Taos Ice Tigers, Cougars claw at each other in big-cat battle

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Vulcanized rubber was flying fast inside the yellow snow cave at the Taos Youth and Family Center Dec. 17. Two fancy skating and hard-hitting teams converged and wrangled to prove the better of the big-cat teams in the New Mexico Interscholastic Ice Hockey League (NMIIHL).

Nothing was proved. The game ended in a 5-5 draw.

Though the score did not produce a clear winner in the meetup, it was a victory in many respects for the Taos Ice Tigers, who have struggled mightily with this Cibola Cougar team in the recent past. In the last four meetings before this current match-up, the Ice Tigers have dropped all four games to the Cougars, including a pair of four-point losses and a three-point loss last year, as well as a two-point loss earlier this year. During that span, Cibola outscored the Ice Tigers 25-12 – a 2-1 ratio. The tie helped Taos close the scoring gap a bit.

A scary start saw the Cougars jump out to a quick 2-0 lead off goals from Cibola’s Tylec Kohlrust and Kyle Usiak at 15:08 and 15:00, respectively. Taos was able to stabilize its defenses, however, and by the end of the first period, Taos found itself with a 3-2 lead off two goals from Leandro Richert at the 6:45 and 4:59 marks. Theo Hummel assisted on the first goal and Ysidro Gravelle helped on the second. An unassisted goal by Hummel with 1:29 left in the period gave the Ice Tigers momentum going into the second stanza.

An early second-period goal by Chance Shanks from Cibola to tie the game at three apiece was answered by Gravelle, who scored a goal at the 12:18 mark with assistance from Richert. The Cougars would wrestle the lead and the momentum back from Taos with goals at the 7:20 and 2:37 marks to end the second.

With Taos down by a single point in the third and final period, the Ice Tigers stepped up their aggressiveness as they scrambled to score again. Consequently, Taos was flagged for four penalties – three for interference and one for rough play – in the final period alone. The resulting minutes in the penalty box led to four power plays and 13 shots that goalkeeper Max Mount had to turn away. On the night, Mount was credited with 32 saves off 37 shots on the goal. As time was winding down in the third period, shot after shot was blocked by the Cibola goalie tandem of Grace Hausenfleck and Max Hoffman. It wasn’t until the 5:19 mark when Taos’ Richert found the back of the net from the right wing to tie the score and to complete the hat trick (three goals in a single game).

With the tie, Taos now owns a 3-2-2 record as the team heads into a two-week break for the holidays. In post-game remarks, coach Mark Richert was pleased with the overall effort from his team and the resilience of the Ice Tigers against the talented Cibola squad.

“They’re a strong team,” said coach Richert, who noted that the back-and-forth scoring throughout the game created an action-packed dynamic on the rink. “They have a lot of really fast players who got moving quick to take the early lead. Our guys had to claw their way back, and they did.”

Team captain Jake Danemann was in good spirits after the game and was extremely pleased with the efforts of his teammates. “It was a great hockey game,” said Danemann, who alluded to past performances and letdowns against this Cibola team. “We are really working hard [in practice and in competition] and it’s really starting to show. I definitely think this team is hitting all of its benchmarks.”

The Ice Tigers will be back in action on Jan. 6 as they travel to the City Different to take on the Santa Fe Blue Jackets. The game will be played at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center at 3221 Rodeo Road in Santa Fe. Game time is to be determined.

The next home game is a doubleheader scheduled for Jan. 8, when the Ice Tigers welcome the Coronado T-Birds from El Paso, TX. The first game is slated to begin at 7 a.m.

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