When Minnesota announced that they were moving their minor league affiliate from Houston to Des Moines, Iowa, there was a mass uproar from Houston area fans. They weren’t alone as many Wild fans were disappointed, as well. However, there are a few reasons why this move is very beneficial to hockey fans in the Midwest.
Reality set in yesterday when Wild Owner Craig Leipold unveiled the team’s new name, logo and sweater. This isn’t just a relocation of a farm team; this is a serious commitment to growing the sport in the Midwest outside of the State of Hockey. Everything about the logo, sweater and team name screams high-end professional hockey—it screams Minnesota Wild.
When the Aeros played a home game at the Xcel Energy Center last November, I made the trip from South Dakota to check them out and certainly wasn’t disappointed. The kids playing for this team are the star players of tomorrow’s NHL Wild and Des Moines certainly won’t be disappointed in the product on the ice. Chicago has the Ice Hogs, Winnipeg has the Ice Caps, Washington has the Bears…Minnesota has the Wild, in more ways than one. Iowa is essentially receiving a poor man’s NHL team with this move. This move shows a franchise dedicated to shaping and building their brand at both the NHL and AHL level. That’s sure to draw a lot of interest not just from fans in Iowa, but throughout the Midwest, as well.
The best part is, Iowa Wild fans will likely be treated to a preseason NHL game or two in the not too distant future. That will definitely boost interest and fans of the NHL team will likely make a point to take a weekend or two during the season to come check out the kids down on the farm. The young guns have never been so close to the home rink than they will be this fall, and names like Mathew Dumba, Darcy Kuemper, Erik Haula, Zack Phillips and Johan Gustafsson may just be enough to increase local revenue. Plus, these youngsters aren’t exactly hacks.
Community Youth Hockey
Iowa is currently home to a league-best five United States Hockey League (USHL) teams, many of which are annual Clark Cup champion contenders year after year. Then there are three USHL teams in neighboring Nebraska, one in South Dakota and a few more sprinkled between Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. The fact that a major professional hockey franchise is landing right in the heart of USHL territory is almost guaranteed to build and improve interest in the USHL and state youth hockey associations across the Midwest and Great Plains.
The Aeros were very active in youth hockey in and around the Houston area. That commitment to youth hockey in the community will not change once the franchise relocation occurs. Iowa Wild fans can expect a good amount of clinics, one-on-one work and community service in general.
The quality of junior and other youth-level hockey in the area has steadily been improving and will only get better with the arrival of the Wild. Kids will see first hand what they can do if they apply themselves and the quality of players Iowa programs will start turning out as a result of this move will likely be top notch.
If the Iowa Wild can not only survive but thrive in Des Moines, it leaves places like Omaha, Sioux Falls, Lincoln, Wichita and Kansas City as attractive options for professional hockey franchises at the CHL, ECHL and AHL levels.
One of the destinations in the running for the Wild’s minor league affiliate was Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Sioux Falls has a population of over 150,000 and hosts one of the best franchises in the USHL, the Sioux Falls Stampede—a team that has produced such notable NHL names as Thomas Vanek, Alex Goligoski. Chad LaRose and the Wild’s very own Nate Prosser.
The Stampede was recently purchased by an ownership group that has close ties to both the Minnesota Wild and Houston Aeros. In fact, the current President/CEO of the Stampede is former Aeros president Tom Garrity. With a new 12,000 seat arena being built in Sioux Falls, it’s only a matter of time before professional hockey takes up permanent residency in southeastern South Dakota. The arrival of the Wild in Des Moines may just speed up that process.
Whether you like the move or not, the arrival of the Wild in Des Moines signifies a major moment in Midwestern hockey history. It’s a move that only increases and improves the fan base in and around Minnesota, while improving the quality of junior and youth-level hockey for hundreds of miles around.
Houston fans are obviously hurting right now, and, as Minnesota hockey fans, we can honestly say we’ve been there—we know your pain. However, this likely isn’t the end of professional hockey in Houston, and it opens a huge window of opportunity for fans of the sport in Iowa. If they’re smart, they’ll grab a surfboard and get ready to ride the wave. Trust me; it’s gnarly, dudes.