Coralville, Iowa – Forget the crowds and the wins, minor league sports elevates to a new level when you get to know the truly good people involved in the game.
From time to time, special guests also become involved in the show that make you wonder how you got so lucky to be a part of it all.
Exactly that happened at Xtream Arena last Saturday in a 2-1 win for Iowa over Kalamazoo, and it was through a surprise email from Jason Pogue, the Bullpen Catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Pogue reached out to the Heartlanders saying he was interested in coming by to a game with his daughter Skylinn, who is a sophomore on the University of Iowa Softball Team. It turns out, these two baseball and softball “lifers” are also huge hockey fans and were treated to one of the most-exciting games of the season Saturday at Xtream Arena.
“Growing up in [Guelph, Ontario] Canada, you didn’t have much choice,” Pogue said. “You put the skates on and I played hockey all the way up until I was going to college. I ultimately decided to play baseball but hockey is still my first athletic love for sure. I miss being on the ice and just a lot of great memories.”
Pogue played collegiate catcher at Old Dominion and Southern Arkansas University, then embarked on a decade-long minor league baseball journey for teams in six leagues, six states and two countries. He completed his playing career in 2008, then was named the bullpen catcher for the United States National Team at the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Pogue played in St. Louis’ minor league system for a few years and has been with the Cardinals as a bullpen coach since 2012.
His minor league story is a “success” – he’s made it to the big leagues. It’s also emblematic of what Heartlanders players chase as they look to make it from the ECHL all the way to the NHL.
“I played ten years in the minor leagues,” he said. “A lot of those bus trips, those are the things you remember. The bonding and times with the guys. You’re doing what you love and they’re giving you a paycheck every couple weeks.”
Pogue is a father of three daughters – Skylinn, Selena and Madyson – and relished the opportunity to take Skylinn to Xtream Arena for their first Heartlanders game together.
“Growing up in the elementary school sometimes we had the [OHL’s] Guelph Storm come out,” Skylinn said. “One hockey game and you’re hooked. I love watching it and coming with my dad is a great opportunity.”
“I love coming here [to Iowa City],” Jamie said. “Every time I leave I tell my wife it’s even better than the last time. It’s an impressive place and you can’t beat the people. Everybody is super friendly and hospitable.
“Going back to my minor league days a lot of those stadiums had been there for a long time. You watch the movie ‘Slapshot’ and some of the arenas portrayed in that arena. Xtream Arena is nothing like that. This is a fantastic place to come play every day.”
As the Heartlanders continue to grow their footprint in eastern Iowa, it’s hard to believe an email from the St. Louis Cardinals would help them find two of their newest and biggest fans.
“The time I had the Heartlanders team mentioned to me it was from a member of our equipment team,” Skylinn said. “I told my dad we have to go. A lot of my teammates have never been to a hockey game and I have to tell them it’s awesome and you have to get here to watch a game.”
The Heartlanders are excited to welcome all fans that want to try hockey and visit Xtream Arena for the first time. Who knows: it might make you a fan for life.
Iowa is home two more times against Utah this week. The Heartlanders host the Grizzlies for Military Appreciation Night pres. by GreenState Credit Union on Fri., Nov. 17 at 6:35 p.m. and then complete the six-game homestand on Sat., Nov. 18 vs. Utah at 7:05 p.m.
The Heartlanders start a franchise-record ten-game road trip Wed., Nov. 22 at 6:00 p.m. at Kalamazoo.
Rose Club Memberships & Tickets Now Available For 2023-24 Season
Rose Club Season Ticket Memberships, Partial Plans, Mini-Plans, Flex Tickets and Single-Game Tickets are now available for the 2023-24 season, the Heartlanders’ third in the ECHL. Call 319-569-goal or visit iowaheartlanders.com/tickets for more information.