A Hockey Season to Remember!

The New Mexico Ice Wolves completed an incredible season and set several new franchise records (team and individual players) along the way.

The Ice Wolves started their season in Blaine, Minnesota at the NAHL showcase where they would play teams from other divisions in front of both fans and scouts from nearly every NCAA and professional hockey program. The first game of the year was a dominant 5-0 victory over the Kenai River Brown Bears and the first shutout of the season for Hungarian goaltender Beni Halasz. The Ice Wolves would finish at the early season NAHL Showcase tied for the best record in the league at 3-1.

The Ice Wolves started play in the “dirty south” of the NAHL South Division on the road against the rival Lonestar Brahmas and, in another first Will Howard would net the first hattrick in franchise history helping to set the stage for an amazing season of firsts.

Returning home to Outpost Ice Arenas in Albuquerque for a long 11 game homestand the NM Ice Wolves ignited its fan base by giving them home victories in 8 of those 11 home games to give the team early positioning near the top of the division as the grind of the season was just getting started.

South Division play was briefly paused as the NM Ice Wolves had a unique opportunity to host the US Women’s National Ice Hockey Team who asked to visit Outpost Ice Arena for some high altitude training as part of their Olympic preparation. A Covid-19 outbreak with the Russian Women’s National Team interrupted the US Women’s plan to travel to Ireland for exhibition games with them. So, high altitude practices and a couple games against the NM Ice Wolves were quickly added to the schedule. On Monday and  Tuesday, November 9th and 10th the New Mexico Ice Wolves would host the US Women’s National team as chants of “USA, USA, USA” echoed through a sold out Outpost Ice Arena for the first ever visit of a US National Ice Hockey team to the state of New Mexico.

With a sweep of the first year El Paso Rhinos just before the Christmas break the Ice Wolves would earn the first place rank in the South Division for the first time since the Showcase at the beginning of the season.

Some adversity hit as the team found themselves figuring out how to make the longest road trip of the season to Shreveport during a winter storm that covered a major portion of the path from New Mexico, across Texas and into Louisiana. While having to cancel their bus trip and postpone the first game of the series, the team caught an early morning flight on game day to Houston for a shorter bus trip to Shreveport, all while also needing to send a franchise record five players and head coach Phil Fox to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania right after the game to represent the team in the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament. The Ice Wolves would drop the lone game in Shreveport but, would have an impressive showing from all our representatives in the Pittsburgh.

Returning from both Pittsburgh and the weather fiasco in Shreveport, New Mexico showed the grit and determination to get back on track with back to back three game weekend sweeps over the Amarillo Wranglers and El Paso Rhinos. The six-game winning streak would be the longest in franchise history.

In a fierce battle to stay on top of the South Division, the Ice Wolves found themselves facing the both a surging Lonestar Brahmas team and the defending Robertson Cup champion Shreveport Mudbugs who were battling to make the playoffs themselves after a rough start in the next five games. New Mexico won two of the first three, however Shreveport secured a rare weekend sweep against the Ice Wolves at Outpost and the team found themselves tied for first place in the division.

The following weekend the Ice Wolves would drop the first game against Odessa but the following night, Carsen Stokes would earn a shutout with an outstanding performance and Tony Leahy would score twice as the Ice Wolves would use that game to clinch their first playoff spot in franchise history.

As the regular season was coming to an end, the NM Ice Wolves would honor the people of Ukraine by wearing a special jerseys to raise awareness and feed tens of thousands of displaced Ukrainians. Partnering with Save My Starving Children, a non-profit who provides meals to those in need, the New Mexico Ice Wolves strong and generous fan base were able to beat the team’s $50,000 goal by contributing more than $53,285 to provide 220,020 meals for those Ukrainians displaced by war. The team finished the regular season in second place, while setting franchise records in both wins and points.

The NM Ice Wolves would find a rugged opponent on the other side of their first ever playoff series, the Wichita Falls Warriors. Over the two-year rivalry between these two in all regular season games the teams were evenly split in the win-loss column. The Warriors would beat the Ice Wolves in Albuquerque in the team’s first ever playoff game, but in a best of five series there was a lot of hockey left to be played. The Ice Wolves responded strongly with a victory in game 2 and headed back to Wichita Falls with games tied at one game apiece. Game 3 would be one for the ages as the teams would go to a full period overtime, the first in franchise history, but little did everyone know when it started that it would go triple overtime and take Jake Keller’s highlight reel goal to the win for New Mexico. The following game would also go to overtime with the Warriors keeping their season alive and forcing a decisive game five on home ice in Albuquerque. The Ice Wolves handled their business and won game five to earn a spot in the South Division finals against a very experienced rival, the Lonestar Brahmas.

As the number one seed in the league the Brahmas would would use their home ice advantage defeat an exhausted Ice Wolves team in the first two games of the series, giving the Ice Wolves what seemed to many to be almost insurmountable odds. However, Ice Wolves fans should never be underestimated as they provided energy and a lift to a team that just does not quit. The home fans helped the team win in game three with a shutout from Beni Halasz (who delivered a franchise record 7 shutouts). Game 4 at the Outpost was electric and the fans once again brought confidence to a team that needed to the final home game of the season to stay alive. New Mexico found themselves down a goal late in game 4 and it would take Evan Carroll scoring his second of the game to force overtime on home ice. The next goal would either end the series or force a win or go home situation for both teams. Joe Prouty, the defenseman, found himself on a breakaway but was tripped to give him very rare overtime penalty shot. As Prouty has consistently done before, he took the puck and buried it to give his team the win and a trip back to Texas for a chance flip the script. Back in a hostile environment at NYTEX in Lonestar, the captain Dillan Bentley would score the lone goal of the game on a powerplay to combine with another Beni Halasz shutout to lock up the South Division Playoff Championship and a trip to Minnesota to battle for the NAHL Robertson Cup National Championship!

The NAHL final four in Blaine, Minnesota would decide which team would be crowned national champion and take home the Robertson Cup. The semifinals were a best of three format with the team facing an unfamiliar opponent in the New Jersey Titans, albeit with several familiar players from the South Division, most notably goalie, Andrew Takacs who played last season with Amarillo. The Ice Wolves would win game one and put themselves just one win away from the championship game. A hard battling Titans team had other ideas, however, and would force the Ice Wolves into overtime in game two and the East Division champions to force a winner take all to the championship game situation. An incredible back and forth game three that felt like a home game for New Mexico with its amazing fan support saw Jack Dalton score his first NAHL goal and give the Ice Wolves a lead that they would hold the majority of the third period. With 90 seconds to go, though, the Titans would tie the game with 90 seconds to force overtime for the second straight night. The first overtime wasn’t enough so the game went on to the second overtime. It would take a former south division player, Ryan Coughlin to score on the powerplay for the Titans to end a historic season for the Ice Wolves that every member of the team and organization could be proud of.

The Ice Wolves individually and as a team would set multiple records during the 2021-2022 season as shown below:
1. Most Goals Scored in single season: 193
2. Least Goals Allowed in single season: 145 (2nd fewest goals allowed in league 1 behind Lonestar)
3. Most Wins in single season: 38
4. Most Points in single season: 81
5. Most Shutouts: 8
6. First and second hat trick in franchise history: Will Howard 10/8/21  Sully Scholle 4/15/22
7. First 30 goal scorer: Dillan Bentley (30)
8. New Franchise record in points by a single player: Dillan Bentley (64)
9. Most GWG: (6) Dillan Bentley
10. Most PPG in single season: Dillan Bentley & Brandon Holt (7)
11. Most PPA in single season: Dillan Bentley & Gustav Blom (14)
12. Most SHG in single season: 15 (most in the NAHL)
13. Most SHG scored by single player: Dillan Bentley (4)
14. IRON MAN: Mitch Becker
15. Best GAA: 2.14 Beni Halasz
16. Best SV %: .921 Beni Halasz
17. Most Wins: 26 Beni Halasz
18. Most Shutouts 7 Beni Halasz