Dec. 10, fans can also attend a full-team autograph session.
All promotions and dates are subject to change. For more information visit www.iowawild.com. ♦
• Single-game tickets are available through the team’s website — www.Iowawild.com, the Wells Fargo Arena box office or participating Hy-Vee food stores.
• To purchase group tickets (10 or more), season tickets or smaller season packages, call the Iowa Wild ticketing department at 515-564-8700.
• Children older than the age of 2 must have a ticket to gain entrance to games.
• The Wild’s opening night at Wells Fargo Arena is set for Saturday, Oct. 7 against the Milwaukee Admirals. The puck drops at 7 p.m.
• The Iowa Wild is a member of the American Hockey League (AHL) — one level below the NHL — and it is an affiliate of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild.
• The Wild isn’t the first AHL franchise to take to the ice at Wells Fargo Arena. Des Moines was home to the Iowa Stars — the Dallas Stars’ AHL affiliate — from 2005 until 2008. During the team’s final season in Des Moines (2008-09), it was known as the Iowa Chops and affiliated with the Anaheim Ducks.
KEY FREE AGENT ACQUISITIONS
The most likely Minnesota Wild free agent signings to help the Iowa Wild.
• Defenseman Alex Grant
• Forward Landon Ferraro
• Center Cal O’Reilly
• Goalie Niklas Svedberg
WE’RE NO. 1?
According to a press release by The Greater Des Moines Partnership, the Greater Des Moines area was named as the best place in America for minor league sports by the SportsBusiness Journal. Des Moines topped 219 other markets. Four minor league teams are currently in the metro for the purposes of these rankings: Iowa Barnstormers, Iowa Cubs, Iowa Wild and Iowa Wolves.
The press release also included the following excerpt about the Iowa Wild from the SportsBusiness Journal’s story:
“As the team heads into its fifth season, the market appears to be catching on. The team has sold more than 2,500 full-season tickets, its most ever, while group sales are on record pace, sponsor revenue is already up 25 percent over last year’s record high and last year’s average attendance of 6,019 was the club’s best yet.”
WHERE TO GO WILD WHEN YOU AREN’T AT THE WELL?
• Iowa Wild games will be broadcast on 1460 KXNO.
• Every Iowa Wild game will be streamed live on iHeartRadio and AHL Live Radio. Joe O’Donnell leads the play-by-play action. This is his fifth season behind the microphone for Iowa and his 10th season with the Minnesota Wild organization.
• Mediacom is slated to televise seven Iowa Wild home games on MC22.
• You can follow the Iowa Wild on Twitter @IAWILD or like them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/iawild.
HOMEGROWN CONCERT SERIES
Wild fans can catch live music before home games on Saturday nights at the all-new Homegrown Concert Series. The concert series showcases local Iowa artists in the 60-minute live music sessions that begin 90 minutes prior to puck drop.
“The Homegrown Concert Series is something to get excited about,” said Iowa Wild President Todd Frederickson. “It’s a great way to embrace local artists and incorporate another element into our game-night experience for fans.”
Brother Trucker is set for opening night. Other bands include Decoy, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and the Nadas.
Homegrown Concert Series band schedule*
Sat. Oct. 7 – Brother Trucker – south side concourse – 5:30-6:30 p.m.
Sat. Oct. 21 – Decoy – south side patio – 5-6:30 p.m.
Sat. Nov. 11 – Ted Stockton – north side Bud Light Bar – 5:30-6:30 p.m.
Sat. Dec. 9 – Ditty Rotten Scoundrels – south side concourse – 5:30-6:30 p.m.
Sat. Jan. 6 – The Nadas – south platform – 5:30-6:30 p.m.
Sat. Feb. 10 – Damson Dotson – north side Bud Light Bar – 4:30-5:30 p.m.
Sat. March 24 – Bruce Day – north side Bud Light Bar – 4:30-5:30 p.m.
*Bands subject to change ♦