No. 7 New Mexico Ice Wolves (1-15-0-1, 3pts) vs. No. 1 Topeka Pilots (13-5-1-1, 28pts)
at Outpost Ice Arenas in Albuquerque, NM
Time: 7:30 p.m. (Friday) | 7:00 p.m. (Saturday)
What You Need to Know:
Season Series: 0-0
NMO: 8pts, Dominique (3G-5A) | TOP: 14pts, McCarthy (7G-7A)
This weekend the Ice Wolves will face the Topeka Pilots for the first time this season. What’s special about this match up is that before they moved to Topeka, the Pilots spent three seasons in Santa Fe (04-07). They were called the Santa Fe Roadrunners and played out of the Genoveva Chavez Community Center. Located only an hour away from the Outpost Ice Arenas. They missed the playoffs during one of their seasons and lost in the first round during the other two. Up until last season, Topeka used to be called the Roadrunners until they were re-branded for this season. The Pilots have missed out on the playoffs the last three seasons and have never won the Robertson Cup. Ice Wolves captain, Keenan Johnson, has spent the past three seasons with Topeka, totaling 81 games played (1G-7A).
While the Pilots lead the South Division in points they are far from the lead in terms of goal differential. In their 20 games thus far, they have scored 48 times and allowed 45. That puts them in fourth place in the South for GF/GA. The Ice Wolves come into this weekend with 24 goals under their belt but they have allowed the second most goals in the league at 72. Putting their goal differential at -48 (last in the league). With all that being said, Topeka has had 11 out of their 20 games decided by one goal. Their largest margin of victory this season was this past Friday, when they beat the Brahmas, 4-1. As long as the Ice Wolves manage to stay on the board it will make for a close series.
The Ice Wolves are the third-most penalized team in the South (316). Topeka is the most penalized team not just in the South but also in the league (384). Last weekend when the Pilots played the Brahmas there was a combined 154 penalty minutes in the span of 60 minutes. The Pilots are ranked 24th on the power play (9.7%). However their penalty kill is 10th best in the league (83.5%). New Mexico enters this weekend with the 23rd best power play (10.5%) and the 22nd best penalty kill (76.15). In order for the Ice Wolves to have success this weekend they must stay away from the box and take advantage of every power-play opportunity.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Ice Wolves (G: #43 – Josh Graziano)
This past weekend Graziano saw 90 shots through two games and stopped 80 of them. He even set a career high in saves with 48 on Friday. Josh earned honorable mention for this past weekend due in part to his effort between the pipes. The Buffalo, NY native is in his second season in the NAHL after playing in the OJHL last seaosn with the Brantford 99ers (10GP, 4.41GAA, .878SV%). The 6’3”, 200lb. net-minder has seen the most shots out of any goalie in the league (490). Graziano has also logged the fifth-most minutes with 763. Josh’s record this season is 1-10-0-1 but the 19-year-old is not deterred and continues to put forth 110% every time he gets the nod.
Pilots (G: #30 – Guy Blessing)
Blessing grew up in Chandler, AZ, which is only 6 ½ hours away from Albuquerque, NM. The 18-year-old is in his first NAHL season and is currently ranked 19th for goalies. Last season he played 20 games for Lake Forest Academy (USHS-Prep) recording a 2.25GAA and a .920SV%. Blessing is 4-2-0-1 this season with a goals-against-average of 2.36 and a save percentage of .919%. The 6’3”, 160lb goalie is already committed to the Air Force Academy. He recorded his first shutout on Oct. 26th versus Odessa after stopping 28 shots.