Bangor native and former St. Dom’s and University of Maine hockey standout Derek Damon stands in front of the Xtream Arena, the home of the Iowa Heartlanders. Iowa Heartlanders photo

Former St. Dom’s and University of Maine hockey standout Derek Damon is still pinching himself a week after being named the new head coach and general manager of the Iowa Heartlanders.

“I still wake up and I am like, ‘Wow, this is for real,'” Damon said. “I am excited and like I said: I am ready for this opportunity, especially after this past season. Working with (former head coach and general manager Gerry Fleming), he has so much experience; he’s my mentor, and he groomed me for this opportunity for this time. It came a little bit quicker than we thought.”

Fleming, the Heartlanders’ inaugural head coach and general manager, stepped down to pursue coaching opportunities in Europe, and Damon was named head coach and general manager on July 5.

Iowa Heartlanders President Tom Hamilton said Damon is the right man to lead the ECHL organization based in Corvallis, Iowa.

Derek Damon at the press conference announcing his promotion as head coach and general manager of the Iowa Heartlanders of the ECHL on July 5. Iowa Heartlanders photo

“Derek was instrumental in so much of the success we had on the ice in 2021-22 and it is clear to myself and the entire group at Deacon Sports & Entertainment that he is ready for the opportunity to lead our hockey team,” Hamilton said in a Heartlanders press release. “Not only is he an excellent coach and hockey mind, but he and his entire family have already left a positive imprint in the communities here in (Eastern Iowa). With three months until the start of the season, we could not feel better about the direction of our team on the ice with Derek at the helm.”

Damon, a Bangor native, spent the 2021-22 season with the Heartlanders as an assistant coach and assistant general manager after spending his first year in coaching in 2019-20 with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, a junior hockey team in the British Columbia Hockey League.


It’s been a busy summer for Damon even before Fleming left the organization.

“Gerry had both knees done — reconstructive knee surgery — so he has been (resting) and I have been doing a lot of the heavy lifting on the recruiting,” Damon said. “It has been a seamless transition and I am ready for this opportunity, and I am excited. We have a good group of a core group of guys coming back. I am excited about bringing in new guys.”

Damon said he and Fleming had always collaborated with each other and Fleming gave Damon opportunities to run with ideas he had to gain experience.

The Heartlanders were an expansion franchise in 2021-22 and finished the season last in the Central Division with a 29-33-10 record, eight points out of a playoff spot.

Derek Damon, who played at St. Dom’s from 1997-1999 and University of Maine from 2002-06 is the new head coach and general manager of the ECHL’s Iowa Heartlanders. Iowa Heartlanders photo

Damon was in charge of Iowa’s power play, which converted at a 23.9% rate and was fourth in the entire league, and 65 power-play goals were second in the entire ECHL.

While Damon learned from Fleming last season and as a player from 2006-08, when Fleming coached Damon with the Florida Everblades of the ECHL, there will be some differences in his coaching philosophies.


“There’s a lot of things I learned from Gerry (regarding) style of play but there are going to be tweaks and little subtle tweaks I am going to make,” Damon said. “…The way the game is played now is up-tempo, fast and you have to be on your toes all the time. You have to close time and space. In order to do that, you have to practice at a high tempo every day so you can sustain it throughout the course of the game.”

The first order of business for Damon is hiring an assistant coach, which opened up when he took over as head coach.

Nothing has changed for Lewiston native Eric Michaud, who was hired last month as the team’s video coach.

“Having him on board is huge for me,” Damon said. “He’s a guy who knows the league very well and knows the game well — he sees the game well. He sees the game as I do. So it’s easy for us to talk about players and bounce ideas off of. He’s someone I lean on a lot.”

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