By Josh Kaskinen | Image: Ice Dogs Hockey
As the early part of 2020 (and the second half of the NAHL season) rolls on, the New Mexico Ice Wolves are in the midst of one of the best stretches of play they have ever had. Following a win in Amarillo on New Years Eve, New Mexico had a weekend off before hosting the Kenai River Brown Bears at Outpost Ice Arenas this past weekend.
Heading into the series, New Mexico trailed the Odessa Jackalopes by a single point at the bottom of the South Division standings. Thanks in part to back-to-back three game series against Lone Star and Amarillo, two tough divisional opponents, the Jackalopes have now dropped 16 games in a row. With Friday night’s 6-2 win over the Brown Bears, New Mexico earned two points and leapfrogged over the Jackalopes and into 6th place in the division.
Saturday’s game was a much closer affair, but after a game that went back and forth all night, it was the Ice Wolves that prevailed in the end with a final score of 6-5. Now, the team will head on the road for the next month, a stretch that will take them to two different cities in Alaska, then to Topeka and finally to Corpus Christi before their next home games in in mid-February.
This weekend the Ice Wolves will be in Fairbanks at the Big Dipper Ice Arena to take on the Ice Dogs for the second time this season. These teams last faced each other in early November in Albuquerque. New Mexico lost both games in that series, a close 2-1 decision in the first game, and a blowout 8-3 loss in the second game. The coaching staff has made several changes since that last meeting, but the Ice Wolves will have to play better this time around in order to keep their three-game winning streak alive and continue to put distance between themselves and Odessa.
The Ice Dogs are a very strong team, as the Ice Wolves have seen first hand. With a record of 26-9-1-2, Fairbanks has 55 points and is firmly in first place in the Midwest Division with a seven point lead over Kenai River. With 8 wins in their previous ten games, the Ice Dogs are playing very good hockey of late.
Leading the way on offense in 20 year old St. Paul, Minnesota native Jack Johnston. In his third season in Fairbanks, Johnston is having a great year, posting 16 goals and 19 assists so far this season. Tied with Johnston for the team lead in points is Matt Koethe (12-23-35). Danish teammate Oliver Kjaer is not far behind with 31 points (15-16-31). These three forwards will be looking to make life difficult for Ice Wolves netminders this weekend.
One defenseman to keep an eye on this weekend is Brighton, Michigan native Tim Erkkila. With 2 goals and 11 assists through 36 games, Erkkila is a solid presence on both ends of the puck. If he can play well in front of goaltender Mattias Sholl, scoring could be a difficult task for New Mexico. Sholl is a top goalie in the NAHL this season, who currently has a 2.03 goals against average and a .939 save percentage. He has also posted 20 wins this season, more than any other goaltender.
New Mexico has a chance this weekend to continue their winning ways and to prove to the rest of the league that they have turned a page midway through their inaugural season. Though it won’t be an easy job, the Ice Wolves should be up to the task. The Puck drops on Friday night in Fairbanks at 7:30 pm Alaska time (9:30pm Mountain time).
Fairbanks Ice Dogs NCAA Commits:
- Dylan Abbott- Minnesota State University
- Parker Brown- Air Force
- Luke Ciolli- Army
- Lucas Erickson- St. Lawrence University
- Jasper Lester- Air Force
- Trenton Woods- University of Alaska