IOWA WILD EXPERIENCE MAJOR SUCCESS WITH NHL PRESEASON GAMESep 24, 2018
By Tom Witosky
When Iowa Wild President Todd Frederickson walked around the north parking lot at the Iowa Events Center early Wednesday evening, he couldn’t help but think about the team’s arrival in Des Moines five years earlier.
“When you think about how far we’ve come, it is really quite extraordinary,” Frederickson said as he watched several hundred hockey fans – new ones and devoted ones – mill around the Wild’s tailgate party prior to the first the National Hockey League game to be played in Des Moines. “It is a little emotional for us because of what we have accomplished so far.”
As he talked, he also noticed the long line of fans standing in front of the doors to the arena, waiting to get into the building a full 90 minutes before the puck dropped between Minnesota Wild and the St. Louis Blues. He knew then an attendance record would be set.
More than 14,000 fans packed Wells Fargo Arena Wednesday and watched the Blues stage a late rally to defeat the Wild 3-2 in an energized preseason game that NHL veteran Charlie Coyle described as “having a playoff atmosphere” and Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau compared favorably to an NHL crowd.
“I haven’t seen energy like this in a minor league arena,” Boudreau said after the game.
Iowa’s AHL season begins Oct. 5, but Wednesday’s match, one goal on a long to-do list of accomplishments to build a solid fan base in central Iowa, appeared to have been more of a success than the Iowa staff could have anticipated.
Prior to the game, fans dressed in jerseys of the Minnesota Wild, Iowa Wild, St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins, Minnesota Gophers, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Rays to mention a few, strolled around at the tailgate party. They came from as far away as Minneapolis, Dubuque, Waterloo, and of course, the Des Moines area.
“This is just a great way to start the hockey season,” said Derek King, a Minneapolis native now living in Des Moines. “It was nice of Minnesota to let the team come down here for the Iowa fans, who have been supporting them for the last few years.”
King said when Minnesota moved its minor league franchise to Des Moines from Houston, it ended a long drought for hockey fans who had become accustomed to AHL hockey when the Iowa Stars and Iowa Chops played here.
“After having the Iowa Stars and the Chops, it finally felt good to have a local team in the area,” King said, adding he’s been a big Matt Read fan since his time in Des Moines. Read played the 2006-07 season with the Des Moines Buccaneers, along with Buffalo Sabres forward Kyle Okposo. “That was a really good team back then.”
Blues fan, Andrew Kinne, who moved to Des Moines in 2012 from St. Louis, said the game represented another step forward in the drive to help grow hockey’s popularity in central Iowa – something that is already evident.
“I play in a local adult league here in Des Moines,” Kinne said. “I have seen that league grow in leaps and bounds since the Wild brought the AHL team here. The leagues have doubled in size.”
For Frederickson, the preseason game not only represented a great success for the club, but also marked the beginning of a new season that will have its own challenges. While they won’t be the same ones when the club arrived in 2013, but they’ll demand just as much attention, he said.
“It’s been a great night,” Frederickson said. “Now we need to go to work on the rest of the season.”
The Iowa Wild opens training camp this week in Des Moines and opens the AHL regular season on Friday, Oct. 5, hosting the Manitoba Moose.