MINNESOTA PLAYERS, STAFF IMPRESSED WITH CROWD AT NHL PRESEASON GAMESep 20, 2018
By Tom Witosky
Ask Minnesota Wild goaltender Alex Stalock about his season in Des Moines a couple of years ago and he smiles immediately.
“Obviously, I had an awesome year here and it wasn’t just playing hockey, but with the people here,” said Stalock, who became an Iowa Wild fan favorite during the 2016-17 season, which marked the club’s first winning record. “I loved my time here. The fans were great and I made a lot of friends.”
Stalock renewed his friendship with Iowa fans Wednesday night, making several big stops in a 3-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues before a record-setting hockey crowd of 14,282 at the first NHL game ever played in Des Moines.
Stalock, who is in a training camp battle with former Colorado Avalanche goalie Andrew Hammond to hold his backup spot in Minnesota, was one of 12 players on the Minnesota roster with experience with the Iowa team. Forward Justin Kloos, who is likely to return to Iowa for the 2018-19, along with forward Eric Fehr scored Minnesota’s goals Wednesday.
“I actually thought all of the Iowa guys had a good night,” said Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau afterward. “It was also an excellent crowd who got to watch them.”
Boudreau also emphasized how important Iowa has become for Minnesota to have a successful season in the NHL.
“We need them,” Boudreau said. “If you don’t have a good farm club, if you don’t have good depth in the farm club, you are in trouble whether it is because of injuries or something else.”
He added that in the era of the NHL’s salary cap, a good AHL team is the place where depth is developed.
Stalock agreed, adding if he or Hammond is assigned to play in Des Moines, it’s likely each will be driving up to St. Paul during the season a few times.
“The NHL is a three goalie league now,” he said. “Guys aren’t playing 70 games in a season like they used to and backups get more games.”
Stalock also said injuries can place a goaltending corps in trouble unless the farm club goalies are ready to go.
“You need to have three great goalies in an organization or even more than that,” Stalock said. “The backup in Iowa is going to be just as important because you never know when you might need him.”
Defenseman Matt Dumba, who spent four weeks in Iowa during the 2014-15 season, said he enjoyed returning to Des Moines for the game.
“I have some good memories,” said Dumba, who was also named an AHL All-Star during his brief time with Iowa. “I got a great opportunity down here when I was here and it helped me a lot.”
Of the big crowd on Wednesday night, Dumba was impressed.
“It was a crazy crowd tonight,” he said. “The folks here in Des Moines get a lot of credit here. We don’t usually get energy like that during the preseason so it was fun to play in front of them.”
Kloos, who skated with Iowa Wild veteran Gerry Mayhew and newcomer Mason Shaw, said the crowd provided the club with energy at a time when training camp is beginning to wear on everyone.
“It was fun,” he said. “We fed off of them a lot. It was frustrating to come out with a loss, but it was a good experience.”
Kloos also centered a line with forwards Sam Anas and Kyle Rau, both of whom spent the majority of last season with Iowa, in the Wild’s first preseason game in Winnipeg.
“We always have a good time. Last season we had a lot of fun with it and we will again if we end up down here. Wherever I go I will play hard,” Kloos said.
Boudreau said Iowa fans should expect to have a good team this season. He has been impressed with a number of players likely to be returned to Des Moines.
“I think they are going to be a good team this year down here,” he said. “It is nice to see the enthusiasm about hockey here tonight. It should be a fun season.”