By Josh Kaskinen | Image: NM Ice Wolves
They finally did it. After going winless over their first twelve games, the New Mexico Ice Wolves junior hockey team earned their first win in the franchise’s inaugural North American Hockey League season.
The Ice Wolves traveled to Texas this weekend for a two-game series against an opponent that they are already familiar with in the Odessa Jackalopes. Heading into the weekend, the Ice Wolves’ strongest performance to date was against the Jackalopes during the home opener on September 27th. In that contest, New Mexico clawed back in the third period to force overtime before eventually falling in the shootout. Outside of that game, New Mexico hadn’t really been close to making a mark in the win column.
On Friday night, the Ice Wolves put up a strong fight in Odessa, but their efforts were ultimately thwarted both by their own inability to stay out of the penalty box and by the strong play of Jackalopes netminder Aaron Randazzo. The Ice Wolves outshot Odessa 27-21, but Randazzo, a St. Cloud State University commit, was able to stop every shot that he faced in the 2-0 shutout. After going up by two goals in the first period, Odessa was able to cruise to victory. Sean Henry, a recently acquired defenseman for New Mexico, found himself leading the way with 35 of New Mexico’s 47 penalty minutes following a fight during the second period. He was booked for fighting (5-minute major, 10-minute game misconduct) and for continuing altercation (20 minutes and an ejection). Despite the high number of penalty minutes, Odessa only went 1 for 4 on the powerplay, and New Mexico goaltender Josh Langford made 19 saves, so there were a couple of positives to take away from the loss.
Saturday night was another story entirely. Again, New Mexico found themselves down two goals to none after the first frame, courtesy of Jackalopes forwards Cam Ottenbreit and Matt Hutton. In the second period, New Mexico came back strong with two goals of their own from Griffen Sanom and a power play goal by Alex Dominique. In the third period, Odessa stormed back early to retake the lead with a goal from John Serafin before New Mexico closed the game out strong with goals from Drew Lorinchak and Emil Gabrielson to earn their first win, with a final score of 4-3. Starting goaltender Josh Graziano made 32 saves in the win, and the penalty killing unit went 5 for 6, with the team only accumulating 12 penalty minutes, a huge improvement from the night before.
While the team is still at the bottom of the South division standings, getting that first win was a huge milestone, and hopefully, it will be one that they can build on as they continue to search for their identity. The Ice Wolves will now enter a stretch that will see them play at home for the next 11 games, which could end up playing a huge role if they are going to begin to right the ship. Judging from the celebration of the players on the ice after the final horn sounded on Saturday night, the team is thrilled to have that first taste of victory, and certainly, they’ll be hungry for more.