2022-23 IOWA WILD SEASON IN REVIEWApr 26, 2023
Over the first nine seasons of Iowa Wild hockey, fans experienced a steady build toward success on the ice and a growth of the sport of hockey in the Des Moines community. Following a pair of shortened seasons and a narrow miss of a playoff position in 2021-22, the team entered its 10th anniversary season determined to deliver excitement to the city and earn its second-ever postseason berth. The 2022-23 season delivered on both counts and proved to be a roller coaster ride from beginning to end.
The Iowa Wild finished with a 34-27-6-5 record, earned a fourth-place position in the Central Division, and made the Calder Cup Playoffs for the second time in team history. Iowa set a new team record with a 14-game point streak (9-0-3-2) from Dec. 28 to Feb. 4.
Several players also set new records for the franchise. Goaltender Jesper Wallstedt peeled off wins in eight consecutive starts to exceed Kaapo Kahkonen’s previous high of seven, set in 2019-20. Wallstedt also earned 18 wins to beat Kahkonen’s previous single-season rookie record. Forward Sammy Walker established new rookie single-season highs with 27 goals, nine power-play goals, and a +19 rating. Joe Hicketts provided an offensive boost on the back end and tallied 42 assists to tie Brennan Mennell (2018-19, 2019-20) for the record for Iowa defensemen.
Iowa’s fans were primed for the 10th anniversary season with a unique event at Wells Fargo Arena in the week preceding the home opener. Just prior to the start of the NHL regular season, the Minnesota Wild announced that they would hold an open practice in Des Moines. Several thousand fans turned up on a Tuesday morning to see Iowa alumni and NHL superstars take the ice and attend a post-practice autograph session.
The Wild welcomed 8,610 fans to Wells Fargo Arena to kick off the 10th anniversary season on Oct. 14. Wallstedt saved 22 shots against the San Jose Barracuda to kick off his North American professional career.
Iowa picked up the first win of the season on Oct. 29 with a 5-2 victory in Manitoba before returning home to take on the Grand Rapids Griffins in the team’s annual School Day game on Nov. 3. Over 9,000 screaming kids saw a 6-3 Wild win.
Iowa earned points in each of Wallstedt’s first three starts, but he entered his fourth start on Nov. 12 still seeking his first AHL win. Wallstedt saved a season-high 37 shots at Allstate Arena to help the Wild to a 5-2 win, but his unexpected offensive contributions turned out to be the story of the night. With 33 seconds remaining in the game, Iowa killing off a late penalty, and Chicago’s goaltender pulled, Wallstedt fired a shot the length of the ice that found the back of the net and made him the first goaltender in the history of the Minnesota Wild organization to score a goal.
Sammy Walker got off to a hot start to his professional career and was named the AHL Rookie of the Month for November. Walker notched five goals and eight assists for 13 points in 12 games for Iowa in November and was eventually named to the league’s All-Star Game alongside Wallstedt.
Iowa’s single largest margin of victory came on Dec. 4, when the Wild shut out the Chicago Wolves by a 7-0 score. Zane McIntyre recorded 28 saves to shut out the visitors in his 250th AHL career game, and Adam Beckman set a professional single-game high with two goals and an assist.
Seven of Iowa’s 12 games in the regular season series against the Rockford IceHogs went to overtime, including the Jan. 7 matchup in Des Moines. Dakota Mermis scored the winner 34 seconds into the extra frame with a shot from the high slot. The win kicked off a franchise-record 14-game point streak.
During Iowa’s 14-game point streak, the Wild welcomed the Coachella Valley Firebirds to town. Ahead of the first contest between the two teams on Jan. 26, Coachella Valley led the Pacific Division and had picked up points in 13 straight games (12-0-0-1). The Firebirds picked up a 3-2 overtime victory in an extremely chippy first matchup, but the Wild went on to prevail 5-2 on Jan. 28 and end Coachella Valley’s streak.
The Wild entered their weekend set against Grand Rapids in early March desperately needing a pair of road wins to maintain position in the hunt for a berth in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Several players came up clutch in the team’s weekend sweep of the Griffins, including Nic Petan, who scored the overtime winner on Mar. 4.
Marco Rossi had a phenomenal year with Iowa in his second professional season and tallied 51 points in 53 games. Rossi tallied 16 goals and 35 assists, and his 0.96 points per game average trailed only Petan for the team lead. His offensive prowess was on full display on Mar. 18, when he notched his first career hat trick in a 6-2 win over the San Diego Gulls.
Iowa entered the final weekend of the season clinging to a fourth-place position in the Central Division, but a strong finish by a resurgent Chicago Wolves team put the Wild in a do-or-die position on the season’s final day. The Wild went down 1-0 in the first period against the Texas Stars before roaring back to take a 5-2 win and earn the franchise’s second-ever trip to the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Iowa’s season ultimately ended sooner than fans and players would have liked in the form of a 2-0 series defeat to the Rockford IceHogs in the first round of the postseason. Despite the outcome, fans will still have plenty to look forward to in 2023-24. Some familiar faces will return to Iowa, while others could be promoted to the NHL to play for the Minnesota Wild. Other prospects and new signings will join the team over the summer to help next year’s team in its pursuit of another, deeper trip to the Calder Cup Playoffs.