Heartlanders bring experience and leadership back for second season

Published: Oct. 16, 2022 at 11:19 PM CDT
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CORALVILLE, Iowa (KCRG) - After serving as the assistant coach in their inaugural season, Derek Damon takes over the Iowa Heartlanders as the head coach and general manager. On top of building off their foundation set in year one, Damon wants his team to be the fastest and hardest working in the league.

“We want to be a team that’s conditioned and can skate teams into the ground. When we were putting our team together this summer, we wanted guys that could really skate and get up the ice because that’s the way to game is played nowadays,” Damon said.

The Heartlanders went 29-33-9-1 overall last season finishing at the bottom of the Central Division. There was a lot of movement for players within the franchise, but that isn’t uncommon. With training camp underway, Iowa has 10 players on their roster that previously skated with the Heartlanders.

“Everybody in there wants to be here,” said goaltender Hunter Jones. “I see the pace that we had at practice. It was a very high pace and I think everybody wants a spot on the team.”

“Our goal was to make training camp as competitive as possible. We’ve brought in a lot of guys and there’s jobs up for grabs and you can see that right away with day one. Guys are really intense out there and that’s what we wan,” Damon added.

Some key leaders are back with organization. Heartlanders defender Riese Zmolek served as an assistant captain with Iowa last season.

“Each year, you obviously want to make the playoffs and get all the way to that finals and win the finals. I think the steps we took in the offseason, the training we were given and everything like that, it’s all just steps and a processes to put all of our aspects - offense, defense and goaltending [together]. Now we’re here and have to get that chemistry with everyone and get to work. I think we’re off to a good start with that,” Zmolek said.

There’s also experience between the pipes. Corbin Kaczperski led Iowa a year ago with a .921 save percentage, while Jones split time with Heartlanders and AHL’s Iowa Wild.

“When you’re on the ice with different teams, obviously at different levels it’s fairly similar hockey. There’s players that play in the ECHL that can play in the AHL. Same with the AHL that can play in the NHL. It’s more the mental side of the game I find,” Jones said.

The team feels ahead of the game in year two and say they’re ready to get out on the ice for their season opener.

“Dames [Coach Damon] had a good offseason, good early start compared to last year. He’s done a phenomenal job. I know some of the guys he’s brought in and it’s a great group we’ve got in there,” Zmolek said.

“We’ve got guys that want to be here and want to get better every day and we feel we’re going to give ourselves a chance every night,” Damon said.

The Heartlanders host the Idaho Steelheads for a two-game series beginning Friday.