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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CORALVILLE — Minnesota has always been a rival to sports teams around here, but it’s now a partner with Iowa City-Coralville and Eastern Iowa in hockey.
The new Iowa Heartlanders pro hockey franchise announced Thursday that it will be the ECHL affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Minnesota Wild.
It’s a move that makes geographic sense for the Wild, which had its affiliate in Allen, Texas, the past three years.
“A very exciting day for us,” Heartlanders President Brian McKenna said Thursday, “and the first day I think that we really start to put a hockey face on the franchise here.”
Under the affiliation agreement, the Heartlanders will be part of development efforts and personnel needs of both the Minnesota Wild and Des Moines’ Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League.
Minnesota’s primary development affiliate is the Iowa Wild. Some players from the Iowa Wild and the Heartlanders are likely to go back and forth during the season.
Minnesota Wild General Manager Bill Guerin was at Xtream Arena for Thursday’s announcement.
“I didn’t expect this,” Guerin said about the new facility, which will host its first ECHL game on Oct. 22. “Honestly, it’s perfect. When it’s full, it will be rocking.”
St. Paul-Des Moines-Coralville will form a triangle that will make it easy for players to move about, and for Guerin and his staff to evaluate and work with their affiliated players.
The Allen Americans won 85 of their 134 regular-season games over the last two seasons, outscoring their opposition by a total of 92 goals in that time. They begin their Western Conference finals playoff series against the Fort Wayne Komets Friday.
“The expectation level is to win,” Guerin said. “I’m a big believer in developing players in a winning culture. That’s what we’re going to expect here..”
The Heartlanders expect to name a head coach in a few weeks, and from there the process of building the 2021-22 roster will begin.
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