The New Mexico Mustangs are coming off of one of their more productive yet disappointing weekends.
The Mustangs were swept in two close games at Corpus Christi keeping them winless on the road for the season, but head coach Bill Muckalt feels like the Mustangs are a bounce and a call-or-two away from seeing consistent success.
“I felt like we played good enough to win both nights, especially Saturday,” said Muckalt. “It was frustrating because I feel like our team is right there and able to compete every night, so to come so close and be denied in the last seconds was discouraging.”
However, there is plenty of reason for optimism in Mustangs camp.
“One of the big things I’ve learned in my first season of coaching at this high level is that these things take time,” said Muckalt. “We’re seeing improvement and are very excited for our future.”
That future includes 19-year-old forwards Adam Chapie and Patrick Anderson, both of whom are in the top two in scoring, respectively, for New Mexico.
Anderson scored all three of New Mexico’s goals in succession in the 4-3 loss at Corpus Christi on Saturday. Charles Baldwin, 18, and 17-year-old Jimmy Pepslinski are tied for third in scoring with 17 points.
“You look at our current lineup and there are a lot of guys who could potentially be back next season with a year of Junior A experience, and that’s going to be key to our future success here in New Mexico,” said Muckalt.
Another component of that future for Muckalt and the Mustangs includes getting a head start on signing players for next season - something they had a late start on this season. New Mexico has already signed five tenders for next season leaving Muckalt happy with the potential talent.
“There are a couple of guys in there that could be potential first- or second-line players. It’s encouraging because not only are they talented and have the ability to play at this level, but they’re also young, so it gives me plenty of optimism.”
But, first thing’s first: the remainder of the Mustangs season, which continues this weekend at home against Corpus Christi. Home is where the heart is for New Mexico, as that’s where all the wins for the Mustangs have come this season. The attendance and community awareness is also growing.
“We’re comfortable playing at home and are working to take that same attitude on the road,” said Muckalt. “Everyday, more and more people in this community are embracing the team and what we’re trying to do. That encouragement, along with our continued improvement as a team, has us believing that a consistency of success will come sooner rather than later.”
SOUTH DIVISION NOTEBOOK
AMARILLO BULLS: It was a rough weekend for the Bulls. The league’s best home team at 12-2-0 heading into their weekend against Topeka, the Bulls dropped back-to-back home losses for the first time this season and lost two straight games for only the second time all year. Forward Cody Freeman had three assists on Friday night and is leading the Bulls with five points in his last five games. This weekend, the Bulls look to get back on track with more home games against Wichita Falls on Saturday and Corpus Christi on Sunday.
CORPUS CHRISTI ICERAYS: The IceRays got back to their winning ways with a weekend home sweep of the New Mexico Mustangs. The weekend had plenty of heroics for the IceRays, who had to come from behind in both games. On Friday night, defenseman Colton Saucerman was the hero, scoring two goals and two assists in a 5-2 win. On Saturday night, the IceRays erased a 3-1 deficit in the third period thanks to three goals in the final nine minutes of the game, as forward Beau Walker scored his second goal of the night with just 15 seconds remaining to give the ‘Rays a 4-3 win. The IceRays play at New Mexico on Friday and Saturday and in Amarillo on Sunday.
TEXAS TORNADO: The Tornado won three home games last week to keep pace right behind Topeka in the South Division and extend its winning streak to five games. Forward Joseph Mottiqua had the game-winning goal in a 4-2 Tuesday night win against Fresno and then again in a 4-3 win on Friday night against Wichita Falls. Three out of Mottiqua’s five goals this season have been game-winners. Forward Nate Sliwinski had five points in the three wins and extended his point streak to five straight games. Since returning from World Juniors, forward Jack Prince has six points in four games. The Tornado travels to Fairbanks for three games against the IceDogs this week beginning on Thursday.
TOPEKA ROADRUNNERS: With an impressive sweep of Amarillo on the road, the RoadRunners maintained their lead in the South Division by one point over Texas and moved their winning streak to six games in a row. The RoadRunners have the most wins on the road (14) of any team in the NAHL and the league’s best road record at 14-4-1. Forward Brian Christie had five points in the two wins over the weekend and now has eight points in his last four games. With leading scorer Michael Hill out of the lineup, forward Justin Hussar has picked up the slack with a point in 19 of his last 21 games. Topeka begins a seven-game homestand this weekend against Wichita Falls.
WICHITA FALLS WILDCATS: The Wildcats dropped their lone game last week - a close 4-3 loss at Texas on Friday night. Forward Jason McAloon had a goal and an assist in the loss, and goaltender Tyler Green stopped 38 of 42 shots. Forward Ryan Frost had his six-game point streak snapped, but still has 11 points in his last 10 games. Since being a season-high nine games over .500 with a 12-3-2 record on Oct. 30, the Wildcats have won just five out of their last 19 games, but still remain in the fourth and final playoff spot - five points ahead of Corpus Christi. The Wildcats have three road games this week, with two in Topeka on Thursday and Friday and one in Amarillo on Saturday.