Coralville, Iowa – It’s a mid-afternoon on a humid summer day in eastern Iowa and the Heartlanders’ ice crew and maintenance team, known affectionately as “The Rat Pack,” is busy with a little summer cleaning of the hockey plexiglass. We sneak away for a few minutes to their break room, the KOMBH (pronounced like Honey ‘Comb’), with three of the Rat Pack’s most-prominent members – Isaac Acuna, Drew Lundquist and Luke Jonasson.What follows is one of the most-fun and quirky 30-minute conversations you could have in the ECHL, which the Rats say is exactly how it should be – full of laughs, inside jokes and camaraderie. To enter their world is to see a completely different perspective on the game-night experience at Xtream Arena, driven by the ten members of The Rat Pack that work relentlessly hard at perfection and have the time of their lives doing it.Rat Pack Name OriginLuke: “One day early in the fall there was an allegation that [Rat Pack member] Casey Adams was so hungry he’d eat a hot dog out of a trash can and from that point on any leftover food would make its way to the break room. We didn’t have a nickname yet.”Drew: “We went out to lunch and Jordan Cue [Heartlanders Vice President] called us Rats but it was actually meant as a positive. Our personalities are actually kinda ratty anyway and we thought it might be derogatory. Jordan was like ‘no it’s because you’re working hard in the trenches and you’re always around.’”There are ten members of the Rat Pack, eight work with the arena and two are Heartlanders front office members. Isaac is the lead ice technician or the ”Zam Man.” From there, it’s Drew and Luke, plus Nate “Schmeckl” Schemmel, Matt Rubino, Jerrod Stacey, Casey Adams, Jake “From Modern,” Heartlanders VP Jordan Cue and Heartlanders Game-Ops Director Jarrett Mescher. It’s important to remember an Ice Crew and arena maintenance team is the force behind the scenes that makes things go on a game night. Without them, the ice would just be a pool of water.
Isaac: “I’m normally the first one around on a game day, I show up at 8, do both morning practices. Drew shows up at 10, does a few things and we’ll work on the ice from 12-2. Luke comes in at 3. Drew and Luke and I are also needed sometimes doing random stuff around the arena. We get the same thing almost every time for lunch on game days. It’s Fuzzy’s Tacos or chicken tenders. The pregame it starts to get really… interesting.“It’s like 4:15 p.m. or 4:30 p.m one day in November and [Heartlanders forward] Kaid Oliver started it all. Kaid came down and started talking to us. And that night was the first time he scored as a pro. Afterwards he was like ‘boys I got to talk to you every game now.’ That was the kind of moment where we thought that this place is a little different.”From 4:15 to about 4:45, if you’re in the Zamboni entrance in the south end of the rink, you can hear some conversation and a bunch of laughs from a few of the Heartlanders players chatting with the ice maintenance crew. It’s not meant to throw anyone “off their game.” Just as players in a locker room share a few good jokes and light-hearted conversation before locking in at their pregame meeting, the Rats view this as a way to keep things loose for some of the guys.Drew: “It was Kaid Time at 4:15-4:25 p.m. every game. Jake Smith will come out and eat. Zach White and Corbin Kaczperski started coming out and talking to us for a few minutes before and after games. I’ve been in three previous buildings with hockey and arenas and it’s kind of like you aren’t supposed to fraternize with the players outside of a little hello or something. Here everyone is new so we got to build this culture with the team and arena in our own way.”Luke: “From the outside, it looks like a strange thing making sure we talked to Kaid before every game. We enjoyed talking to him and it was maybe the best part of the game day. We realized around that same time everyone from the Heartlanders office was kind of cool. We just became a close-knit group and family.”
Trying to be the ‘best’ in the ECHLWith all the laughs and inside jokes that fly around the event level before Heartlanders puck drop at 7:05 p.m., you wonder how so much gets done so seamlessly. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can’t have fun while working hard.Isaac “We know we are a weird group.” without hesitation, Luke chimes in “but we get all our stuff done at a high level.” Luke: “Sometimes our days are going to 4:30 in the morning. Last season, I would come in while I was still attending school to tie up some odds and ends and still put in a bunch of hours, probably close to 70 or 80 some weeks.”Drew: “With changeovers and a really crazy week from concerts and games, maybe close to 90-100 for [Isaac and I].”Isaac: “I believe we are the best ice crew in the ECHL. Take a look at that last game vs. Indy [Fan Apprecation Night]. Those players showed the respect to us.”Drew: “I still get chills from that moment. Kaid Oliver came over and then all 20, 25 players came over and dapped us up and thanked us all for our hard work this season. It starts with the coaches Derek and Gerry showing that respect, too, but you just don’t see that where the players come over individually and thank us all. In some places they’d just be like ‘oh this is their job and this what they are supposed to do.’”Isaac: “Last season the highest point was when all the boys came over after that last home game. We want to win a championship as much as the players do. We need to provide that quality product for the ice to let them perform.”Drew: “We’re hoping it picks up where we left off last season. We can have fun and make the players’ experience top notch. There’s that mutual respect.”
Noticed by more than just players and coachesDrew: “It was early in the season and the Heartlanders did “Rat Pack Trivia” on the video board on a Wednesday night to try to get the crowd involved. Things like ‘how many members are in the Rat Pack’ with numbers on the board for fans to guess. It was sort of a quiet game and we had a blast with it. The fans seemed to know the answers and we thought it was funny.”Rat Pack Trivia led into another zany, non-traditional idea: have the “Rat Pack Quartet” – four members of the Pack – act as an acapella group to sing the national anthem in February before Iowa played Utah.Isaac: “[That national anthem] was the silliest thing we got ourselves into. But it kinda sums us up perfectly.”Luke: “When’s the game is going on we are in our little bubble. We are being ourselves and fans are overhearing us talking in that corner section . People get into it around us and they start to know who we are. I think now it’s going to continue to grow and get more and more fun. We know a lot of the season ticket holders.”Drew: “There’s that photo of [Heartlanders fan] Marc Korver dancing against Fort Wayne. There was that long break after all those penalty minutes and fights. We were dancing in the tunnel getting the fans going and clapping. Then Marc started dancing and the camera got on him and the rest is history.”Luke “Everyone involved in the Iowa River Landing and around here is a little younger. It’s a young area. It’s a modern professionalism. It’s less robotic here. We maintain a professional feel but have fun in a different way.”There’s an overwhelming sense that doing things in a “non-traditional,” way at Iowa Heartlanders games, with a focus on family-friendly entertainment, will be the norm as the team embarks into their second season. The Rat Pack fits right into this. Drew: “We had Secret Santa together and Thanksgiving, we called it RatsGiving. We almost view the operational staff and the Heartlanders staff as coworkers and working together on everything. We’re all in it together in the trenches. We put in long hours here and that’s where we started getting close. The Rats are always around."--------The Heartlanders 2022-23 schedule is now available at iowaheartlanders.com/schedule. 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.