Oct 9, 2019

By Tom Witosky

Follow @toskyAHLWild

When Tom Kurvers signed forward Cody McLeod to an AHL contract in August, the Iowa Wild general manager asked the NHL veteran if he wanted to participate in the Minnesota Wild’s training camp.

McLeod’s answer was simple.

“I just want to go to Iowa and win a Calder Cup,” McLeod told him.

McLeod, a 35-year-old veteran with 12 years in the NHL, began that effort along with the rest of the Iowa Wild as the American Hockey League season last weekend. Iowa won on a last-second goal by JT Brown Friday night against Rockford in a 3-2 win and handily defeated the Milwaukee Admirals by a score of 5-2 Sunday afternoon.

The two-game weekend series marked the beginning of the Wild’s campaign to improve on its landmark sixth season, in which the team qualified for the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The club also exceeded expectations when it defeated in the Admirals in the first round and played the Chicago Wolves tough before losing the series in six hard-fought matches.

The Wild will face as challenging a season as last year during which all eight Central Division teams were fighting for a playoff spot up until the final 10 days of the season. The Wild returns a roster with 12 players from last year’s team and a combination of new veterans like centers Gabriel Dumont and Luke Johnson as well as rookies Conner Dewar and Brandon Duhaime.

For McLeod, the combination of veterans and young players should mean a good season is ahead.

“It’s going to be interesting to be back in the AHL,” McLeod said last week as the club prepared for opening night. “I'm still getting to know the guys, but I know a lot of them played here last year, which is good. They had a good year last year and I think we have a good mix of young guys and older veteran players.”

McLeod’s said his decision to play in Des Moines was a combination of wanting to keep playing hockey after 12 seasons with the Colorado Avalanche, then Nashville Predators, and finally with the New York Rangers, and to stay as close to home as possible. McLeod and his wife, Jessica, and two daughters have made Nashville their permanent home.

“I just wasn't ready to quit playing,” the Binscarth, MB native said. “I still felt like I had another year or couple years in me to play and Des Moines was one of the closer cities to Nashville.”

Kurvers said he learned of McLeod’s interest in playing for Iowa from Matt Hendricks, who was hired in June as the Minnesota Wild’s assistant director of player development. Hendricks and McLeod were teammates at Colorado.

“Matt told me a story about how Cody was an influence on him and his career,” Kurvers said. “Matt thought he was a hard worker until he met Cody.”

Kurvers said McLeod’s inclusion on the Iowa roster was the result of wanting additional veteran leadership plus someone with a physical approach to the game to offset opponents capable of pushing around the Iowa team, which relies heavily on speed and skill to win games.

“His experience, his grit, and his determination to be part of the things here in Iowa made a real impression on me,” Kurvers said. “We are happy to get him here.”

McLeod’s reputation as one of the most physical players in the NHL – he averaged 135 penalty minutes during his NHL career – will certainly proceed him as well as some legend. McLeod, as a rookie, made a name for himself when he picked up the traditional dead octopus thrown onto the ice by a Detroit Red Wing fan prior to a playoff game and threw off the ice.

McLeod laughed when he was reminded of it and said simply “that was a long time ago.”

He added he may have been encouraged to remove the octopus carcass by his head coach at the time, Joel Quenneville. “My coach asked me to do it. it was my first year in the league so you do pretty much anything that they'd asked.”

Tim Army, the Iowa Wild’s head coach, was an assistant coach with Colorado for six seasons during McLeod’s tenure with the team. When he learned that McLeod was interested in playing with Iowa, his only concern was making sure they could fit McLeod in on the roster as a veteran.

AHL rules limit teams to allowing only six veterans to dress for games out of its 18-man game roster, not including goalies.

“Once we figured that out, it allowed us to sign him, which everyone wanted to do,” Army said. “He’s played a lot of hockey and had to earn every second of it in the NHL. He is completely committed to playing and it is going to be great to have a guy who's going to be sending that message in our locker room to everyone.”

Army also acknowledged McLeod’s physical play will result in forward Mike Liambas being able to share the load of making sure the faster-skilled players will be able to play with confidence.

“He's hard on the forecheck. He's physical, and he gets to the net. And he's good down there tipping shots and whacking the rebounds. He's a good hockey player,” Army said of McLeod.

Liambas, who compiled 137 minutes in penalties last season, tying the Wild’s franchise record, agreed having McLeod on the ice will lighten his load as the club’s most physical player.

“It’s his experience,” Liambas said. “He is a guy who has been around the block numerous times. And he's got a lot that he can teach to us, including myself, as well as the young guys and older guys.”

Liambas pointed out he missed playing in 23 games, largely because of two injuries during the season, including a seven-game stretch in mid-March.

“I was out for the better part of a couple of months, including when went to the West Coast,” Liambas said. “We needed to have an extra guy who is able to do the job. If something happens with me or with him, you know to have the extra guy is huge.”

Army also said he expects McLeod will help provide the veteran leadership to a club that is still focused on the development of young players into NHL caliber players.

“He’s a great guy and a great teammate. He’s got that grizzled old veteran attitude. He may be a throwback player, but when he speaks, people are going to listen.”

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