The Coralville hockey team gets a name (Updated)

Illustration by Jordan Sellergren.

Update: On June 17, the Iowa Heartlanders announced a “multi-year” affiliation with the Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League. The team did not disclose the length of the agreement in its stetement. All teams in the East Coast Hockey League are affiliated with NHL teams. The Minnesota team is also affiliated with the Iowa Wild, the American Hockey League team in Des Moines.

As the new minor league hockey club that will make the Coralville its home ice spent months stoking speculation about the team’s name, potential fans wondered how Coralville-specific the name would be. A nod to the prehistoric ocean that put the coral in the city’s name, or the Devonian fossils? A knowing wink to the mall? Something else distinctly Iowa?


The Canadian sports-entertainment company that owns the team decided to go in more generic direction. At 5:15 p.m. on Thursday, the company announced the team’s name: The Iowa Heartlanders. The rollout of the name included a video, complete with dramatic music, images of both Coralville and Iowa City, as well as some footage of hockey being played (although obviously not by the still player-less Heartlanders).

Since geographer Halford Mackinder introduced the term “heartland” in 1904, a heartlander has been someone who lives in the central area of a country. In the U.S., it’s long been synonymous with a Midwesterner, although in recent decades people anywhere who live in rural areas.

But according to the Heartlanders site, the word takes on new meaning when hockey sticks and freshly Zamboni-ed ice are involved. That new meaning involves a male deer, the head of which is the team’s logo.

“A Heartlander is no ordinary breed of buck,” the site explains. “We run the game. The primary logo is of a white-tailed deer, poised for battle in expression, stance, and thorny detailing, to capture the essence of our strength, determination and work ethic here in Iowa.”

Of course, no marketing department is obliged to go for strict accuracy about the punning connection between a team’s name and its logo (heart/hart) when there is merchandise to move and tickets to be sold, but a white-tailed deer isn’t a hart. A hart is a male red deer and it’s one of the largest of members of the deer family. It’s not an animal you’re likely to see in Iowa, where the medium-sized white-tailed deer roams.

A male white-tailed deer is simply called a buck, but the Coralville Bucks probably wouldn’t be the best name for the team. It might remind people of the millions of tax dollars the city has spent on the Iowa River Landing complex, which includes the Xtream Arena, where the team will play, taking on so much debt that it’s damaged the city’s credit rating.

The team also unveiled a “secondary emblem” on Thursday, the wild prairie rose. As the Heartlanders site notes, it’s the official state flower of Iowa, which brings up an awkward fact about Iowa’s official state flower.

There are several species of the flower known as the wild prairie rose native to Iowa, and the Iowa Legislature didn’t bother specifying which one it was referring to when it designated a state flower on May 6, 1897. It hasn’t narrowed things down over the last 124 years either.

North Dakota chose the wild prairie rose as its state flower 10 years after Iowa did, but has officially bestowed that designation on two species, Rosa arkansana and Rosa blanda.

Even if things are a little vague on an official level in Iowa, the wild prairie rose is still a lovely flower, common throughout much of North America, from New Mexico and Texas in the south to the Canadian province of British Columbia in the north.

Wild prairie rose (Rosa arkansana) in Johnson County’s F.W. Kent Park in spring 2020. — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

“With heart-shaped, coral pink petals and a shining sun, it symbolizes everything worth playing for — the magnificent riches and traditions of our home, and the wild spirit of our fans that will continue to grow,” the Heartlander site says to explain its choice. “The flower blooms every June, perfectly timed with the Kelly Cup. Our target is set, now it’s game on.”

Dean MacDonald, chair of Deacon Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Heartlanders, said the team’s name was decided on after listening to the fans.

“After months of research and listening to suggestions from thousands of fans, we are proud to call ourselves the Iowa Heartlanders,” MacDonald said in a written statement on Thursday.

According to the team’s site, “The Iowa Heartlanders name and logos were created in partnership with Win X Two Branding Agency ( and designer Brian Gundell.”

Like Deacon Sports, the branding agency is located in St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada’s easternmost province. Gundell works out of Portland, Oregon. It’s possible that not using any local Iowa talent led to the creative decision that using a common synonym for Midwesterner was a good name for the Coralville team.

Reactions to the name and logos announcement was largely positive on social media. The excitement was blighted for some when the Heartlanders announced they were selling two non-fungible tokens (NFTs) of the team’s branding. NFTs, to describe a complicated concept briefly, are unique digital artifacts people can bid on and buy like they might an original piece of fine art, or a rare trading card. The NFT buyer is purchasing ownership of an image but not its copyright — so, no, buying the Heartlander NFTs doesn’t give you the right to own and operate a store full of the team’s swag.

NFTs can be a way to support digital artists or, in this case, a burgeoning hockey franchise, but they are also the source of much criticism from climate advocates. Because NFTs exist virtually, like cryptocurrency, they are backed up by blockchains, which require a large and continuous amount of electricity. The carbon footprint of a single NFT sale is estimated to be more than a hundred times the impact of buying and shipping a physical art print, and that doesn’t account for the ongoing carbon output as the file is continuously authenticated and protected in the cybersphere.

In addition to the rotating deer head pictured above, a rotating image of the wild prairie rose the team is using as an emblem is available as NFT.

The Iowa Heartlanders take the cce for the first time at the Xtream Arena on Friday, Oct. 22. The team is scheduled to play the Kansas City a game that starts at 7 p.m.

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