BUGS BEAT: Mudbugs in shadow of final playoff spot as first-place New Mexico comes to town

By ROY LANG III, Journal Sports

The Shreveport Mudbugs are undoubtedly playing their best hockey of the season. However, despite 12 victories in their past 16 games, the Mudbugs have plenty of work to do in the North American Hockey League’s South Division.

“Let’s be honest: Most of the teams are above us right now,” Shreveport head coach Jason Campbell said.

The Mudbugs dug themselves a significant hole early in the season and remain in seventh place in the South. They have a wonderful opportunity to change that this weekend.

Just two points separate the final playoff spot (fourth-place Wichita Falls) and the Mudbugs as division-leading New Mexico (25-10-3) visits George’s Pond at Hirsch Coliseum tonight and Saturday (the puck drops at 7:11 p.m.).

Shreveport (17-14-5) just completed a two-week stretch against the two best teams in the South (New Mexico and Lone Star) and it’s set to happen again. The only difference will be the settings.

Shreveport took three of four points at New Mexico (Jan 21-22) and then swept the Brahmas at The George last weekend.

Following this two-game set vs. the Ice Wolves, the Mudbugs will head to North Richland Hills, Texas, to meet the Brahmas for a pair of games Feb. 11-12.

“We play two really good hockey teams and nothing changes — just the pressure mounts a little more,” Campbell said. “You just have to keep it going. If you don’t bring your best, you’re going to be in really big trouble.”

The team’s furious rush toward a playoff spot has coincided with the turnaround of goaltender Devon Bobak.

After losing eight of his first 11 games this season, the Northwood, Ohio, native has been on a tear. He’s won 11 of 14 starts and pitched a shutout four times (he owns a league-best five shutouts this season).

Bobak has vaulted to second in the NAHL in goal-against average (1.98) and is fourth in save percentage (.922). The goalie he’s likely to face this weekend, Beni Halasz, ranks first in goals-against (1.90) and third in save percentage (.930).

“If you want to win big-time hockey games, you need to have a big-time goalie making saves for you,” Campbell said.

The Mudbugs and Ice Wolves have split four meetings this year. The red-hot teams have both won five of their past six games, with the only loss being in a shootout – to each other.

“You just can’t look back,” Campbell said. “All we can do is keep trying to win hockey games and getting better every game. If we get some help (in terms of the standings) within the league, that’s obviously very welcome.”

New Mexico at Mudbugs

Tonight and Saturday, 7:11 p.m.

George’s Pond at Hirsch Coliseum

Photo courtesy of SHREVEPORT MUDBUGS