Ice Wolves playoff magic continues in Robertson Cup opening win over New Jersey
A pair of early goals and a near-perfect night by their goalie moved the New Mexico Ice Wolves within two wins of the NAHL title in their first-ever Robertson Cup game on Friday.
BLAINE, Minn. -- Two years ago, the New Mexico Ice Wolves were notable for having one of the best logos in all of sports. And not much on the ice.
Last year the Ice Wolves were notable for playing almost their entire season on the road, due to the state of New Mexico having some of the nation’s most strict COVID-19 restrictions.
In year three of their franchise, the Ice Wolves are suddenly two wins away from a NAHL title. On Friday, in their first-ever Robertson Cup game, the Ice Wolves got a pair of early goals and a collection of sweeping glove saves from their Hungarian goaltender in a 3-1 win over the New Jersey Titans, taking a 1-0 lead in their best-of-three playoff series.
Perhaps most impressive for a team playing on this stage for the first time was their coach looking for places they could improve, even after the biggest win in team history.
“At times I thought we were really good, playing our game with what we can do and what we’re capable of and at times we went away from it a little bit,” said Ice Wolves coach Phil Fox. “That’s what gave the Titans a little bit of momentum. We’ve got to do a better job of sticking to our game for 60 minutes.”
Perhaps the only downer for the Ice Wolves was New Jersey’s goal with 30 seconds remaining that ruined the shutout bid for Beni Halasz, who had 36 saves in the win, and is bound for Northern Michigan next season.
“That’s Beni Halasz. He’s unbelievable. Every night he gives us a chance to win,” Fox said. “Honestly, I couldn’t ask for a better goaltender.”
The Titans were doomed by a slow start that saw them out-shot and trailing after 20 minutes. Beyond that point they controlled the offense and out-shot New Mexico, but couldn’t get a puck over the goal line until the final minute.
“I didn’t think we were particularly hard or fast early on and we let them get on top of us a little bit,” said Titans coach Craig Doremus. “I thought once we got our feet under us and our game we started to do a little bit of what we wanted to. But good effort by them. They’re a good hockey team and we have to be better tomorrow.”
The Titans out-shot New Mexico over the final 40 minutes, and got 30 saves from goalie Andrew Takacs.
Both teams were playing a long way from their home rink, but with a dozen Minnesotans on their team and two more from North Dakota, the Ice Wolves had a huge, noisy contingent of fans on hand which made it feel like a home game, all those miles away from the desert southwest.
Game 2 of the series is on Saturday night in Blaine.
New Mexico 3, New Jersey 1
New Mexico 1-1-1—3
New Jersey 0-0-1—1
First period — 1. NM, Blayde Pogreba 1 (William Howard), 9:19. Penalties — Owen Luik, NJ (equipment violation), 3:36; David Posma, NJ (boarding); Mitchell Becker, NM (roughing), 20:00; Joe Prouty, NM (roughing), 20:00; Rocco Testa-Basi, NJ (roughing), 20:00; Stephen Willey, NJ (roughing), 20:00.
Second period — 2. NM, Jake Keller 4 (Grant Ellings, Becker), 14:30. Penalties — Becker, NM (hooking), 18:06.
Third period — 3. NM, Alex Gomez 1 (Wilmer Svensson), 19:13, (eng). 4. NJ, Ryan Coughlin 5 (Chris Carroll), 19:30. Penalties — Dillan Bentley, NM (hooking), 11:36.
Shots on goal — NM 13-11-9—33; NJ 9-14-14—37. Goalies — Beni Halasz, NM (37 shots-36 saves); Andrew Takacs, NJ (33-30). Power plays — NM 0-of-2, NJ 0-of-2. Referees — Connor Harrington, Austin O’Rourke. Linesmen — Grant Hendrich, Reilly Hickey. Att. — 833.