By Josh Kaskinen | Logo: NM Ice Wolves
The New Mexico Ice Wolves returned home on Friday night for the first game of “Pink in the Rink” weekend benefit for breast cancer awareness. The team was sporting brand new pink specialty jerseys for their contest against the Shreveport Mudbugs, with a raffle being held each night for a fan to win the jerseys, with the proceeds going to Making Strides Albuquerque.
New Mexico came into Friday night’s game against the Shreveport Mudbugs hoping to use the energy of a home-ice crowd to build on the first win that they earned a week ago in Odessa. The Mudbugs, however, had plans of their own to continue a three-game winning streak, and to continue to assert their dominance against the Ice Wolves, a team that they beat twice at home back in mid-September.
Friday’s game had plenty of entertainment value and featured a little bit of everything, including nine total goals, a fight, plenty of special teams play, and a battle between two collegiate-bound goaltenders in New Mexico’s Josh Langford (University of Maine) and Shreveport’s Maiszon Balboa (Air Force).
The first period got off to a lightning fast start thanks to a goal in the first minute of play. Ice Wolves forward Emil Gabrielson made a nifty move to find his fellow countryman and former Maryland Black Bears teammate Philip Ekberg, who was able to bury the puck past Balboa to give the Ice Wolves the early lead. Both players were recently acquired in trades from Maryland, when asked what it was like having Ekberg here in New Mexico with him, Gabrielson said that he is “a fun guy, someone that I can talk some Swedish to sometimes” and that he is “a really good player that we are happy to have him here.” Of his own game, Gabrielson said that fans can expect him to have an “offensive game, [be] a strong Centerman, defense and offensive zone, just a solid player.” There were several times in the game that the two players looked to be in sync with each other and setting up scoring chances, including in 4-on-4 situations during special teams play.
The remainder of the first period didn’t go the way New Mexico would have hoped, starting with an unlucky bounce around 13 minutes into the period. An Ice Wolves player attempted to dump the puck into the offensive zone, but Shreveport was able to deflect get a stick on the puck, causing it to take a wild bounce, slowing down dramatically in the snow that had begun to accumulate in front of New Mexico’s bench. Langford had to make the difficult decision to either skate out and play the puck, rather than risk facing a Mudbugs odd-man rush or breakaway. Because of the sloppy ice in front of the bench, New Mexico’s netminder wasn’t able to clear the puck cleanly, and his attempt caught a mudbugs player square in the chest, leaving the net wide open for an easy goal from Shreveport’s Jack Smiley. Following that goal, New Mexico gave up two more quick goals in the period, one from Brent Keefer at 13:07, and the other from Ryan Waltman at 15:39. New Mexico was able to get one back a minute later on nearly the same play as their first goal, this time with Alex Dominique passing up on shot through traffic in order to find an open Spencer Rudrud on the left side of the crease, who was then able to bury the puck cleanly. Other than an unnecessary roughness penalty on Griffen Sanom after the horn sounded to end the period, New Mexico was able to stay out of the penalty box in the opening frame, and outshoot the Mudbugs 18-11. Despite being down a goal, the game still seemed very much in reach for the Ice Wolves heading into the first intermission.
In the penalty kill to start the second period, New Mexico allowed zero shots during the entire two minute penalty. The two goals that Shreveport did get in the second period came a little bit too easy for New Mexico’s liking, however. The first of these goals came at 5:00 into the period, when the Mudbugs won a faceoff in New Mexico’s zone, and Billy Feczko sent a left-handed shot up high that easily beat Langford to find the back of the net.
The second Mudbugs goal in the period came just a few minutes later, as several Ice Wolves players were chasing the puck deep in their own zone, allowing Timofei Khokhlachev to find a wide open Davis Goukler at the point, who blasted a shot past Langford. After a couple more penalties and a fight between New Mexico’s Zach Frisk and Shreveport’s Dawson Sciarrino, the second intermission came with the visiting team ahead 5-2.
Another player that recently joined the Ice Wolves and who looks to be a difference maker is defenseman Sean Henry. Henry has already nearly matched his point total from a season ago with Maryland, and his passion for the game and love for his new teammates in New Mexico is evident. On what he hopes to bring to the team this year, Henry said “I’m just hoping to bring good energy. I want to bring some good shooting. I want to bring everything I got to this team. This is a great group of guys and I want to do everything that is possible.” Sometimes, though his passion on the ice can get the best of him. Henry was ejected from last Friday night’s loss in Odessa following a fight, and in Friday night’s game against the Mudbugs, he took a cross-checking penalty in the third period.
Shreveport was able to find their sixth and final goal of the night only six seconds into Henry’s penalty, a goal that again came immediately after a faceoff. Henry’s two-way game as a defenseman should be a great benefit to an Ice Wolves team that tends to allow a lot of shots, but his 39 penalty minutes on the season is the most on the team.
New Mexico got a power play goal of their own with just under five minutes left in the game, but it would not be enough to overcome a four goal deficit. That goal was the second of the night from Ekberg, and was assisted by Drew Lorinchak and Gabrielson. While it didn’t have an impact on the game as a whole, it was a welcome sight to see the power play unit finally find paydirt after working so hard all evening.
While it’s always difficult for the team to take any positives away from game that saw them lose by three goals, the Ice Wolves did a lot of things right on Friday night. For starters, they outshot the Mudbugs, 37-31. The high volume of shots on net speaks volumes about the talent of Shreveport netminder Balboa. Secondly, not counting the 20 minute match penalty to Frisk for being the aggressor in the fight during the second period, New Mexico took fewer penalties than the Mudbugs, giving their power play more time to work. Their penalty kill unit looked strong all night, only allowing the lone Mudbugs power play goal.
A combination of bad bounces, strong opposing goaltending, and a few momentary lapses cost New Mexico this game, and the final score line probably should have been a bit tighter. The Ice Wolves are beginning to prove that they can hang with tough opponents, if they can start to put everything together for a full sixty minutes, the wins should start rolling in soon.