History could offer hope tonight as Mudbugs face elimination at home

BEST OF THE BEST:  Mudbugs’ stalwart Simon Bucheler has been chosen NAHL Goaltender of the Year. (Photo by CHRISTI LANG, Journal Sports)

By ROY LANG III, Journal Sports

The Shreveport Mudbugs aren’t in a good spot. That’s undeniable. However, the franchise has been unusually successful with its back against the wall, so could they put the 2022-23 season obituary on ice? At least for a while?

The Mudbugs will attempt to ward off elimination tonight at home in Game 3 of the North American Hockey League South Division Final. The Oklahoma Warriors, the best team in the league during the regular season, own a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-5 series and aim to complete the sweep when the teams face off at George’s Pond at Hirsch Coliseum beginning at 7:11 p.m.

Although the first two games were tied at 1 after 40 minutes of play, Oklahoma dominated both third periods and outscored Shreveport 7-0 to claim 4-1 (Game 1) and 5-1 (Game 2) victories.

“We’re going to be harder to play against this weekend,” Mudbugs forward Niklas Miller said.

Don’t expect the home team to roll over tonight. Since entering the NAHL in 2016, the Mudbugs are 10-3 faced with elimination, including a sparkling 6-1 record at The George.

“We’ve been here before,” Mudbugs head coach Jason Campbell said. “It is a big deal, there is pressure and all that, but this is why we play the game. You’re going to be up in some series and you’re going to be down – that’s life as well. We have to make sure we can handle it mentally and physically. All we can do is prepare ourselves as best we can and execute the game plan.”

If Shreveport wins Game 3, the teams will be back in action on George’s Pond on Saturday.

“You never want to go into a series thinking about being in a hole, or being ahead for that matter,” Mudbugs captain Garrett Steele said. “You have to come to the rink every day with the mission to beat the other team.

(The guys who will age out this year), we still have an opportunity to make sure it’s not the end this weekend. We’re blessed to have that chance.”

No matter what happens this weekend, Shreveport made its mark on the league’s postseason awards.

Simon Bucheler became the first Mudbug to earn NAHL Goaltender of the Year honors. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Saint-Laurent, Quebec, native led the league in wins (28). He posted the second-best goals-against average (1.92) and a solid .922 save percentage. He was second in the league with six shutouts and is committed to play NCAA Division-I hockey for Mercyhurst University.

Shreveport picked up a second major award when Hayden Nichol earned the NAHL’s Community Service Award.

Nichol led the team in the “Read Across America” campaign, reaching 32 schools and more than 4,700 kids in a three-day reading marathon in the area.

Nichol often surprised young fans by attending birthday parties and helped organize a surprise visit to a Special Olympic softball game to support Mudbugs honorary coach, Chris Layne. Nichol visited the Shriners Children Hospital to pass out stuffed animals and toys from the annual teddy bear toss game. The visit inspired him to shave his head for St. Baldricks LSU Health children cancer awareness.

His community outreach totaled more than 100 hours.

Mudbugs vs. Oklahoma

(Warriors lead best-of-5 series, 2-0)

Game 1: Oklahoma, 4-1

Game 2: Oklahoma, 5-1

Game 3: Tonight, 7:11 p.m., George’s Pond at Hirsch Coliseum

Game 4 (if necessary): Saturday, 7:11, George’s Pond

Game 5 (if necessary): Sunday, 7:15 p.m., at Oklahoma

Contact Roy at roylangiii@yahoo.com or on Twitter @RoyLangIII