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(Iowa) Wild Warmup: Previewing Iowa's playoff series against Milwaukee

Notes and anecdotes as Minnesota's AHL affiliate opens the Calder Cup Playoffs versus the Admirals on Sunday in Des Moines

by Dan Myers @MNWildScribe / Wild.com

DES MOINES -- For the first time since migrating north from Houston, Texas, the Wild's American Hockey League affiliate will pursue a Calder Cup championship. 

It's been eight years since the franchise's AHL team has won a playoff series, in 2011, when the Houston Aeros advanced to the Calder Cup Finals. 

There is one common thread between those teams: Defenseman Nate Prosser, who skated in 73 games for the Aeros that season and in all 24 playoff contests.

Since then, Prosser has carved out a solid NHL career, playing in 348 games with Minnesota (and one with St. Louis), before he was placed on waivers this season. He cleared and was assigned to Iowa, where he's been a staple in 31 games down there.

Video: Iowa: Calder Cup playoff preview

Now, he'll try and be the bridge between one championship team and another.

Central Iowa will witness its first taste of AHL Playoff hockey for the first time in more than a decade. The last time Des Moines hosted postseason puck was in 2007, when the Iowa Stars reached the second round of the playoffs. 

The Stars survived two more seasons, including one as the Iowa Chops, before relocating to Austin, Texas and becoming the Texas Stars. 

That should make for a loud Wells Fargo Arena for Games 1 and 2 on Sunday and Tuesday.

Iowa's first-round opponent, the Milwaukee Admirals, vaulted the Wild on the final day of the regular season, winning against Rockford, to move from fourth place to second in the Central Division. Milwaukee, the AHL affiliate of the Nashville Predators, ended the regular season on a 14-game points streak, going from outsider to second place in the matter of three weeks.


The schedule

Because Milwaukee finished as the higher seed, it was allowed to choose which format it wanted: Games 1 and 2 at home or the option to host Games 3, 4 and 5 at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.

It chose the latter, which means Iowa's Wells Fargo Arena will be the site of the first two games of the best-of-5 series. 

Game 1 in Des Moines gets underway at 4 p.m. CT while Game 2 on Tuesday will drop the puck moments after 7 p.m. CT.

When the series shifts to Milwaukee, Games 3 and 4 (if necessary) will come on back-to-back nights on Thursday and Friday. A potential Game 5 is currently scheduled for April 29.

Video: Iowa: Prosser embraces leadership role


What's at stake

The winner of the series will move on to play the winner of the Chicago Wolves-Grand Rapids Griffins series in the second round.

Iowa has never won a Calder Cup while Milwaukee boasts one, which it won in 2004.


Scouting Iowa

It was an historic season offensively for Iowa, which boasted a pair of 60-plus points guys and two 25-plus goal forwards.

Gerald Mayhew was the only player who was both, leading the team with 27 goals and 60 points. Kyle Rau chipped in with 26 goals of his own, with 17 of those coming on the power play, a number which led the entire AHL. 

Video: Iowa's Playoff hunt continues with Wild OT win

Team captain Cal O'Reilly led the club with 67 points (seventh in the AHL) , a total which included 51 assists (third in the league).

Iowa was the beneficiary of some late-season help, as Luke Kunin, Jordan Greenway and Ryan Donato each arrived to help the Wild snap an eight-game losing streak that threatened to keep Iowa out of the playoffs. 

Video: Wild forwards quickly find a role in Iowa

Kunin had a hat trick amongst four points in his first game back while Donato posted a five-point night in his first contest in an Iowa uniform. Greenway's three-game stretch to close the season were his first games in Iowa since the end of October, a stretch that saw him post one of Iowa's six hat tricks this season.

Rookies have played a key part in Iowa's success, with Mason Shaw tallying 33 points in 76 games. Will Bitten 13 goals, 29 points), Louie Belpedio (six goals from the blueline), Dmitry Sokolov (16 goals), Mitch McLain (20 points) and Gerry Fitzgerald (12 goals) have also had nice first-year campaigns.  

On the backend, Brennan Menell has been Iowa's best two-way defenseman, finishing second on the club with 42 assists while scoring just two goals. He was a plus-10 during the regular season, second-best among all Iowa defensemen.

Half of Belpedio's goals have come on the power play, while Carson Soucy and Matt Bartkowski have been regulars that have combined to post a plus-17.

All season, rookie Kaapo Kahkonen and veteran Andrew Hammond have split time between the posts, with Kahkonen appearing at the AHL All-Star Game back in January.

Video: Iowa Wild clinch playoff spot

But down the stretch, it's been Hammond who has gained the confidence of Iowa coach Tim Army. During the Wild's three-game winning streak to close the season, Hammond has been outstanding, posting a 3-0 record while stopping 86 of 90 shots faced (.955 save percentage, 1.33 goals-against average). 

Hammond has four games of AHL playoff experience with Binghamton in 2014, but started two games for the Colorado Avalanche during last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs.


Scouting Milwaukee

The Admirals have been fueled by a trio of midseason acquisitions, as leading scorer Adam Helewka, third-leading scorer Cole Schneider and 35-point scorer Laurent Dauphin have all been late-season additions that have played crucial roles.

Helewka finished the year with 50 points in 65 games and is one of three Milwaukee players to finish with 20-plus goals. Eight of those goals and 19 of those points have come in 24 games since his acquisition from Tucson.

Schneider was second on the team with 23 goals during the regular season and has been nearly a point-per-game player in 24 contests since coming over from Hartford.

Anthony Richard has been a constant in Milwaukee's lineup all season, posting a team-best 24 goals and 47 points in 73 games. 

Perhaps Milwaukee's best player is rookie Eeli Tolvanen, a first-round pick of the Predators in 2017, who has been up and down with Nashville during the season and has 15 goals and 35 points in 58 games in Milwaukee.

All-Star defenseman Matt Donovan, a former Denver University Pioneer, is one of the top offensive-blueliners in the AHL, with 11 goals and 35 points in 64 games.  

Goaltender Troy Grosenick, a hometown product from Brookfield, Wisconsin, has been Milwaukee's go-to guy between the posts on the year, finishing 24-14-6-1 with a 2.41 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage. Grosenick has 18 games of AHL playoff experience with the San Jose Sharks organization.


Behind the benches

Iowa is led by Army, who was the Central Division's coach at the AHL All-Star Game. He is in his first season with the Wild organization after serving one season as an assistant coach with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and the previous six as an assistant with the Colorado Avalanche.

Video: Army, Read on Kunin, Donato, Greenway in Iowa

Milwaukee is also led by a first-year bench boss in Karl Taylor, who was hired in June to replace Dean Evason, now an assistant coach with Minnesota. Taylor served the previous four seasons as an assistant with the Texas Stars and has five years of AHL assistant coaching experience.


Following the Iowa Wild

Tickets can be purchased for both games in Iowa by visiting IowaWild.com or by clicking here.

For fans that can't get to Des Moines but want to follow along, streaming packages are available here or you can listen to the soothing sounds of radio voice Joe O'Donnell by clicking here.

Check back at Wild.com often as we will be following Iowa during the postseason. 

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