Sep 4, 2018

By Tom Witosky

Follow @toskyAHLWild

Put Iowa Wild’s most avid fans together with Minnesota Wild’s front office leadership and one thing will come out of the meeting; a clear understanding of what is expected to happen in Des Moines and St. Paul this upcoming season.

“Raising the bar is going to be the theme our coaches are going to be working with this year,” said Paul Fenton, Minnesota’s new general manager, to a crowd of more than 300 Iowa fans last week. “And, we plan on raising the bar in both places. Our expectation for all of us sitting up here is that this is where we are going. We are planning to get better and go beyond where we’ve been.”

Fenton outlined his expectations as he, Tom Kurvers, Iowa’s new general manager, and Tim Army, Iowa’s new head coach, spoke during an hour-long town hall meeting with Iowa Wild 365 members –season ticket holders and corporate sponsors who made it clear they are looking forward to the start of the 2018-19 season.

“I’m so ready for the hockey season,” said Jennifer Peachy Weaver, a West Virginia transplant and long-time Pittsburgh Penguins fan now living in Waukee with her husband, Kim. “The fact that Coach Army was with the Penguins organization last year in the minors makes it all that much more fun and should make this team a good one.”

Just how good Iowa will be as it continues its quest to qualify for the AHL playoffs for the first time remains to be seen. Kurvers, Army and Fenton each said the emphasis will first be on developing players ready to graduate to the NHL and continuing to grow a winning atmosphere for Iowa fans to enjoy.

Kurvers used a conversation with an Iowa Wild fan prior to the event to illustrate how Iowa will be the place where players needed in Minnesota at a moment’s notice will be prepared. Asked by the fan whether former Iowa goalie Alex Stalock or newly signed netminder Andrew Hammond would be playing in Des Moines this year, Kurvers said competition will make that decision.

Stalock and Hammond are expected to duel for the backup position to Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk during Minnesota’s upcoming training camp, with the other becoming Iowa’s starting goalie. Both had good seasons last year and the competition is expected to be intense.

“One of the things we will try to provide here is genuine competition for jobs in every position and genuine competition for the chance to go up and play in the NHL,” Kurvers said. “That is a big chunk of player development. We need to have keen competitors to make our team better in Minnesota, but we also need to make those guys provide that here ­– to show it to us here.”

Army, who was hired in July to replace former head coach Derek Lalonde, agreed.

“Obviously development is very critical and that goes for everyone in our locker room,” Army said. “Everyone’s dream is to play in the National Hockey League, so our responsibility here is to have guys ready in this environment so when they get to Minnesota they are ready and able to make an impact to help the Wild right away.”

Army also said that kind of preparation includes winning in Des Moines and making it to the Calder Cup playoffs.

“We want to do it right. We want to develop, we want to work hard at mirroring what they are doing in Minnesota and we want to have success here. We want to win hockey games so we are in a position next spring to be a playoff team,” Army said.

They also said the signing of veteran forwards Mike Liambas and Matt Read to two-way contracts will provide necessary depth to both rosters.

Fenton said Liambas will provide electricity on the ice and leadership in the locker room.

“If he is here or in Minnesota, you will find he arrives on time,” Fenton said. “We have signed him for two years and we did that for a purpose. We want him to be part of our organization whether here or in Minnesota because of the character he brings each and every day. He loves the game, he loves life.”

Kurvers said Read, who played in the Stanley Cup playoffs last season with Philadelphia, will compete for a spot on the Minnesota roster, but also understands he could wind up returning to Des Moines where he played one season with the USHL Des Moines Buccaneers in 2006-07.

“Matt Read strengthens the Wild organization,” Kurvers said. “Whether or not he makes it with the Wild out of training camp, he chose this organization because he knows the farm team is here in Des Moines and his past here was a good memory for him.”

After the event, Army said while he hasn’t been around Iowa fans for long, he already has noticed their passion for the Wild.

“You can tell (President) Todd (Frederickson) and the Wild staff has made the Wild a part of the fabric of the community,” Army said. “People have embraced it. They have a lot of support and that is what is really exciting. I enjoyed their energy, passion and care.”

The fans attending the town hall returned the sentiment.

“I just want to thank you for the program you have here and bringing professional hockey to Des Moines,” Fred James, a season ticket holder, said.

Other highlights from the town hall included Frederickson answering several questions from fans.

  • He predicted a likely sellout of the Sept. 19 NHL Preseason Game between the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues, presented by Mercy Medical Center, at Wells Fargo Arena. The game will be the first NHL game ever to be played in Des Moines. Frederickson said ticket sales for the match has already exceeded 12,000. “This arena is going to be rocking,” Frederickson said. “Des Moines loves big events like this and it is tremendous to see the support we’ve gotten. It will be a terrific game and we can’t wait.”
  • Frederickson expressed interest in scheduling an outdoor game during the regular season. He said he could not predict when that might take place, but “we would like to have one.” He added there have been exploratory discussions with possible venues including Principal Park, Drake Stadium and Valley Stadium in West Des Moines, but no commitments have been made. “Each venue represents an opportunity to play an outdoor game. But there are also a lot of logistics that go into planning an outdoor game,” he said.
  • He said he hoped to be able to land the American Hockey League All-Star game at some point. Frederickson said scheduling conflicts at Wells Fargo Arena in late January make it unlikely the club can land the two-day event except if NHL players decide again to participate in the Winter Olympics. “The Olympic break would be the time we could get it, but it didn’t happen because last year the Olympic players didn’t go. So I think in three years if the NHL players do go back to the Olympics, we could see an AHL All-Star game here,” he said.
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