By Josh Kaskinen | Image: NM Ice Wolves
From the moment the puck dropped, this game had a different feel. New Mexico Ice Wolves looked hungry, determined and fresh. They were winning puck battles, setting up the offense, and limiting the Topeka Pilots scoring chances.
Heading into last night’s game, the Topeka Pilots we’re sitting in first place in the NAHL South Division, while the Ice Wolves were in the last place with a record of 1-15-0-1. After winning their first-ever game against the Odessa Jackalopes, the Ice Wolves were on a four-game losing streak and were still searching for their first victory in front of their home crowd.
New Mexico began the game with an immediate scoring chance. After winning the face-off, center Emil Gabrielson found himself deep in the Pilots end and took a shot that Topeka netminder Guy Blessing was able to save. After that, both teams settled in, and the first period ended scorelessly.
In the second period, both teams found the back of the net. Ice Wolves forward Griffen Sanom got the first goal of the game only 26 seconds into the frame. Assists on the goal care from Spencer Rudrud and Keegan Langefels. The Pilots answered back eleven minutes into the frame when Kaiden Scott found Quinn Green, who buried the puck past New Mexico goaltender Josh Graziano. The game got a bit chippy on both sides after that goal. At one point, the Pilots were whistled for offsides, but fired a shot toward Graziano anyway, leading to a scrum behind New Mexico’s net.
During the second intermission, recently acquired forward Finn McClain referred to the work that the team had done over the previous week to prepare for the series with Topeka.
“I think we are just playing more as a team you know, I think we just really United this past week and I think we are all buying into it and just playing for each other.”
Friday night’s game was a game full of symmetry. If the Ice Wolves were called for a penalty, the Pilots would get called for a similar infraction shortly thereafter. When New Mexico scored, Topeka found an answer. In the third period, Drew Lorinchak won a puck battle behind Blessing and was able to feed it to Jackson Wille, who was able to pocket the go-ahead goal with 11:16 remaining. Twenty seconds later, Wille took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and the Ice Wolves found themselves down a man, trying to hang on for the win. After a few more penalty calls, including a call against both teams for too many men on the ice, New Mexico was able to run the clock out and clinch a victory on home ice for the very first time.
After the game, Ice Wolves head coach Phil Fox said that he felt great shot finally earning a win in front of the Ice Wolves faithful. “Its been a long time coming, a lot of hard work put in and you know that’s a result of it so I’m really happy for the guys.”
Fox echoed the sentiments of McClain in regards to the players buying in over the previous week, saying “Absolutely we weren’t happy with what we had out on display last week. We thought that we were better than that and the guys really came together this week and bought in and stuck to what we really needed to stick to and got a win out of it.”
If that sense of unity can continue, the Ice Wolves should begin to find the win column more often. New Mexico proved that they have the talent to compete with high level teams. The Ice Wolves return to action tonight to finish the series against Topeka.