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A much-needed first victory of season for Iowa Heartlanders
Cole Stallard nets a hat trick as Iowa crushes Fort Wayne, 7-2
CORALVILLE — They’re the last team in the ECHL this season to get a victory. That victory came Sunday afternoon, and, boy, it was as impressive as it was needed.
Cole Stallard’s hat trick was only part of the story in a dominant overall performance as the Iowa Heartlanders blasted Fort Wayne, 7-2, before 1,516 fans at Xtream Arena.
You get a guy with a hat trick, you score twice on the power play, you outshoot your opponent by almost double, your goaltender comes off the injured list and makes numerous timely stops of Grade A chances, that’s pretty good. That’s a recipe for winning hockey you hope you can take forward.
“We’ve really battled each week since we’ve started out here,” Stallard said. “To finally see some of it pay off with the first win is really big for the locker room and definitely builds up a lot of confidence for us. No doubt.”
“It’s good for the guys,” said Coach Derek Damon. “We were just talking about it. You start to squeeze the stick a little bit, you press. You know you’re capable of getting a win, you’re just wondering when it’s going to come. The way they worked today, they stuck with it.”
Damon was holding a game puck postgame, commemorating his first official victory as a ECHL head coach. He did get a couple last season filling in for Gerry Fleming when Fleming was out with COVID, though those officially went on Fleming’s ledger because he was head coach.
It’s been an interesting three weeks for Damon, who was elevated from his assistant’s role in the offseason. There was a brutal three-in-three road trip last weekend in which the Heartlanders traveled from Kalamazoo, Mich., to Cincinnati to Wheeling, W.Va., for consecutive games.
That just seems unfair.
Roster changes are a part of life in the ECHL, as guys get called up to the American Hockey League, are waived or what have you, but Iowa has seemed to experience even more upheaval that way than is normal.
Here are the transactions for the club in just the last week: player placed on reserve, player released, player placed on reserve, player reassigned from AHL’s Iowa Wild, player recalled to Iowa Wild, player traded to another ECHL club, player activated from injured reserve, player reassigned from Iowa, player released, player loaned to AHL’s Rochester Americans, player placed on reserve, player activated from reserve, player returned on loan from AHL’s Belleville Senators, two players acquired in separate trades from other ECHL clubs, player released.
How many moves was that? Stuff like that played a part in an unsightly 0-6 start in which the Heartlanders had a lead after just three periods out of 18.
“If you let that dictate how you think, it can distract you from the task at hand,” Damon said. “(We) try and do a good job of just go with what we have. That’s the good thing about this league to coach in is things change on a day-to-day basis, and you have to get creative in how you approach each game and each practice. You could have your full team, or the next day you might not have any of your affiliated players, contracted guys, and you are down bodies, have new goalies.
“It is tough, but we stick with it and try to preach to the veteran guys in there to stick with the process and focus on the job at hand for those 60 minutes.”
Fort Wayne (1-3-1-1) scored less than two minutes into this game, but the Heartlanders didn’t cower. Stallard had one goal on a deflection in front, then on a wrist shot from the faceoff dot to give Iowa a 2-1 lead after a period.
Iowa scored four times in the second period to take a 6-2 lead. The final two came on 2-on-1 rushes, the first from Alec Broetzman, the second from Stallard on a rebound, marking his first ECHL hatty.
“Had one probably two or three years ago when I was in the SPHL (Southern Professional Hockey League) before I got called up here,” said Stallard, who dedicated it to his mother, Donna, who passed away over the summer. “So this was the first one in the ECHL for me. Carries a lot of weight, no doubt.”
Tyler Busch assisted on all three of Stallard’s goals, playing against the team who traded him last week. Corbin Kaczperski stopped 22 pucks for the win in net.
The Heartlanders pumped 44 shots on goal, outshooting Fort Wayne by a 22-4 margin in the second period. They play Friday at Kansas City and Saturday at Wichita.
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