Driving over eight hours to Des Moines for another team’s inaugural opening? You betcha!! It might sound a bit crazy, but the newly formed Iowa Wild — the former Houston Aeros — hold a spot dear in my heart as a fierce competitive rival of the OKC Barons for the past three seasons. Many of the players were familiar, but almost everything else has changed and that intrigued me, along with the Wild’s new coach Kurt Kleinendorst who will be fascinating to follow this season.
From Oklahoma the trip led me north on I-35 straight up the Kansas Turnpike to Topeka through some spectacular stretches of tall and short grass prairie. From Topeka the journey took a quick jog dead east over to Kansas City, Missouri and then straight north to Des Moines. As the miles tick off you pass acres and acres of cornfields – and now in October the fields are dried and brown, crisp and brittle in the brilliant Fall sun. And as you will see from my photos below, I took a short trip off of I-35 to visit Madison County, famed for their covered bridges and for Winterset, the birthplace of Western film legend John Wayne. It was well worth the time and the off-road dirt on a clean vehicle.
Opening night of the Iowa Wild team’s inaugural season was everything I could have imagined — pyrotechnics, loud music, and a pumped up enthusiastic crowd of more than 10,000 in the large, modern Wells Fargo Arena. Talking to fans seated around us, there was a nice mix from Iowa’s home town of Des Moines and Minneapolis, just a short drive north. Minneapolis Wild fans are close enough to easily attend one of their farm team home games and they were incredibly happy to have the team nearby after all these years. And while it is always sad to see a fanbase lose a team — Houston Aeros fans are heartbroken over the loss of their team — Iowa Wild fans have welcomed the team with open arms and great respect.
I would return to Des Moines in a heartbeat to watch the Wild in action once again to see them face one of their new northern division rivals. The arena is excellent, the fans hospitable and welcoming, and the city of Des Moines offers numerous nice restaurants and pubs in the downtown area. And I highly recommend a few side trips off the interstate on your journey north! As a firm believer in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote “Life is a journey, not a destination,” a journey, even to a hockey game, has infinite possibilities.
Next up, a roadtrip to the southeast with sunshine, seafood, beaches and don’t forget the hockey! Yes, there’s hockey in Florida!
Neal’s recaps of the weekend’s games:
Saturday, October 12, 2013 — OKC Barons 0 – 1 Iowa Wild
Sunday, October 13, 2013 — OKC Barons 4 – 2 Iowa Wild