Excitement and good times are included in the price of admission at Iowa Wild games.
Hey Wild fans!! Pop quiz – what is the first thing that comes to mind when I mention, Iowa? Most people would answer with “corn.” However, having spent a significant time in Minnesota’s southern neighbor the past couple of months, I can assure you that there is plenty to see and experience in Iowa. Among which, is the Iowa Wild. As I had mentioned in one of my earlier articles, the Iowa club is the AHL affiliate of the Minnesota Wild. I was fortunate enough to attend their season opener last week against the Rockford Icehogs. Here is what I found…
First of all, the city of Des Moines and the Wells Fargo Arena in which the Wild play, are both beautiful. While attendance was only at about 50% capacity, the crowd was ready for some live hockey, something that most of us have not seen in a very long time. This was my first game from the Press Box and it was really, a neat experience. Every member of the press working that night got a free team-autographed Wild jersey, a pregame ride on the Zamboni and unlimited food and drinks throughout the game. I’m absolutely kidding.
We did, however, get a packet around 5/8″ thick of statistics for both teams and every player on each. The statistics were insanely in-depth and included a career biography as well. After each period, a person from the staff would bring another sheet to each press member with the statistics per period. In all, I would say there were about 30 people working that night near me. Everyone from TV camera staff, play-by-play announcers, a lot of AHL officials and even scouts from the NY Islanders and Arizona Coyotes. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a fun experience.
To the game!!!!! Seeing as this was the Wild Home Opener, the entire team and coaching staff were introduced before the game, much to the applause of the passionate fan base. Before the drop of the first puck, the fans were already on the referees cases, booing them loudly before the opening whistle. Yes, the fans were in mid-season form – more on them later.
The first period saw the Icehogs get on the board with the period’s only goal by Jakob Pour with 2:09 left in the first period. Though getting the first goal is always nice, the Wild were definitely playing better than the Icehogs throughout the period – better positioning, better puck handling and so on. When Pour scored the first goal of the game, the Icehogs had just began their first sustained pressure in the offensive zone with just under three minutes remaining in the period, so I wasn’t too worried.
The second period – oh, boy. In terms of SOG, the Wild had 21 in the period, compared to Rockford’s 5 shots on goal. The Wild scored four goals in the second, while the visitors notched another two – on five shots. Bad save percentage there by Wild goalie Andrew Hammond, but what the hell…maybe he was just nervous about the home opener. Or he was bored and wanted to keep things interesting for the fans – thanks Andrew!!!
The highlight of the period was a shot by Wild forward, Nick Swaney from the corner, about fifteen feet from the goal and four feet from behind the goal line. The puck went behind Icehogs goalie Arvid Soderblom’s back and went off his glove into the net. The replay from straight above the goal crease showed that the puck went off of the fingertips of the catch glove, just as Soderblom moved his left hand ever-so-slightly backwards, but just enough to tip the puck into the net. The place went crazy and there was an immediate fight after the goal as players were pushing into the next and actually dislodged it off of the pegs. Cody McLeod, a long-time NHL veteran with the Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators and New York Rangers, was on the Wild side as their captain. I don’t remember who he was fighting after the goal, but I’ll call that guy “Bob”. Doesn’t make any difference, McLeod beat Bob like a dirty rug before tackling him onto the ice. Bob put his tail between his legs and went to go lick his wounds. After the second period, the Wild were outshooting the Icehogs, 33-14.
The third period featured two more Wild goals Swaney and center Damien Giroux each finished the game with two goals a piece. Following the game, as the benches emptied, there was yet another fight and it took a while for cooler heads to prevail before the teams bid each other adieu in preparation for their next game the following night (Wild won again). The game wasn’t as close as the first two periods may suggest. For the game, the Wild outshot the Icehogs 53-19. That’s pretty good math right there.
The game was an absolute treat to watch. Not only for the hockey, but for the fans and atmosphere as well. I have to give a shout-out to the fans in Section 102. That is the place where you want to watch a Wild game from. They were the fans that told the refs that they suck as soon as they stepped on the ice pregame. After that, every time the Wild scored a goal, the whole section would stand up, point at the opposing goalie repeatedly and scream at him that they were losing, “it’s all your fault, it’s all your fault, it’s all your fault – YOU SUCK!!!!!!” It was pretty funny and brought a smile to everyone’s face, except for Soderblom. He was probably pondering his life choices by the end of the game.
Hey, I know that the NHL is the main dish, but if you are somewhere within 10,000 miles of Des Moines, I highly encourage you to check out the beautiful city and catch an Iowa Wild game. The food, the fun, the fans – it’s worth a trip to Iowa, if you don’t have the pleasure of living there. You will not be disappointed. The Iowa Wild are currently tied for second place in the AHL Central Division. Check them out!!! Section 102 is the place to be, but any seat in the arena will bring you smiles and that joy, joy feeling. I know that I will be going back for more games this season. Go Wild!!!!!