Last night the Ice Wolves faced the Mudbugs for the fifth time this season, they have yet to beat Shreveport. Yesterday’s game marked the first time the Mudbugs were home since Oct. 19th. It also kicked off their four-week homestand. The Ice Wolves entered the game with at least a point in their last three road games (2-0-0-1). Shreveport entered the game ranked fourth in the South boasting a record of 15-8 (30PTS). New Mexico came into the weekend ranked seventh in the South with a record of 5-19-0-2 (12PTS).
In the opening period the Mudbugs came out with a lot of aggression, using their big bodies to win the board battles and put pressure on Josh Graziano. With less than four minutes left in the period Alexis Girard (4) beat Graziano to put the Mudbugs up 1-0 after 20 minutes of play. That was just one of Shreveport’s ten shots during the opening frame. As for the Ice Wolves they only managed to get four shots on the fifth best goalie in the league and former NAHL September ‘Goalie of the Month’, Maiszon Balboa. That was the fewest shots recorded in an opening period for the Ice Wolves this season.
In the middle period the Ice Wolves battled back as they started to move the puck a lot smoother from tape to tape. Shortly after the midway point of the game, New Mexico was granted a power play and did not waste any time capitalizing on it, scoring just 33 seconds into the man-advantage. Philip Ekberg (5) scored the goal as he unleashed a cannon from the right circle beating Balboa. However the score would not be tied for much longer as Carson Nichols (2) scored a short-handed goal three minutes later. After 40 minutes of play Shreveport not only led the game 2-1 but were also outshooting New Mexico, 22-13.
In the final period of regulation there was only one goal that was scored and it came off the stick of a Mudbug. Carson Nichols (3) netted his second goal of the game just 4:38 into the third period. The biggest thing that stood out during the last 20 minutes of regulation was how these two teams simply do not like one another. Throughout the game there was a combined 72 penalty minutes, 58 of those penalty minutes were taken in the third period. What’s even more shocking is that 52 of the 58 penalty minutes came within the last five minutes of the game. There were a total of five players that were sent to the dressing room early, two were Ice Wolves’ players (Prouty, Dominique). The game ended 3-1 in favor of the Mudbugs and they outshot the Ice Wolves 35-19 through 60 minutes. Tensions will certainly remain high when the puck is dropped tonight for game two at 7:11 p.m. CST.
After the game ended the Ice Wolves gathered around Graziano for one last time in his junior career. This is the last weekend Graziano will spend at the junior level as he is leaving early to go play NCAA D1 hockey at Union College. When asked about what it was like to play in his final junior game Graziano had this to say, “As cliché as it is to say it’s definitely a bitter sweet feeling but obviously I’m excited for the opportunity ahead of me. At the same time though it’s sad to have my junior career cut short halfway through the year.” When asked about what his favorite memory of the season was he stated, “I actually have two answers for that. The first was coming out for our home opener and seeing that sellout crowd, while standing on the blue line for the anthem I definitely got chills. The second has to be our first win when we were in Odesssa as we finally got the monkey off our back.” Graziano was the first overall draft pick in Ice Wolves history (#2 overall) and will go down as making some of the best saves in NAHL history. Head Coach of the Ice Wolves, Phil Fox, had this to say about the Union commit, “We wish Graziano nothing but success at the collegiate level and thank him for everything he has done in the inaugural season for the New Mexico Ice Wolves.”