By Josh Kaskinen | Logo: Kenai River
The New Mexico Ice Wolves began their first ever trip to Alaska last weekend with a visit to the Big Dipper Ice Arena to take on the Midwest Division leading Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Heading into the weekend, the Ice Wolves had earned three straight wins thanks to a New Years Eve victory against Amarillo Bulls and a sweep of Kenai River Brown Bears in Albuquerque the weekend prior.
Friday night’s game in Fairbanks gave New Mexico an opportunity to extend a winning streak to four games for the first time this season. A single Ice Dogs goal in the first period, followed by another early in the second by Parker Brown found the Ice Wolves down two goals to zero, but New Mexico quickly got back in the game. A mere 45 seconds after Brown’s goal, Jackson Wille got the Ice Wolves on the board with an unassisted tally. A few minutes later, Alex Dominique and Sean Henry worked some magic on the power play to even the score. Fairbanks would get a power play goal of their own two minutes later to retake the lead heading into the second intermission. The Ice Wolves refused to quit however, and Wille was able to get his second goal of the night and 5th of the season late in the third period to force overtime. The Ice Dogs would finally put the game away in the extra frame when Oliver Kjaer scored his 16th goal of the season. The Ice Wolves were unable to continue the winning streak, but they did extend the points streak to four games.
The game on Saturday had a less favorable result for New Mexico. After a scoreless first period, Fairbank’s offense exploded for three goals in the second period and two more in the third, handing the Ice Wolves a 5-0 loss. The game was highly penalized, with a total of 124 penalty minutes handed out between the two teams (85 of those were against the Ice Wolves, who went 3 for 5 on the penalty kill). New Mexico netminder Garrett Mackay made 28 saves in the losing effort, but the point streak would not reach a 5th game.
The Ice Wolves will remain in Alaska this weekend, as they head to Soldotna for a rematch against a recent opponent in the Kenai River Brown Bears. The extended stay in The Last Frontier has given the team an opportunity to experience the northern lights and a hot springs resort, as the team has shared on social media.
The extra week in Alaska should help the Ice Wolves to remain competitive against a tough Brown Bears team who have been struggling recently. The Brown Bears are winless in their past seven games, being swept three series in a row, including twice by expansion teams, as the Maine Nordiques handed the Brown Bears two losses in Soldotna last weekend to go along with the two losses given to them by the Ice Wolves in Albuquerque the week before. New Mexico gets another chance to prove their domination over a top Midwest division team.
A handful of Brown Bears have been playing well during the recent losses. Forward Brandon Lajoie of Eagle River, Alaska is currently on a three game point streak, with an assist on Saturday night in Albuquerque and scoring one goal in each game against Maine last week. Lajoie has 6 goals and 14 assists on the season, and will be looking to keep that scoring streak alive against the Ice Wolves this weekend. Another forward, Logan Ritchie, has four points in his past four games, including three against the Ice Wolves. Ritchie is third on the Brown Bears in points this season with 35 (16-19-35). Zach Krajnik is the Brown Bears assists and points leader this season (13-30-43) and is another forward who tallied three points in Albuquerque two weeks ago. The future University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves player is enjoying a highly successful third season in Soldotna, and he is only seven points behind his career high of 50 in 20 fewer games played. Look for him to be a force on offense this weekend.
It will be interesting to see which direction Brown Bears head coach Kevin Murdock decides to go with his goaltenders this weekend. Last week against Maine, it was Danny Frage who got the nod on both nights, as opposed to his number one goalie Landon Pavlisin, who played in both games against the Ice Wolves the first time around. Both are capable netminders with solid numbers, but Pavlisin has played in more games and earned more wins than his counterpart. Will one goalie play both nights, or will the two split duties this weekend against New Mexico?
It’s sure to be high-quality hockey both nights as these two teams face off for the final time this season. The Ice Wolves are 12 points behind Corpus Christi for 5th place in the South Division heading into this matchup. A couple of wins to close out the Alaska trip could go a long way in trying to close that gap. Both games are scheduled for 7:30pm Alaska time, and they can be viewed on HockeyTV or at the watch party at Outpost Ice Arenas.
- The Ice Wolves have added two players and released two players this month. No longer on the roster are forwards Zach Frisk and Finn McClain. McClain did not register a point during his time in New Mexico, while Frisk had three goals and five assists in 31 games played. Recently added is forward Micah Maldonado, who is one of the tendered players announced by the team. The Ice Wolves have also added defenseman Liam Ovington, who played in two games earlier this season for the Maryland Black Bears.
- Brandon Holt and Jackson Wille were recognized as honorable mentions for the South Division Star of the Week. Wille had two goals in the overtime loss in Fairbanks on Friday night, while Holt had an assist on Wille’s equalizing goal to force OT.
- HockeyTV announced that Firday’s game against Kenai River will be the free game of the week. Fans of the option of selecting the away team audio to listen to Ice Wolves broadcaster Michael Wisienski call the game.
- Former Ice Wolves goaltender Josh Graziano appeared in his first game for Union College last Friday against Yale, coming on in relief after Darion Hanson allowed four goals. Graziano made four saves and allowed one goal in his first NCAA action.