116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CORALVILLE — It’s official. The Iowa Heartlanders are a real thing.
“I thought for a group of guys that … for the most part the first time playing together, first time being on the ice together, I just liked their energy and their execution,” said Coach Gerry Fleming, of the roughly hour and a half workout. “The pace of practice was good, the execution was good and the energy was good.”
The roster includes one player who has been in the National Hockey League in forward Ryan Kuffner. The 25-year-old left winger played 10 games for the Detroit Red Wings in the 2018-19 season, playing last season in Germany.
That’s where Fleming was an assistant coach.
Jones was Minnesota’s second-round draft pick in 2019. Both he and Gordeev played in an abbreviated AHL season last season for Iowa and took part in Minnesota’s NHL preseason camp this month.
“Being up there, I didn’t feel too out of place,” Jones said. “There are a lot of goaltenders in the system, and you kind of shimmy right down the line. With myself being a younger guy, it’ll work itself out in the end. It was awesome being up with the older guys and learning from them. Picking up some things from those guys, because, obviously, they’re there for a reason.”
Corridor hockey fans will recognize Heartlanders defenseman Riese Zmolek’s name, too. Zmolek played two seasons of junior hockey for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, named the winner of the Curt Hammer Award in 2017, given annually to the United States Hockey League player who distinguishes himself for “demonstrating outstanding performance, leadership, pride and determination.”
Zmolek played four seasons of college hockey for Minnesota State and signed an AHL contract with Iowa over the summer.
“It’s an unreal facility here,” Zmolek said. “Everyone out there, this is one of the cooler rinks I’ve seen. I played in a couple of cool ones in college. Coming here is kind of the same arena, the same facility. It’ll be a good place.”
Fleming said recruiting players to Coralville wasn’t overly difficult, though the player pool was limited because of an extra year of eligibility being granted to college players and major junior players in Canada due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Heartlanders are scheduled to play a preseason game this weekend at Kansas City against the Kansas City Mavericks. The regular season begins Friday, Oct. 22 at home against Kansas City.
Tickets for that game and every home game are available online.
“Physicality, just looking at the size of our guys, and the way they can skate,” Fleming said, when asked what he considered the strength of his team. “We want to play quick, but playing quick doesn’t just mean skating fast. It’s making quick decisions with the puck. We want to execute, we want to play fast. If you want to play fast, the execution has got to the be there because if you can’t execute, you’re chasing, you’re running around … We want to be known for (playing fast), we want to be known as a team that’s tough to play against. That all starts with physicality.”
The roster eventually will be pared to 20 players. The ECHL has a salary cap of $14,400 per week for the first month of the season and $13,000 per week the remainder of the season.
The weekly salary floor is $10,600. Rookie players in the league make a minimum of $500 a week, “veteran” players a minimum of $545, with each club responsible for providing housing.
Players on AHL contracts, such as Zmolek, are paid a minimum of $52,000 a season, with the Heartlanders paying the weekly portion of their salaries while they are in the ECHL. The same is true for Jones and Gordeev, the only two guys on the club who are on NHL two-way contracts.
The “two-way” means the player is paid a certain amount yearly for being in the minor leagues and a certain amount for being in the NHL, both pro rated.
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