NA Now: New Mexico Ice Wolves
The NA Now series features a look at all teams in the NAHL for the 2021-22 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. NA Now looks into each NAHL team including interviews with all the head coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the season, including taking a look at their strengths as a team and thoughts on the league. It will also take a look back on last season and how each team fared and what they accomplished.
New Mexico Ice Wolves
Head Coach: Phil Fox (3rd Season)
2020-21 record: 56 GP, 21-30-5, 47 pts. (5th in the South Division)
2020-21 leading scorer: Cole Hanson (60 points)
2021 Playoffs: Did not qualify
2021-22 Division: South
First regular season game: Wednesday, September 15th vs. Kenai River Brown Bears
Home opener: Friday, October 15th vs. Corpus Christi IceRays
Another one of the teams in the NAHL last season who took the ‘no matter what’ approach was the New Mexico Ice Wolves. It was clear from the start of the season that playing home games in their home arena in Albuquerque was not going to happen because of the restrictions the state had for the foreseeable future. However, the Ice Wolves forged ahead, playing all ‘home’ games from October through March as the NYTEX Sports Centre. By the end of the season, the Ice Wolves were out of the playoff picture, but they maintained their resiliency and were playing as good as anyone at the end of the 2020-21 regular season.
After finally returning home to the Outpost Ice Arenas in April and May, the Ice Wolves put together an 8-2-1 record in 11 home games against the likes of the Wichita Falls Warriors, Lone Star Brahmas and the eventual Robertson Cup Champion Shreveport Mudbugs. Combine that with the eight NCAA commitments the team had in its second season in the NAHL, and the attitude at the end of a tough season was very optimistic.
“It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. New Mexico was one of the more restrictive states during the pandemic, so we weren’t left with many choices. Our focus was to keep the guys on the ice and continuing to play and develop, so I give a lot of credit to our owner Stan Hubbard for making that commitment to our organization,” said Ice Wolves head coach Phil Fox, who is entering his third season as the team’s head coach. “I was proud of the guys for adapting and playing through with some success. I think one of the biggest challenges with being away from home for that long was keeping the guys engaged and motivated. I think it says a lot about the way we were able to compete against some of the top teams in the South the final two months of the season. I think it also was an indicator of how important home ice is in the NAHL.”
The 2021-22 season begins with optimistic anticipation for the Ice Wolves, who will now be a part of an 8-team South Division, which includes the new-look Amarillo Wranglers, the return of the Corpus Christi IceRays, and the addition of the expansion El Paso Rhinos, who will now be the Ice Wolves closest opponent. “The South Division was already full of heavy hitters and tough enough as it is, so adding those additional teams in the mix is just going to make it more competitive. We are a team that is really hungry to make the playoffs for the first time, so it will be a good challenge for us because every game is going to be a battle,” said Fox.
The 2021-22 roster will be full of veterans and returners, especially on the defensive side of the puck. Along the blueline, the Ice Wolves return five veteran defensemen, including Jeff Hutchinson, Brandon Holt, Mitch Becker, Joe Prouty, and Jimmy Jurcev. The Ice Wolves also picked up 19-year-old Swedish defenseman Wilmer Svensson and 20-year-old Swedish defenseman Gustav Blom, who both played in the top Swedish junior league this past season. With the amount of returners we have coming back, it gives us some additional excitement for the upcoming year, but it also comes with higher expectations. Defensively, we should be really strong. We just have to worry about ourselves and play our game and let the games play out,” said Fox.
New Mexico also returns both goalies from a season ago in Beni Halasz and Owen Parker. Halasz, 20, had a winning 12-8-2 record in 23 games played last season, which included a .912 save percentage. Parker, 19, was named the South Division Star of the Week twice last season and posted an 8-9-1 record in 19 games played, which included a .911 save percentage and an appearance in the 2021 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament. Up front, the team has returners in forwards Nikolai Dulak (34 points), Dillan Bentley (23 points), and Alex Gomez (18 points). Dulak was named to the South Division All-Rookie team in 2020-21.
“I think our number one goal as a team is to get to the playoffs. We have enough guys with experience that know the ins and outs of the South Division and what it takes to be successful. It is time we make our mark in this division and become a team that is successful every year. I also want our guys to have the opportunity to develop and play at the next level, so we want to increase that advancement success as well,” said Fox.
Next up: North Iowa Bulls