It was a less than ideal weekend at home for the New Mexico Ice Wolves last week. The team hosted the Topeka Pilots for the second time this season, and after sweeping them back in November, the results weren’t as favorable this time around.
On Friday night, the Pilots held the Ice Wolves without a goal and put in three of their own for a shutout victory. Saturday night was all Topeka as well, as the Pilots skated to a 5-1 victory, with the only New Mexico goal coming from Ice Wolves’ leading goal-scorer Alex Dominique midway through the second frame.
As the season starts to wind down, both of these teams have goals that they are striving for in terms of South Division standings, though those goals do look a bit different. The Pilots are already locked in to a playoff spot, so at this point, they are jockeying for position. For them, two wins over the Ice Wolves came at a perfect time, as the four points that they earned created some separation between themselves and Shreveport for third place. For New Mexico, they are trying to claw their way past Corpus Christi to earn the 5th place spot, which is a milestone in an of itself for a team that started off the season so slow. Even with two losses last weekend, the Ice Wolves remain eight points behind the IceRays, as they were defeated twice last weekend by the Lone Star Brahmas.
Speaking of the Lone Star Brahmas, New Mexico heads back on the road this weekend to take on the team from Texas who they have yet to find a win against. The Ice Wolves have an opportunity to make up some ground, as Corpus Christi will not be in action this week. The Brahmas are currently in second place in the South Division, with a record of 39-9-0-1 and 79 points. The Ice Wolves will have their work cut out for them if they hope to earn any points. In the six games played so far this season between these two teams, New Mexico has been outscored by a total of 28-6.
Another factor that will impact the Ice Wolves is the team’s recent roster shake up. Either through trades or releasing players, New Mexico has lost some of their top performers from this inaugural season. In some cases, such as that of Emil Gabrielson, the team decided to allow the older players a chance to get on a playoff team for the end of their final season in juniors. Hopefully, that added experience and exposure for those players can lead to a college commitment. In other instances, the team has not yet made official announcements as to the reason behind the moves. Earlier this week, the team released Captain and defenseman Keenan Johnson, forward Drew Lorinchak and goalie Garrett Mackay. Gabrielson and Lorinchak were among the top point-getters for the Ice Wolves this season, so the offense will have to continue through players like Dominique and Griffen Sanom throughout the remainder of the season.
The Brahmas come into this matchup riding one of the best hot streaks in the North American Hockey League. At 9-1-0-0 in their last ten games, Lone Star is just a single point behind Amarillo for the lead in the South Division, having played one fewer game than the Bulls. They will be hungry to earn points as they try to earn the top seed in the division for the upcoming Robertson Cup Playoffs. The Brahmas have several top players who will be sure to be a thorn in the side of the Ice Wolves skaters this weekend.
On offense, the Brahmas are led by forwards Matt Guerra and Joey Baez. Guerra, a Robert Morris University commit, is tied at 41 for the league lead in assists with Dante Sheriff of the Austin Bruins. Baez is an Army committ who leads the league in goals scored with 29. The Brahmas have seven skaters with 10 goals or more this season. It’s a high powered offense that has helped propel them to one of the best records in the entire NAHL.
Another incredibly strong aspect of this Brahmas team comes in their netminding. Both goaltenders, Cayden Bailey and Ludvig Persson, are among league leaders in several statistical categories. In fact, the argument could be made that one or both of these players, along with Amarillo’s Charlie Glockner, could be considered the league’s best goalie. These three netminders are the top three in the NAHL in goals against average, save percentage, and shut outs. Bailey started both games last weekend against Corpus Christi, so it will be interesting to see if Brahmas head coach Dan Wildfong taps Persson, a Miami commit, at all this weekend.
The Ice Wolves will be looking to finish the season strong. Though the Brahmas will be a tough team, any points the Ice Wolves could earn will be a positive step forward as the season starts to wind down. The Ice Wolves will be back at home after this series for three straight weeks, so hockey fans in Albuquerque have plenty of chances to take in some action between now and the end of the season. This week’s games can be found on HockeyTV, with both games scheduled for 7:30pm Central Time puck drops.
For fans who are itching to watch live hockey this weekend, head out to Outposts for the Lobos last games of the season, or find your way to Chavez Center in Santa Fe for the Rio Grande Hockey League Varsity Year End Tournament, featuring high school teams from around New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas.