IOWA'S DEPTH PAYING DIVIDENDS EARLY IN SEASONOct 7, 2019
By Tom Witosky
Tom Kurvers knew the top priority for the summer even before the Iowa Wild’s season ended in the Calder Cup Playoffs last year.
“Last March was a tough month because we needed more depth,” the Iowa Wild general manager remembered. “We survived it and had a modestly successful season. But, we also knew that we would need to build the depth in for the entire season if we were to go further.”
As a result, Kurvers and the Wild staff went looking for the best veterans they could find to replace the likes of departing players such as Cal O’Reilly, Matt Read and Nate Prosser. What they found was a hard-nosed center in Gabriel Dumont, who averaged nearly point a game in two seasons with Syracuse, NHL veteran tough guy Cody McLeod, who was looking for a place to play in the AHL, Rockford center Luke Johnson, a persistent pain when he played against Iowa, center Kyle Bauman with two seasons with the Ontario Reign, and Keaton Thompson, who had two strong seasons on defense for the San Diego Gulls.
What no one knew last Friday when the Iowa Wild’s season opened is that depth would be a key factor in leading the club to two wins; a last-second 3-2 victory against Rockford and a 5-2 spanking of the Milwaukee Admirals to open the 2019-20 season. Those wins put the league on notice the team may be, for the first time, a legitimate challenger for the Central Division title.
“Every team has to deal with injuries and call-ups,” Army said. “We just got hit a little earlier than we would have expected.”
On the day before the first game, Johnson, who had been slated as the center on the Wild’s top line between Gerry Mayhew and Will Bitten, sustained a lower-body injury that will keep him out of the lineup for a few weeks. Then on Sunday, the AHL suspended Wild forward Mike Liambas for one game as a result of a check-from-behind on a Rockford skater.
That kind of setback would have created a lot of problems last season. In addition, defenseman Carson Soucy, who had been penciled in to return to Iowa from training camp, remained with the parent club as a replacement for an injured Greg Pateryn and could be in Minnesota for a lengthy stay, if not permanently.
This season though, Iowa’s depth is an advantage for the team. Immediately, Dumont moved up to center the first line and Bauman was put on the third line. McLeod joined center Mitch McLain and rookie Brandon Duhaime on the fourth line and the trio delivered two goals against Milwaukee, including Duhaime’s first pro tally.
On the blueline, Thompson played with Louie Belpedio and rookie Josh Atkinson was paired with veteran Hunter Warner for both games. The Wild defense was solid in both games, limiting both opponents to two goals apiece.
The result was Dumont scored two goals and had one assist in two games and his linemate, Gerry Mayhew, scored twice and had two assists to end the weekend tied as one of the AHL’s point leaders with four.
Mayhew, who led Iowa last season in goal scoring with 27 tallies, praised Dumont’s work and how he helped the team. Along with Will Bitten, who scored his first goal of the season on Sunday, the Dumont line members totaled seven points on Sunday and two points on Friday.
“He's the strongest guy I've ever seen,” Mayhew said Friday night. ”I think he won almost every face-off tonight.”
Colton Beck, now in his fifth season with Iowa, said the club now is about as deep as he has seen the roster. Beck, along with veteran Sam Anas, flanked Bauman on the Wild’s third line. Anas had two assists while the line totaled 10 shots on goal in the two games.
“We have other guys who are great hockey players and aren't in the lineup right now,” Beck said. “So it's just the next guy up mentality. But we have lots of guys deserving to be in every night.”
Of playing with Bauman, Beck said it’s been fun.
“He is a great kid and he can fly,” Beck said. “He found me a few times with some good chances. He skates well and gets into the forecheck. So he's been fun to play with.”
On defense, the addition of Thompson and Atkinson has allowed Army to pair each player with Belpedio and Warner – two players who aren’t afraid to jump into the rush and play an offensive game.
“Both guys have been really good,” Army said. “It’s another example of how we built in some depth on the back end as well.”
Thompson recorded his first assist of the season as well as playing well in front of the net along with Belpedio.
“Thompson was a great, great addition,” Army said. “He played with a really good, really good team in San Diego the last two years. He matches well with Louie.”
Of Atkinson, Army said the rookie showed promise with the Allen Americans in the ECHL last season and had a very good camp, along with Thompson and defensemen Nick Boka and Matt Register, who were healthy scratches over the weekend.
“Both Thompson and Atkinson have been very good and a good compliment to the other defensemen. We’ve got several others who are playing well in practice and we will want what they can do,” he said.
With two wins under their belt, the Wild will now prepare for a weekend back-to-back at home against the Texas Stars – the team that defeated the Wild seven times out of eight chances last season.
“They gave us a lot of trouble last season so we are going to have to get to work. There are always things that need to be improved,” Army said, adding the loss of Johnson had an effect on Iowa’s top power-play unit. “It’s still a work in progress, but I like where the team is right now.”