Iowa Wild Season Review


Saturday night’s season-concluding game against the Oklahoma City Barons typified most of the Iowa Wild’s 2014-15 experience.  It was a game where the team struggled mightily to score and despite a decent effort on the ice they would come up short.  The Iowa Wild concluded their 2nd season with the American Hockey League’s worst record at 23-49-2-2, and as equally important as the fact they’ve finished out of the playoffs for a 2nd year in a row.

"“We have to be better from goaltenders to defense to our centers.  We have to do a better job of managing the puck.” ~ Iowa Wild Head Coach John Torchetti on next season after the Wild’s 5-2 loss to the Toronto Marlies."

The team did have to endure a fair amount of call ups from its key players earlier in the season in Jordan Schroeder, Mathew Dumba, and Christian Folin but that is nothing out of the ordinary for any AHL club.  At the time of his call up and subsequent stay with the Minnesota Wild, Schroeder was the Iowa Wild’s leading scorer, which created a hole the team couldn’t replace.  This meant Iowa leaned heavily on youngsters Tyler Graovac and Michael Keranen to lead the Wild’s pop-gun attack but most nights it simply was not enough.  Iowa’s 172 goals for the season (2.26 goals per game) was tied for 2nd worst in the AHL.

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  • Defensively the Iowa Wild were victimized by call ups and injuries.  Prospect Gustav Olofsson, who was projected to be the team’s anchor was lost for the season with a shoulder injury he sustained in a Minnesota Wild pre-season game.  Guillaume Gelinas, an offensive defenseman also spent a fair portion of the season on injured reserve.  Veteran and team alternate captain Jonathon Blum did about all that anyone could ask for, leading the club’s blueliners in goals (12) and points (36).  Beyond that the Iowa Wild were using lots of ECHL call ups like Joel Chouinard, Collin Bowman, and Ben Dieude-Fauvel.  Older AHL journeyman like Danny Syvret, Stu Bickel and Steve McCarthy were unable to give the team the boost the club needed.

    Goaltending was perhaps the biggest area of disappointment for the Iowa Wild.  Part of this was assisted from the goaltending saga with the Minnesota Wild as the team was compelled to sign Darcy Kuemper to a 1-way contract after Josh Harding broke his foot kicking a wall.  Kuemper should’ve been Iowa’s workhorse this season, but the 1-way contract destroyed that option.  This meant Iowa was going to have to soldier on with John Curry and Johan Gustafsson carrying the majority of the workload between the pipes.  Curry’s play was mostly adequate, but the play of Gustafsson was rather inconsistent and not nearly good enough (a 3.43 goals against average and an .893 save percentage) to give the offensively-challenged Iowa Wild a chance to win.

    Beyond just the play on the ice, the season suffered through its own internal struggles on the bench too after firing Kurt Kleinendorst during a slow start in November in which they replaced him with John Torchetti.  I wrote about this just prior to Kleinendorst’s firing and then again after a few months as the team found itself in another long losing streak.   Kleinendorst’s words just after his firing have been proven to be prophetic.

    "“I’ve been with these guys every day.  I’ve got a good idea of why, but I’m going to keep that to myself.  I will say this though: This needed to be done.  Now Chuck is going to know it was either the guy behind the bench or it was the players out on the ice.  What is it?  So at the end of the day, Jimmy (Mill), Chuck (Fletcher), they’re in a good situation because they will be able to determine if it was the guy behind the bench or just maybe we’re not as good in Iowa as we think we are.  It’s got to be one or the other.  I totally understand that. I think the time was right, you just could not let this continue to fester.” ~ Former Iowa Wild Head Coach Kurt Kleinendorst to Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, November 11th, 2014."

    I don’t think the problem is John Torchetti either.  While I think the players gave a better effort upon Torchetti’s arrival, the results have been more or less the same.  Iowa Wild General Manager Jim Mill and Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher have tried to provide reinforcements for Iowa in the form of free agents.  Last year they were mostly from major junior in Brady Brassart, Zack Mitchell and Alex Gudbranson and this year it was mostly from the college ranks in Zach Palmquist and Grayson Downing.  If you toss in Minnesota’s last year with the Houston Aeros the team’s AHL affiliate has missed the playoffs 3 seasons in a row.  That is a lot of lost development time and there is little doubt the organization is going to try to rectify that.  But how will this be done?

    The team will have to look at some of its more veteran leaders and figure out if a change is needed.  Team captain Stephane Veilleux got rave reviews from both Kleinendorst and Torchetti as did Blum and Brett Sutter but perhaps a shake up of some kind here is the easiest way to start.  Yet the best solution might be to simply bring in an AHL ringer at goaltender.  As we saw with the Minnesota Wild, a quality goaltender between the pipes can rejuvenate a team’s confidence.  The truth is, the Minnesota Wild crease will most likely be Darcy Kuemper and Devan Dubnyk‘s domain for the foreseeable future and with no young goaltender really standing out the opportunity is to build Iowa into a winner from the crease on out.

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    Much has been made of the team’s improved organizational depth at the NHL level, but beyond that its development pool is noticeably thin.   The team shipped out disappointing 1st rounder Zack Phillips at the trade deadline and Brett Bulmer‘s development has flatlined while Raphael Bussieres has regressed and spent most of the season in the ECHL.  With the success happening in Minnesota, you want those players developing in Iowa to have a positive experience and a big part of that is to make some waves in the post-season.

    With most of the team’s best prospects still seasoning in the college ranks, there are only a few players presently that will likely get a shot next season in Iowa.  Christoph Bertschy is one player on the radar as is Pavel Jenys and Dylan Labbe who got positive reviews from the Iowa Wild fans I’ve talked with after their late-season call ups.

    The pressure is on Jim Mill and company to turn this team into a winner.  Attendance at Iowa games remains strong, 8th in the AHL, despite their lack of success.  The team has a strong and dedicated fanbase, but they deserve a winner and I have little doubt making Iowa successful will be a major priority this summer.

    Next: The Wild Need to Sign Chris Stewart

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