Players that have taken an ECHL path to a Stanley Cup championship share similar stories of developing their skills in small cities around North America and receiving necessary experience that allows their talents to soar to new levels. The Iowa Heartlanders will provide such ripe conditions in Coralville-Iowa City as the ECHL affiliate of the Minnesota Wild. Prospects will be welcomed into the Wild family here at Xtream Arena and earn call-ups to the Iowa Wild and eventually Minnesota.As our community prepares for the Heartlanders’ inaugural season, a handful of players from the 2021 Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning exemplify the importance of ECHL and AHL hockey to mold players into Cup winners.The Lightning’s 2021 championship marked the 21st consecutive season the ECHL has been represented on the Stanley Cup champion team; forward Yanni Gourde, goaltender Christopher Gibson and forward Daniel Walcott all helped Tampa Bay earn the Cup this season.Gourde is one of the league’s most-notable success stories; after playing for Kalamazoo in 2013-14, he moved on to develop in Syracuse (AHL) before cracking the Tampa Bay lineup. In the last two postseasons, Gourde has scored 13 playoff goals and helped the Lightning win back-to-back Cups.This year’s championship-winning goal also had an eastern Iowa feel to it; former Cedar Rapids RoughRiders forward Ross Colton scored Game 5’s only goal Wednesday in Tampa’s clinching win. Colton played for the RoughRiders six seasons ago, attended college at the University of Vermont and spent parts of three seasons developing in the minors before becoming a regular contributor to Tampa Bay this season. Fans watching ECHL hockey in Coralville for the first time can keep names like “Gourde” and “Colton” in mind as the Heartlanders prepare to drop the puck in October. For each, their seasons spent in the ECHL and AHL are essential to the players they transformed into on hockey’s biggest stage.