By David Fine//Coralville, Iowa – The Iowa Heartlanders introduced Derek Damon as the second Head Coach in team history July 5, but you’d hardly know Damon has made eastern Iowa his home for less than a year. Game days feature regular routines for his family; arriving at warm-ups, watching Derek behind the bench, a hug or high-five from Heartlanders mascot Dash.The way Derek and his wife, Andrea, speak about the fans and the people they’ve met in The Corridor speaks volumes about the impact this move had on the Damons’ lives since coming to Iowa in August 2021.“We love it here and my family loves it,” Derek said. “Andrea is ingrained in the community already. My kids are in the school system and love coming to the games. It’s a great area to raise a family and feel so lucky to be in this position right now.”They aren’t empty words; Damon’s journey has been an international one. He’s played or coached “home games” in five U.S. states and six countries. Andrea has been by his side for so many of these moves.“Coralville is truly a family community and there’s so much to offer for a young family like ours,” Andrea Damon said. “We love to be outside and checking out the great parks in the area, The Children’s Museum or getting on the ice at the Coral Ridge Mall.”Last year’s move to The Corridor was no different from some of the others – a lot of frequent flyer miles and long trips crisscrossing interstate highways. Derek and his dad drove a U-Haul 1,400 miles up from Florida while Andrea and the three kids waited in Coralville for the boxes to arrive. After a few hitches along the way (the U-Haul broke down a few hours into the ride), Derek arrived and the family officially began their life together in eastern Iowa. “The people here are very friendly and we’ve already made some great friends in our short time here,” Andrea said. “Derek called me when I was out for a walk [when I found out he became Head Coach] and I was so excited. I actually think I let out a ‘woohoo.’ I am thrilled for Derek and so proud, he’s extremely dedicated, passionate and hard-working.”
“In order to be a good coach you need to have a good support system,” Derek said. “My wife has always supported me and now my kids continue to support me. They love being around the rink because I love it and they give me the freedom to be the best I can be.”-----On Tuesday’s announcement day, Derek’s ear-to-ear smile during his introductory press conference was full and genuine. This is a huge professional move for Damon, who is about to embark on his first journey as a Head Coach at any level.There always seems to be optimism in Derek’s messages, a style that will pay dividends with players at the ECHL level. In minor professional hockey, roster moves are frequent and bus rides are long and overnight, so having that positive attitude can be the difference in motivating the team to get through the most-difficult stretches.“We had a lot of enthusiasm last season and I [liked] how [former Head Coach] Gerry Fleming and I stayed so even keeled,” Derek explained. “No matter what he’s doing he’s composed. You see that among the best coaches in the world. That’s my goal. You’ve got to be honest and forth-right with the players so they can carry out the mission.”The Heartlanders won their first game in team history on October 21, 2021 vs. Kansas City, but needed some more seasoning to find consistent footing. In early December, with the team battling a COVID-19 outbreak, Derek took over as interim Head Coach Dec. 10-11 for back-to-back wins vs. Toledo while Fleming was in ECHL Health & Safety Protocol. Those wins were regularly categorized by Damon and others on the Heartlanders as the turning point of the team’s season. The club went above hockey .500 from that point on. Damon played a key role in developing Kris Bennett, who led the league in goals and was ECHL Rookie of the Year. Damon’s power-play strategy also turned Jake Smith into a star in Coralville; Smith topped the ECHL with 13 man-up goals.“For an organization to work, everyone needs to be on the same page,” Damon said. “It funnels to everybody. We built a lot of enthusiasm in the second half of the season and have a lot of good people here that will help us be successful on and off the ice.”Damon has been on the Head Coach job for two days since the official announcement, but there’s good reason to make the Heartlanders community believe his promotion is the logical next step in the team taking a big leap in 2022-23 and beyond.“Our goal is to get the possible team on the ice to win a Kelly Cup,” Derek said. “Our returning players are excited and onboard so let’s get to work. I’m incredibly grateful and can’t believe how lucky I am to be a part of it.”Iowa’s 2022-23 schedule is now available at iowaheartlanders.com/schedule. The team opens their second season in the ECHL on October 21 at 7:05 p.m. vs. Idaho. Rose Club season ticket memberships, partial plans and group ticket options are available for the upcoming season by calling 319-569-GOAL and visiting iowaheartlanders.com/tickets.