Over the weekend the New Mexico Ice Wolves played in their very first set of North American Hockey League games. Their opponent was the 2017-2018 Robertson Cup Champions, Shreveport Mudbugs. While the first home game for the Ice Wolves in their inaugural season will not be until September 27th, they did have a chance to showcase their talents in Shreveport, LA. There were also a lot of firsts for the Ice Wolves during this past weekend.
Led by Head Coach Phil Fox, the Ice Wolves started their very first 20 minutes of NAHL action by putting up nine shots on seasoned NAHL netminder Maiszon Balboa. Starting in between the pipes for the very first time in Ice Wolves history was Josh Graziano. He spent the 2017-2018 season playing 16 games for the Coulee Region Chill (3-10-1-1). During the first period Graziano saw 14 shots and stopped all but one. The one that got passed him was a power-play goal with 3.5 seconds left in the period. While nearly 20 players on the Ice Wolves roster have never played in the NAHL there are a few players that have played in the South Division before and have a history with some players. In the first period alone, there were a total of 30 penalty minutes combined. There was even a fight between Ice Wolves Captain, Keenan Johnson, and Mudbugs’ Rais Francis. Johnson has spent the last three seasons in the South playing for Corpus and Topeka. Both players were ejected from the game with five minutes left to go in the opening frame. Even with all the physicality going on in the first the Ice Wolves found themselves only trailing 1-0 going into the 2nd period. The physical play was still evident in the middle frame but neither team was able to get on the scoresheet. Giving the Mudbugs a one-goal lead going into the final period of regulation. The Mudbugs averaged a shot-per-minute during the final 20 minutes of play. This led to them scoring 6:20 into the 3rd period. Towards the end of the game Graziano was pulled to give the Ice Wolves a 6-on-5 advantage and hopes of getting on the board to end their goose egg. Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful in doing so and lost their first NAHL game by a final of 2-0. It was Balboa’s second career NAHL shutout after stopping 23 shots. Graziano played phenomenal for all 60 minutes of play making 46 saves. After his very first NAHL game as a Head Coach, Phil Fox had this to say about how his team performed “I really liked our first period. I think we got away from our game in the second because we had to kill too many penalties.” He went on to add “We need to be more disciplined and stick to the game plan. I thought a lot of our first-year players did very well in a tough environment. I was happy with our guys and their effort; we have a great group here and they’re always getting better.”
The first period of Game 2 was very similar to opening night as the Mudbugs put up 13 shots with one of them finding the back of the net. The Ice Wolves started Graziano again whereas the Mudbugs put in Richie Parent. Parent only played three games for the Mudbugs last season going 0-1-1-1 with seven goals against. While there weren’t as many penalties this time around the Mudbugs kept pressuring Graziano and were able to get another one past him with just over six minutes left in the middle period. Going into the final period Shreveport had a 2-0 lead and did not seem to be slowing down. Although the Ice Wolves were playing better as the game progressed it was all Mudbugs in the final period. Shreveport scored two goals within the first seven minutes giving them all the momentum and a commanding 4-0 lead. Towards the halfway point of the period Alex Dominique was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for charging after her collided with Parent. Since it was a major penalty the Mudbugs could score as many times as they pleased, and they did just so by adding two more to their total. Graziano was then replaced by Henrik Laursen, making it his first NAHL game. The Ice Wolves would not go away quietly as Keenan Johnson scored the very first goal in Ice Wolves history. When it was all said and done the Mudbugs picked up a sweep over the Ice Wolves making them wait even longer for their first NAHL win. Which they are hoping to get at the NAHL Showcase this week in Blaine, MN.
This week will be a big test for the Ice Wolves as they will play four regular season games in the span of four days. All against non-division opponents, with one of those games being played against the other brand-new team this season, the Maine Nordiques. All showcase games will be available on HockeyTV and will be shown at the Outpost Ice Arenas. The Showcase will wrap up on the 21st and then the team will travel back to New Mexico to get ready to host Odessa for the very first home game in Ice Wolves history on September 27th and 28th.
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