By Alex Kyrias, NAHL
The winds of change blew through the Land of Enchantment over the summer and the New Mexico Mustangs have a new leader as they enter the 2011-12 season in head coach Jason Kersner. Kersner replaces Bill Muckalt, who left to coach in the NCAA Division I ranks at Michigan Tech. Kersner had been coaching the DC Capitals 18U team, leading the club to a championship in the North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL) last season.
As an expansion team in 2010-11, Muckalt and the Mustangs had their hands full in the South Division and a late start did not help matters. The team posted its first ever franchise win at the NAHL Showcase, but after that wins were hard to come by. New Mexico won just five times in their first 23 games.
However, as the season progressed, the Mustangs started to become a better and more cohesive team. The improvement was largely based on the players becoming accustomed to the level of play in the NAHL and also a testament to Muckalt’s tutelage. New Mexico was also a very young team by NAHL standards. Over half the players on the roster were 18 years of age or younger, something that new head coach Jason Kersner noticed right off the bat. “As someone who was familiar with the situation last season because of the relationship that exists between the NAHL and PHL, I know that Muckalt and the entire organization did a great job,” said Kersner. “They developed a very young team and by the end of the season you could see them starting to get it.”
The second half of the season was when the Mustangs posted some wins that make everyone take notice. In the last two months of the season, New Mexico posted wins over Amarillo, Wichita Falls, Topeka, Texas and Wenatchee, all teams that went to the playoffs in 2010-11. New Mexico lost only twice in regulation during the final eight games of the year, giving them plenty of optimism heading into the draft and into the summer tryout camps.
New Mexico’s sacrifice and hard work last year with their young players will be their gain this season, as they return a host of players who are not only a year older and NAHL veterans, but who all had a significant impact and playing time with the team last season. Heading that list are forwards Patrick Anderson, Adam Chapie, Charles Baldwin, Jimmy Peplinski and Evan Johnston. In that group are the top four scorers from last season in Anderson, Chapie, Baldwin and Johnston. Then there is the 18-year-old Peplinski, who was a part of the first NAHL Top Prospects in Boston and was on pace to have the best season of them all before suffering a broken leg in mid-December.
Defensively, the Mustangs have the fortune of returning Eli Riddle, Connor Kingsbury and Jake Webber. Riddle and Webber each had 17 points last season and Webber had the benefit of playing in the second NAHL Top Prospects event in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Riddle is a tough customer, who also has the benefit of a powerful shot from the point that will lend itself well in power play situations.
In goal, the Mustangs return Lukas Hernandez, who was one of eight goalies that the Mustangs used throughout the 2010-11 season. In the six games Hernandez started towards the end of the season, he went 3-3 and never allowed more than three goals in a game. He finished with a 93.3% save percentage and will be a goalie that Kersner says he will lean heavily on.
The returners aren’t the only ones that have Kersner and the Mustangs excited. New Mexico will have the benefit of having two of the better players that the NAPHL produced last season in forward Jordan Boucher-Gould and defenseman Eric Sade, who were both born in 1994. Boucher-Gould led the PHL in scoring at all levels last year with 43 points and Sade is a Cornell University recruit who played for Kersner with the DC Capitals last season.
New Mexico has all the makings of a playoff contender… up-and-coming coach, experienced and talented veterans, and some exciting rookies. Now, the question is can they put it all together and win on a nightly basis in the South Division? Only time will tell, but don’t be surprised to see them in the mix at the end of the season when they historically play their best hockey.
Next up in the NAHL’s 28 teams in 28 days series, the Odessa Jackalopes.