Ironically, the Iowa Wild marketing theme for the 2022-23 season was tabbed “IowaGrown”.  It marked the celebration of a decade of hockey in Des Moines, serving as the American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild.

The reality of a true Iowa grown product on the ice at Wells Fargo Arena came to fruition when Minnesota traded forward Pat Maroon to the Boston Bruins on Mar. 8. In exchange, the Wild received a conditional sixth round pick and a 22-year-old prospect, Luke Toporowski.

Luke was born at Genesis Hospital in Davenport, Iowa. He grew up in Bettendorf, a suburb on the Iowa side of the Quad Cities. His father, Kerry, was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the fourth round (#67 overall) of the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. He played professionally for 12 years as a rugged, no-nonsense defender in the IHL, AHL and UHL. Kerry skated out the last five years of his career for the Quad City Mallards, officially hanging up his skates in 2004.

Along with Luke’s mother, Joy, the Toporowski family began a new life in 1998 upon moving to Iowa. They expanded on April 12, 2001, with the arrival of Luke, who joined his older siblings: sister, Alexis, and brother, Jake. Despite his father’s career winding down, Luke has fond memories of spending his early days at the rink with dad at what is now known as Vibrant Arena. This is when it all started.

“My dad was playing for the Quad City Mallards when I was around like two or three,” explained the Iowa native. “He always got me on the ice before or after practice. It just went from there. I grew up playing in the Quad City Hockey Association.”

The passion and love for the sport of hockey warmed the Toporowski house throughout the cold Iowa winters. Hockey kept them busy and then busier, as the kids began getting serious about the winter past time. The next development step was to seek out better competition and start playing in Chicago.

When he was 10, Luke joined his siblings as the entire family was playing a higher level of hockey more than 150 miles away. The family, sometimes all of them, would make the trip five days a week and even some cases every day of the week. The main travel was for practices, but the Toporowskis traveled much further for games. The drive averaged two and a half hours each way, or five hours total.

Kerry and Joy were regulars at Hertz, where they were known for racking up mileage at an absurd rate on a variety of rental cars. Some months, it was 6,000-7,000 miles.

“I did this for six years,” said Luke.  “If it wasn't for my parents, who obviously sacrificed a ton, I wouldn’t be here. They took work off a lot, did a ton of driving and, they did that for all three of us.”

“Lots of good memories, just the conversations you'd have in the car,” recalled Luke’s father. “I think maybe some people don't realize, you're basically one-on-one with your child, or maybe you have two, or even three of them with you. That's some good conversations and maybe some that you wouldn't have because if they’re home, maybe they are playing with the neighbors or other friends places.”

Hockey became the true family bond. The Toporowskis became a hockey family nestled in eastern Iowa. Which is no surprise for those that know Kerry’s family from Paddockwood, Saskatchewan. His brother, Shayne, was a second-round pick of the LA Kings in 1993. Luke’s Uncle Brad also played professionally, mostly at the AA level. The Iowa native recalled there were no other sports of heavy interest growing up. The kids dabbled in soccer, baseball, and golf, but hockey reigned supreme.

Luke averaged over a point a game for the Chicago Mission from 2014-17. The success garnered attention and new opportunities for his hockey journey. In 2017, Luke was drafted to play for the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs. He would join his brother Jake and was able to suit up for the same junior team their dad once played for. Kerry still owns the single season record for penalty minutes with one team in a WHL season, after amassing 505 minutes in 65 games during the 1990-91 season with the Chiefs.

“I happened to get drafted to the WHL and moved out there,” said the Wild forward. “Of all the teams, it's the one that my dad and uncles played for, and my brother was currently playing there. Also, my mom's parents live out there, so Jake and I billeted with our grandparents.”

The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder split his final WHL season between Spokane and Kamloops prior to turning pro for the 2022-23 season. He played his rookie season on an AHL contract with Providence, scoring 15 goals and collecting 29 points in 47 games.

Toporowoski was rewarded and became the first Quad City native to ink an NHL contract when he signed with the Boston Bruins on July 1, 2023. Fast forward to March 8 when the NHL trade deadline arrived, and Luke’s world was turned upside down (in a good way).

“I was shocked, but I've told a lot of people, I wasn't sad, I wasn't happy,” described the 22-year-old. “I was just like, my head's going in a million different directions. But then, after everything settled down, I was like, that's pretty cool (going to Iowa). I'm coming home to where it all started. That is unbelievable.”

Just like he did in Spokane, Luke joins his older brother in Des Moines. Jake is in his second season as an assistant coach for the USHL’s Des Moines Buccaneers. Jake resides in Des Moines with his fiancée and their eight-week-old daughter, Sophie. Upon hearing his son was traded to Minnesota, Kerry said he could not help but to shed a tear.

“It could not have aligned any better with family and friends being so close,” said Luke’s dad. “We made a few trips to Des Moines a couple times to watch Jake coach and see the new granddaughter. And then it gets even better somehow. This makes it easier where we can go there and catch both Jake, Luke and Sophie.”

Family around can ease the adjustment and Luke does not just have to sit at his hotel in West Des Moines. He is taking advantage of nearby home-cooked meals.

“I've been mooching off my brother for dinners already,” he said with a chuckle. “I've been going over there all week.”

Now that Luke is back in the Hawkeye state, he has a renewed comfort level, and his goal remains the same: get to the NHL. The young forward has a mindset that he can earn his way northward, up the I-35 to Saint Paul. 

 “Honestly, I need to play with confidence, use my speed, my shot and be tenacious on pucks,” the Wild prospect explained. “I know my coaches and management like when I'm not giving up on pucks and playing on the inside. Ultimately, that's where I can use my speed and then my shot to score goals, create offense for my teammates and myself.”

After a long pro career, his father had some great advice.

“Show up every day. Don’t take things for granted. Try to win every single battle,” explained the 52-year-old veteran of 481 pro games.

Based on his bloodlines and heavy presence of family, I would not be surprised to see Luke Toporowski grind his way to Saint Paul. There have been four skaters born in the state of Iowa to play in the NHL, most recently, goalie Cal Peterson.

After becoming the first Iowa native to skate for the Iowa Wild, he could become the first IowaGrown to compete for the Minnesota Wild in the State of Hockey.