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Center Ice: Topeka Pilots

The Ice Wolves and Pilots face each other this weekend for the third time this season.

The New Mexico Ice Wolves are coming off another sweep on home ice as they defeated the last place Odessa Jackalopes both nights last weekend. On Friday, the Ice Wolves won by a score of 4-1, with goals coming from Tristan Rand, Keegan Langefels, and two from Griffen Sanom. Saturday night ended with the same score, featuring goals from Sanom, Liam Ovington, Jacskon Wille and Spencer Rudrud. It was the Ice Wolves third sweep of the season, and the four points helped New Mexico to create more space between themselves and the Jackalopes at the bottom of the South Division standings. The Ice Wolves are now 11 points up on Odessa, and are clawing their way closer to 5th place, a position held by the Corpus Christi IceRays, who enter the weekend eight points ahead of New Mexico.

This weekend finds a the Ice Wolves back at home for two games against a familiar team in the Topeka Pilots. The Pilots were the first team that suffered a sweep at the Outpost Ice Arenas back on November 8-9. The two teams played each other in Topeka three weeks ago at Stormont Vail Events. That series was a split, with New Mexico winning on Friday night by a score of 6-3, and the Pilots taking the second game on Saturday, 4-3. Of the nine goals scored by New Mexico skaters last weekend, eight were scored by different players.

Since the split, each team has played in two series before facing each other for this season. In that time, the Ice Wolves have won three games and lost in a shootout, while the Pilots split with Amarillo and the Springfield Jr. Blues for a record of 2-1-1-0 in those four games. Both teams have been playing decent hockey lately, with the Pilots going 6-3-1-0 in their last ten games, while the Ice Wolves are 4-4-1-1.

If the Ice Wolves are going to get their fourth sweep of the season this weekend, they’ll have to play great hockey to do so for the second time against this playoff team. Topeka enters the weekend tied with Shreveport with 62 points for third place in the South Division, and they have already clinched a postseason berth. One player the Ice Wolves will have to contain is Appleton, Wisconsin native Connor Zilisch. Zilisch is second among Pilot scorers with 37 points (14-23-37). He had a goal and an assist against New Mexico three weeks ago. 

The Ice Wolves will also need continued production from their best players. Langefels, Lorinchak, Dominique and Rudrud have contributed to the offense recently. Two players stood  out above the rest last weekend against Odessa forward Griffen Sanom and goaltender Henrik Laursen. Sanom has four goals and four assists in his past three games, and he earned honorable mention for star of the week. Laursen was named South Division star of the week as he earned wins on both nights, stopping 59 of the 61 shots he faced. 

It should be another great weekend of hockey in the Duke City. If the Ice Wolves continue to play well, they could play spoiler to a Pilots team trying to earn a third place playoff position, while closing the gap between them and the IceRays for 5th place in the South Division. Puck drop is at 7:30pm on Friday, with a 7:00pm start scheduled for Saturday night.

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