PLAYOFF RUN VALIDATING SIX YEARS OF WORK FOR IOWA WILD FRANCHISEMay 9, 2019
By Tom Witosky
When Todd Frederickson arrived in Des Moines as president of the Iowa Wild organization six years ago, he had less than three months to get ready for the club’s inaugural season in October.
Staff had to be hired, the Des Moines business community had to be met and all of the other things that go into establishing a new business within a community had to be initiated and quickly. From the beginning, Frederickson understood a lot of work would be necessary if the American Hockey League franchise was to succeed in a city that had tried once before and found it lacking.
On Wednesday night, after years of hard work, innovative marketing and perseverance, Frederickson witnessed what is arguably the finishing of the foundation of the Iowa Wild franchise that began at this time six years ago.
With more than 5,000 screaming fans saluting the home team as it left the ice with a 2-1 playoff victory over the Chicago Wolves, Frederickson, Minnesota Wild President Craig Leipold, Minnesota General Manager Paul Fenton and Iowa General Manager Tom Kurvers joined in the celebration after Iowa evened the best-of-seven series in the AHL Central Division Final at two games each.
“It’s awesome,” Frederickson said with a big smile. “What a feeling with such a great hockey game and a ton of energy in the building, the rally towels. It’s just fun.”
When Frederickson arrived in 2013, he put into effect a five-year plan to build the team’s credibility within the central Iowa community. Those steps, which included an outdoor hockey tournament, outdoor community rinks, community outreach in local schools and hospitals and helping a variety of charitable causes, helped establish that foundation.
But one element had been missing while the club’s front office earned high marks among the central Iowa community’s leaders for its outreach efforts – a playoff team.
Now the fans have one.
Gerry Mayhew, a free-agent signed with the Wild three years ago, continued his playoff goal-scoring spree with two tallies and veteran goalie Andrew Hammond, described as “calm, cool, and collected” by teammate Hunter Warner, rejected 33 of 34 shots to preserve a 2-1 victory against one of the top scoring teams in the AHL.
The win sets up a pivotal Game 5 on Friday night at Wells Fargo Arena before the teams return to Chicago to determine the series winner. Game 6 will be played on Monday and Game 7, if necessary, on Wednesday. The winner will play for the AHL Western Conference title against either the Bakersfield Condors or the San Diego Gulls in another best-of-seven series.
The win marked the fourth straight home win in the Calder Cup Playoffs and simply adds more luster to the franchise-record 23 home wins during the regular season.
“We had no doubts that when we got back here, we would play the way we can to get back in the series,” said captain Cal O’Reilly. “And we've done that. Now it's a new challenge with the best of three and they get to play it at home. So we got to find a way to get one Friday and then steal one at their building.”
Mayhew credited his linemates – O’Reilly and Will Bitten – for the roles in both goals, which included Mayhew tucking the puck past Wolves goalie Oscar Dansk as he was tripped and went airborne across the mouth of the goal.
“They've been buzzing around and we kind of just clicked right away and put pucks on my stick,” said Mayhew, who now has nine goals in nine playoff games. “So hopefully we’ll continue to do that.”
After the game, close friends and families lined the hallway outside the Wild locker room simply talking and enjoying the moment. The fathers of defensemen Nate Prosser and Hunter Warner were there as were a lot of the wives, girlfriends and young children.
Just how important was Wednesday’s game to the Minnesota Wild front office? If importance is measured by attention, the Iowa Wild is plenty important to the St. Paul office.
Leipold, the owner of the Wild, brought much of his front office staff and other Wild brass to watch. Fenton brought the entire 14 member amateur scouting staff by bus to give them a chance to see some of the players they’ve found in action.
“It's good for our scouts,” Kurvers said. “They've drafted these guys. They've had a hand in signing these guys. They've seen these guys play junior hockey, college hockey and now they get a chance to see them compete at this level. It's good for their eyes and it's good for their projection of more young players that they are working so hard.”
Kurvers also acknowledged the Iowa club’s playoff success so far has added bright sunlight out of an otherwise dim early offseason for the NHL club.
“There is pride in it,” he said. “We're all feeling good about picking the apples here and how they are playing. We are enjoying this.”
Also enjoying the night was former Wild defenseman Zach Palmquist, who played three full seasons with Iowa beginning with the 2015-16 season. Palmquist had a good season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, but acknowledged he kept his eyes on how the Wild progressed this season.
“It's been a long time coming for this city. We missed it by just a small margin when I was here the last couple of years and then to see them finally push through and make it this year was something,” the South St. Paul native said. “I just had a big smile on my face the whole game.”
Palmquist said he was particularly impressed by the Wild crowd.
“To come down and see a team with a lot of familiar faces on it and to see them after the game and to see them winning like they are now has been great,” he added. “And to see the fans come out on a Wednesday night waving their towels. I mean, it's pretty unbelievable.”
Frederickson said the playoff run so far has brought more and more community attention to the Wild and more potential season ticket buyers.
“The more playoff games you sell, typically the more season tickets you sell,” he said. “We're seeing that right now. I mean, after every single game, there's somebody who is new coming up saying ‘Hey, this is my first Wild game ‘and they had a great time and they're buying season tickets.”
After all the hard work to get here, Frederickson said the playoff run and the fact the club is now getting substantially more attention for the on-ice product simply makes it more fun to look into the future.
“It’s great for the staff. It's great for the fans. It's great for the players. I mean, just the atmosphere to play in right now is incredible. And we like to see it growing from the first round to the second round, you're seeing more people come out each game. It's building right now,” Frederickson said.
“This is what you want to have happen in the playoffs,” he added. “The hockey is incredible right now.”