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Despite limited ice time and a new-look roster, the Los Alamos Hilltopper hockey team will need to be ready for Saturday’s season opener.
The Hilltoppers were scheduled to open their season at home Friday, but the Los Alamos County Ice Rink is still in a state of major disrepair. Instead of hosting their home opener — that and all subsequent games until the rink is ready to go will be pushed back — they will travel for a doubleheader Saturday in the Albuquerque area.
Los Alamos will take on the Eldorado Eagles at 10 a.m. at Outpost Ice Arena, then meet the Cibola Cougars at Blades Ice Arena at 4:30 p.m.
Los Alamos has a pair of different goaltenders this year and both will split time in the season openers. Nolan Bell, a junior, will get the starting nod against Eldorado, while Bryce Templeton, a senior, will be between the posts against Cibola.
By taking on Eldorado and Cibola, the Hilltoppers aren’t exactly easing into the season.
While Eldorado’s Eagles are just 4-5 right now, Cibola’s Cougars are unbeaten and untied through eight contests. The Cougars have scored 21 more goals than Cleveland and La Cueva, the next-highest goal scoring squads, and have given up just 13 goals, better than any of the league’s 12 teams except Taos, which has only played three times heading into this week.
Los Alamos is typically among the last teams in NMIIHL to start the season as it plays in an outdoor rink which requires more frigid temperatures than indoor rinks.
On the young 2011-12 season, Cibola sports the NMIIHL’s two top scorers, Graeme Chiasson and Zach Prigge, who have combined for 32 goals and 20 assists. Zach Frank of Cibola is in fourth place in total points with 16.
This season, the league has expanded to 12 teams. The last team to join the league this season will be the Coronado T-Birds, who actually play out of El Paso, Texas.
Last year, the Hilltoppers advanced to the playoffs. Despite being the No. 2 seed in the tournament — they were near the top of the league standings all season — the Hilltoppers dropped their opening game and had to plod their way through the loser’s bracket before falling to Taos, the eventual state champion.
This year, with Los Alamos’ ice rink out of commission for the foreseeable future — the county said in late October it was hoping to have the rink up and running by Dec. 1 but that is at least partially dependent on whether West Road is open by that time — the team has had limited practice time in preparation for the season.
Los Alamos has been relegated to just one or two days of practice per week at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center in Santa Fe. For a team with just five returning players, that could mean a rough start to the season.
This season, the Hilltoppers have 20 roster players for game days, plus five more they can call up if necessary.
Missing from the squad are Jade Castello, one of the top scorers in NMIIHL last year and goalkeeper Devin Grider, who was among the top backstops.
The Hilltoppers have just five seniors on this season’s roster, three of which are first-year varsity players. Senior Dennis Trujillo is among the most experienced players returning for the Hilltoppers.
Along with that, the Hilltoppers will have a pair of freshmen and four sophomores on their opening day roster.
One of those sophomores, Tyler Thorn, was a big contributor for the Hilltoppers last season and could be a key figure in the early part of the schedule.
Los Alamos also has three female players on its opening-day roster, Chandler Art, Ariane Oro and Orli Shalchter, all juniors. This isn’t unusual for the Hilltoppers, however, as one of their most productive offensive players in recent years, Marina Meneakis, was a female.
Following the two games Saturday, Los Alamos isn’t scheduled to play again until Dec. 2, a game against Cleveland that’s tentatively scheduled for the Los Alamos County Ice Rink. Dec. 3, Los Alamos has another doubleheader scheduled against La Cueva and Cleveland.
Kevin Brake, Steve Schreiber, Adam Martinez
Alexi Appert, soph.
Chandler Art, jr.
Drew Betts, sr.
Nevin Gupta, fr.
Ariane Oro, jr.
Bryce Templeton, sr.
Nolan Bell, jr.
Gabriel Intrator, jr.
Zayne Walterscheid, jr.
Arnoldo Ortiz, jr.
Tyler Thorn, soph.
James Milligan, sr.
Dustin Taylor, sr.
Hudson Davenhall, fr.
Orli Shalchter, jr.
Joe Wermer, jr.
Tanner Kennedy, soph.
Brian Esquibel, jr.
Joe Roback, soph.
Jeff Keys, sr.
Adam Hime, sr.
Sam Ortiz, fr.
JJ Martinez, fr.
Cameron Staples, fr.