NA Now: New Mexico Ice Wolves
The NA Now series features a look at all 29 teams in the NAHL for the 2022-23 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 (4th Season)
2021-22 record: 60 GP, 38-17-5, 81 pts. (2nd in the South Division)
2021-22 leading scorer: Dillan Bentley (64 points)
2022 Playoffs: Won the South Division. Lost in the Robertson Cup Semi-Finals to New Jersey, 2-1
2022-23 Division: South
First regular season game: Wednesday, September 14th vs. St. Cloud Norsemen
Home opener: Friday, September 23rd vs. Odessa Jackalopes
The meteoric rise of the New Mexico Ice Wolves continued last season as the team took yet another big step forward on the ice and in the NAHL landscape. On the ice, the team won a franchise-record 38 games and finished 2nd in the South Division during the regular season. In the playoffs, New Mexico played a whopping 13 games, which included winning both the South Division Semi-Finals and South Division Finals in the maximum five games and earning a spot in the 2022 Robertson Cup Championship.
At the Robertson Cup, the Ice Wolves beat the New Jersey Titans in Game 1, 3-1, but would then fall in Games 2 and 3 in overtime and double overtime respectively to see their remarkable run and season end as the Titans went onto raise the Robertson Cup. For his efforts, which included a great season on the ice and 10 NCAA commitments, head coach Phil Fox was honored as the NAHL Coach of the Year. In addition, owner Stan Hubbard was honored as the NAHL’s Executive of the Year, which included increased attendance, hosting the USA Women’s National Team as they prepared for the Olympics, and raising over $53,000 for the Feed My Starving Children organization to provide 220,020 meals for Ukrainians impacted by the war.
“Winning the South Division playoff title was a goal of ours and big step for our organization. Making it to the Robertson Cup was a fantastic experience and I think a great accomplishment in just our third season. The way it ended was tough, but New Jersey was a great team and deserving Champion. It just shows you how close the competition is and the fine line between winning and losing a Championship,” said Fox. “I still can’t believe the support we had all of last season and at the Robertson Cup in Minnesota. It was awesome to see the turnout and the support from our fans, our host families, and our players families has been incredible. We are blessed to play in such and great place and have that kind of support.”
All 10 of the 2001 birthyear players ended the season with an NCAA commitment, which included eight commitments to NCAA Division I schools. “I was proud we advanced all our 2001 birthyear players onto NCAA programs because that is a big priority of ours. They worked hard and all were deserving,” said Fox.
As for the upcoming 2022-23 season, the Ice Wolves are going to have a good amount of returning players and on paper, will open the season as one of the favorites to win the South and make a return trip to the Robertson Cup. “We have a lot of 2002 birthyear players coming back and we are looking to start off 2022-23 where we left off last season. The guys that we have coming back need to take that next step and that’s going to determine how successful we are going to be,” said Fox.
Some of the key names among the returning players include forwards Sully Scholle, JD Metz, Tony Leahy, and Grant Ellings. Scholle was a breakout star during the Robertson Cup Playoffs, putting up 13 points in 13 playoff games and also posting 16 points in 22 regular season games. Metz (17 points), Leahy (20 points), and Ellings (19 points), all proved that they could put the puck in the net. Jeff Hutchinson is the top returning defenseman from a year ago having put up 13 points last season.
In goal, the Ice Wolves will have to find a new go to guy as veteran netminder Beni Halasz is off to play NCAA Division I hockey at Northern Michigan. The battle will include Carsen Stokes, who had a 7-1-1 record in 10 appearances last season New Mexico and highly touted 1st round draft pick Will Craig, who brings good size and experience playing junior hockey the past two seasons in Canada.
“We want to play with pace and be relentless in our pursuit of the puck. You must put your new players into game situations right away and see how they handle it. That’s the only way they are going to learn,” said Fox. “I want us to be just as competitive as last season. I think with the amount of guys we have coming back and the talent and potential of the new players, we feel we can compete for a championship once again.”
Next Up: New Jersey Titans