By ROY LANG III, Journal Sports
A postseason just wouldn’t be complete without an elimination series featuring the Shreveport Mudbugs and Lone Star Brahmas. The North American Hockey League’s 2023 playoffs have produced just that. Tonight, the teams begin a best-of-5 series at the NYTEX Sports Centre in North Richland Hills, Texas.
“Friday can’t get here fast enough,” Mudbugs head coach Jason Campbell said.
This marks the fourth postseason meeting between the squads since the Mudbugs entered the NAHL in 2016. Three previous series (Shreveport leads 2-1) have produced 14 games (both teams own seven victories).
Lone Star eliminated Shreveport in the first round last season with an overtime goal in Game 4 on George’s Pond at Hirsch Coliseum. Since 2016, the teams have met in the regular season 64 times (Lone Star leads, 33-31).
“I’m sure there are a couple (of secrets) up (Brahmas head coach Dan Wildfong) Fonger’s sleeve and maybe a couple up (Mudbugs associate head coach Michael Hill) Hilly’s sleeve,” Campbell said. “I don’t have any tricks. You have to be prepared for anything, but you know it’s going to be a good, hard battle – probably going to be a great series.”
It’s no surprise, given the history of these organizations, the matchup is labeled by defense and goaltending.
Five goaltenders in the entire NAHL played at least nine games and boasted a sub-2.00 goals-against average. Four of them are featured in the Mudbugs-Brahmas series.
Shreveport’s Simon Bucheler led the league in wins (28) and posted an NAHL franchise-record six shutouts. Teammate Nikola Goich was 5-1-2 with a 1.25 GAA this season. Lone Star’s Arthur Smith led the league in goals-against (1.59) and shutouts (seven), while teammate William Gramme matched his 18 regular-season victories.
“One goal might be enough to win a hockey game,” said Campbell, whose team won five of the eight matchups with Lone Star this season. “That’s a lot of pressure and it’s exciting.”
Bucheler and Smith have become friends since last year’s playoff matchup.
“I hate to say it, but he’s a really good guy,” Bucheler said. “There will be some friendly competition. He’s a good guy, but I’m trying to beat him.”
Smith plays the puck outside his crease as much as any goaltender the Mudbugs have faced. Wildfong often feels like he has a sixth skater on the ice.
“Smith has got us three or four or five goals this year,” Wildfong said. “He sees the ice, but his main goal is to stop the puck.”
Smith posted five assists last season and another one this year.
“He’s good at (playing the puck), I have to give him credit,” Bucheler said. “He’s calm with the puck. He has an assist against me, so I can’t knock him.”
Campbell said the Mudbugs must have different game plans depending on who’s between the pipes for Lone Star.
The Brahmas boast home-ice advantage after clipping Shreveport on the final weekend of the regular season. Shreveport’s loss to seventh-place El Paso allowed Lone Star the opportunity to steal the No. 2 seed.
“You always want home-ice, but we’ve won in their building and they’ve won in our building,” Wildfong said. “When you think home-ice is going to win the (freaking) series, it doesn’t. It’s going to be who wants it (freaking) more and who takes advantage of their opportunities.”
Shreveport and Lone Star boast the best goaltending tandems in the NAHL.
Simon Bucheler, 28*-7-2, 1.92 GAA, .922 save pct., 6 SO
y-Nikola Goich, 5-1-2, 1.25 GAA, .946 save pct., 1 SO
Arthur Smith, 18-6-4, 1.59 GAA*, .928 save pct., 7 SO*
William Graeme, 18-9-4, 1.99 GAA, .919 save pct., 2 SO
y-didn’t play enough minutes to qualify for NAHL leaders
South Division semifinal
Lone Star (2) vs. Mudbugs (3)
Game 1: Friday, 7:30 p.m., NYTEX Sports Centre, North Richland Hills, Texas
Game 2: Saturday, 7:30 p.m., NYTEX Sports Centre
Game 3: April, 28, 7:11 p.m., George’s Pond at Hirsch Coliseum
Game 4 (if necessary): April 29, 7:11 p.m., George’s Pond
Game 5 (if necessary): May 1, 7 p.m., NYTEX Sports Centre
NAHL playoff matchup history (Mudbugs lead 2-1)
2018, South Division Final, Mudbugs win 3-2
2019, South Division semifinal, Mudbugs win 3-2
2022, South Division semifinal, Brahmas win 3-1
Contact Roy at email@example.com or on Twitter @roylangiii