One measly point: That’s all that kept the New Mexico Ice Wolves out of the North American Hockey League playoffs last season.
To make matters worse, the Ice Wolves’ solid record (33-23-4, 70 points) would have been good enough to make the playoffs in all three other NAHL divisions. Not in the South, where they finished one point behind Amarillo for the fourth and final playoff spot.
But after five months of stewing over a painfully close miss, the Ice Wolves are ready to author a different story. New Mexico opens the season Friday and Saturday with a two-game home series against the Lone Star Brahmas at Outpost Ice Arena. Both games start at 6:30 p.m.
It’s season five for the Ice Wolves and coach Phil Fox, who hope to not only put 2022-23 in the rear view mirror but to return to 2021-22 form. That squad made the playoffs and advanced to the Robertson Cup Playoff semifinals and pushed eventual champ New Jersey to three games in a hard-fought series.
As usual, New Mexico underwent considerable roster turnover during the offseason, but the club still expects to contend in the highly competitive South. The division expands to nine teams this season with the addition of the Colorado Grit.
“I think we’ll be right back in the middle of it this year,” said Jason Thomas, director of broadcasting and community outreach for the Ice Wolves. “The goalkeeping and back line look really solid and I think the forwards will get the job done. We expect to be in the playoff hunt.”
Here are five things to consider heading into opening weekend.
LEADERSHIP ROLES: New Mexico lost much of its scoring punch from last season but does have some key returnees on this season’s roster. Defenseman Jack Dalton played in the 2022 Robertson Cup and will serve as a key veteran voice. Forward Ryan Johnson (19 goals last season) is another returnee to watch along with Jaden Stiller (25 goals last season).
STEPPING IN: The Ice Wolves have 13 new players on this season’s 27-player roster, including three who have moved up from the organization’s NA3HL club since last season. Two key newcomers to watch will be goalkeeper Andy Vlaha and forward Michael Schermerhorn.
BULLISH FOE: Lone Star (82 points) finished second in the NAHL South last season but was knocked out in round one of the playoffs. The Brahmas have been consistent winners, reaching the postseason each of the past 10 seasons. Lone Star ranked as the NAHL’s top defensive team last season, but its two top goalkeepers accepted college commitments.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Despite its painfully close playoff miss, New Mexico posted a successful 2022-23 season in terms of college commitments. Thirteen players hooked on with NCAA programs, including nine Division I commits. The list includes last season’s top scorers, Sully Scholle (26 goals, 28 assists) and Will Howard (32 goals, 22 assists), who committed to Maine and Augustana, respectively.
GAME DAY INFO: The Ice Wolves NA3HL club will host exhibition matches Friday and Saturday at 2:45 p.m. against Colorado Springs U18AAA. Admission is free. Tickets for NAHL Ice Wolves games range from $15 to $27.50 and are available online along with season tickets and flex packages at nmicewolves.com. New Mexico Ice Wolves NAHL and NA3HL games will be live streamed this season on nahltv.com, a subscription platform.
Credit: ABQ Journal