116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CORALVILLE — Gerry Fleming was a tough guy in his playing career.
A 6-foot-5, 240-pound winger, the Montreal native accrued over 300 penalty minutes in his final season of junior hockey. He was a 100-plus PIM guy every season in the pros.
He played 11 games in the National Hockey League with his hometown Montreal Canadiens, didn’t record a point but had 42 penalty minutes.
“The type of player I was, I had a lot of time sitting on the bench watching a lot of hockey,” he joked.
But it was watching that helped Fleming learn more and more about the game and decide he wanted to be a coach. The 55-year-old was named Tuesday afternoon as the first head coach of the ECHL’s Iowa Heartlanders.
The announcement was made by Heartlanders President/CEO Brian McKenna.
“Gerry’s reputation as a strong developer of talent and a winner makes him the right man to lead the Heartlanders.” said McKenna. “Fans will immediately notice his passion and outgoing nature and know he will be a recognizable and friendly face in Coralville and Iowa City.”
“Everything,” Fleming said, when asked what attracted him to this job. “First of all, it was an opportunity to work with Brian. Brian has been around hockey a long time, he has worn a lot of different hats. So to have that experience to work with Brian was definitely one of the key factors. Being part of the Minnesota Wild organization was another one. Being so close to Des Moines and working with (Iowa Wild Coach) Tim Army.
“And, you know, a brand new franchise. We’re the ones that get to set the bar. Every day, we want to raise that bar higher and higher. To be able to set the standard, set the marks for the organization going forward was a great opportunity. It was one I relished, and I couldn’t pass up.”
Fleming actually began his coaching career in the mid-90s when he was in the Canadiens farm system with Fredericton of the American Hockey League. The AHL, of which the Iowa Wild are a member, is the Triple-A level of hockey, a step up from the ECHL.
His first head coaching job was for the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks of the ECHL in 2000-01, then it was seven years leading the Florida Everblades of the ECHL. Fleming was an AHL assistant from 2008 to 2014, taking over the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons in 2014-15 on an interim basis when its original head coach was named interim head coach of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers.
Fleming then spent three full seasons as head coach of Edmonton’s top farm team in Bakersfield, Calif., spending the last three years as an assistant coach in Germany. In Bakersfield, he worked with NHL players such as Leon Draisaitil, Darnell Nurse, Ethan Bear and Jesse Puljujarvi.
“I have a mix of a lot of different styles,” he said. “Most coaches are intent on being hard working. We want to provide an atmosphere where players want to be and don’t want to leave. What I try to do is provide guys tools not only for hockey, but life in general. Give them direction, try to point them in the right direction to just be a positive influence in their lives. I think all coaches strive for that, and it’s something I strive for as well.”
Fleming finally made it to town late Monday night, finding his way back from Germany complicated by not having the proper paperwork. Blame the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said he’ll hit the ground running in trying to get players here. The Minnesota Wild will provide some, but the Heartlanders will need to sign others to fill in gaps position wise.
“First of all, we have an affiliation with the Wild, so we’re going to get some players from them,” Fleming said. “Then we’ll fill around that. The process is the same for every team. You go out and recruit. You pound the phones, talk to agents to see who’s available, and you make a push for the type of player that is going to fill some of the needs you have.”
The club also announced Tuesday that the Xtream Arena in Coralville will host an AHL exhibition game between the Iowa Wild and Rockford Icehogs on Friday, Oct. 8. Tickets can be purchased at the Heartlanders website.
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