Mudbugs face NAHL South’s best, thin air in race to become playoff contender

By ROY LANG III, Journal Sports

On paper, this weekend’s series between the Shreveport Mudbugs and New Mexico Ice Wolves … well, the Mudbugs shouldn’t even take a peek at that.

New Mexico offers a daunting task. Not only do the Ice Wolves (22-10-2) top the North American Hockey League’s South Division standings, they lead in goals scored (113) and goals-against (86).

Adding to the challenge for Friday and Saturday games – the venue. The Outpost Ice Arenas in Albuquerque, New Mexico, sits more than a mile above sea level.

“(The altitude) affects me walking across the ice (to the bench),” Mudbugs head coach Jason Campbell joked. “I remember playing Colorado years ago and almost having panic attacks on the bench. If you get stuck out there too long, you’re just trying to catch your breath.”

Two games beyond the midpoint of the 2021-22 season, the Mudbugs (14-14-4) aren’t literally in must-win mode as they aim to climb into the South Division race, but this weekend could certainly shape the stretch run.

Shreveport recently posted a 5-3 mark on its recent eight-game homestand, including a split with New Mexico in the only two meetings this season. The Mudbugs capped the home games by outscoring Corpus Christi 9-1 on George’s Pond at Hirsch Coliseum last weekend.

“A bad weekend to a great weekend and now what’s going to happen this weekend?” Campbell said. “We need to be dialed in mentally and ready for a for a tough, tough weekend in New Mexico.”

This weekend offers a matchup of uber-hot goaltenders. In the sweep of the Rays, Shreveport’s Devon Bobak saved 36 of the 37 shots he faced in the two games and was a perfect 19-for-19 in NAHL-best fourth shutout of the season on Saturday.

However, the dazzling performances weren’t enough to earn South Division Star of the Week. New Mexico’s Beni Halasz took that honor by turning away 63 of 65 shots he faced against Amarillo.

The Hungarian improved his record to 17-6-3 this season with an NAHL-best 1.98 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage (second in the league).

“I’ve always liked their goaltending, even in years past,” Campbell said. “You know the goaltending is strong. They’re a fast team that can score in bunches they’ve got some really good depth up front and their D-corps is really solid.”

“They are a really well-rounded team. They can play physical, they can play skilled, so we’re in for a heavy, heavy battle. We have to go in there ready to play our best hockey if we want to do any damage this weekend.”

And remember, the games aren’t played on paper.

Mudbugs at New Mexico
At Outpost Ice Arenas, Albuquerque, N.M.

Friday, 8:30 p.m. (CST)

Saturday, 7:30 p.m. (CST)

NAHL South Division standings

New Mexico (22-10-2), 46 points
Lone Star (18-9-6), 42
Odessa (19-12-3), 41
Amarillo (19-12-2), 40
Wichita Falls (15-13-6), 36
Shreveport (14-14-4), 32
Corpus Christi (15-18-2), 32
El Paso (13-17-3), 29