The Midwest got a little more Wild this offseason.
American Hockey League affiliate, the Houston Aeros, moved close to 1,000 miles north to Des Moines, Iowa where it will play as the Iowa Wild at the Wells Fargo Arena. The Iowa Wild will open it's inaugural season Saturday, Oct. 12.
The move not only brings the players closer to the NHL team they’re attempting to play with, but it also provides fans with a unique opportunity to see future Wild players develop up-close.
“I think we can really build on the fan base between the two places,” Iowa Wild General Manager Jim Mill said. “There was already interest in the Minnesota Wild there, but I think this will just enhance that. For the hockey fans in Iowa, it will give them an opportunity to have connections with Minnesota and the greater State of Hockey. They’ll be able to see a kid on any given night play in Des Moines and the next night they could be watching the same guy either on TV playing for the Minnesota Wild or here at Xcel Energy Center.”
With only a three and a half hour car ride down I-35 separating the Iowa Wild from the big leagues, players could find themselves in Des Moines one night and St. Paul the next, or even a morning skate in Iowa and a night game in Minnesota.
“It could be that quick, when you’re talking about that proximity,” Mill said. “I think the players will feel closer to the NHL. I just think it will be a huge benefit for our player development to be that close.”
Mill also noted that it will be easier on the Wild’s front office and hockey operations to travel between the two teams and make those timely decisions.
Leading the team will be Kurt Kleinendorst. The head coach formerly served as the bench boss of the Binghamton Senators from 2010-12 and poster a 71-70-15 record over two seasons. In 2011, he led the Senators to a Calder Cup, besting former Minnesota AHL affiliate, the Houston Aeros. Kleinendorst also served as the head coach for the Lowell Devils from 2006-09. In his combined five seasons in the AHL he boasts 169 wins.
Assisting Kleinendorst is Steve Poapst. Prior to joining the Iowa coaching staff, Poapst was an assistant coach for the Rockford IceHogs where he oversaw the defensemen, the position he played in 307 NHL games as a member of the Washington Capitals, Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues.
The Iowa Wild will not be the first AHL team to call Des Moines home, but it will be the first NHL-owned team to occupy the city. From 2005-08, Dallas’ affiliate, the Iowa Stars, played in Des Moines and initially had two successful playoff seasons before hitting a slump. In 2009 the team name changed to the Iowa Chops as the Ducks placed its affiliate there. After the season, the team was suspended due to league violations.
On April 18, 2013 it was announced the Wild would bring the AHL back to the Iowa capital, after failing to reach an agreement with the arena in Houston.
“It’s a fantastic market, a great city and a world-class venue that we’re playing in there in the Wells Fargo Arena,” Mill said.
“The city of Des Moines has also never had a team where they feel a connection with an NHL team. First it’s an NHL-owned team and second it’s only three hours up the road. This is a Minnesota run organization and team from the front office staff to hockey operations. It’s all generated out of [St. Paul]. That city has never seen or experienced anything like what they’re going to experience with this ownership group running that franchise.”