Getting a call-up to the NAHL’s New Mexico Ice Wolves was an opportunity Alex Gomez wanted to make the most of two weekends ago.
After skating for the NAHL’s newest franchise, he was asked by the team staff to be a permanent member of the team's forward corps for the duration of the 2019-20 season.
“I had a really good showing at the USHL camp for Tri-City from which coach (Kenny) Brooks recommended me to several of the NAHL coaches with the intent to put on a few pounds and develop another year,” said Gomez, a 2001 birth year from Parker. “After talking with some coaches, I decided to go to Shreveport’s camp. I made it all the way through and was on the roster up until Oct. 19 when the coaches and myself decided that due to the number of ‘99s on the team that for development, it would be best to go back to 18U (with the Colorado Thunderbirds) so I could get some play time.
“After being released from Shreveport, a few coaches from the NAHL had contacted coach (Kelly) Hollingshead and myself about possibly skating with them. After being home for a week, I was asked by coach (Keenan) Kelly of the NM Ice Wolves if I could come down and skate a couple games on Nov. 1-2 as they had several injuries and a suspension. I went down, felt I played well, and they asked me to stay.”
Accepting the offer was a no-brainer, according to Gomez.
“From the moment I arrived in Albuquerque, I felt welcomed and appreciated,” Gomez said. “From the owner, the coaches, the equipment manager, the rink staff, just everyone involved with the organization had so much energy and positivity. The owner (Stan Hubbard), to me, seems to be going all out from renovations at the rink, a new bus for the team, a new workout facility next to the rink, just everything he seems to do is top notch. Coach (Phil) Fox and Coach Kelly seem to be working hard to field a competitive team.”
Carter Rapalje grew up playing and learning the game of hockey in Vermont and Florida before moving to Colorado four years ago to play AAA hockey for the Colorado Rampage.
Next season, he looks to be on the move again as the 2001 birth year forward recently signed an NAHL tender with the Amarillo Bulls and played a game with the Bulls on Nov. 1.
“Amarillo invited myself and a few of my teammates to come down and practice,” said Rapalje. “I felt right at home with the team and their style of play. The coaching staff is amazing. The facility and fans are top notch.”
“This is another step in Carter's hockey journey,” added Rampage Tier I director Luke Fulghum. “We are certain he will continue to lead and set standards that will lead to him being an excellent hockey player and more importantly, a person of high character.”
Rapalje said he is already familiar with a couple players on the Bulls, skating with Ty Black last season with the Rampage and with Oliver Bezick, Jack Mesic and Joshua Burke in Florida.
The month of October was a great one for the Chippewa Steel and forward Connor Szmul, who was recently named the NAHL Forward of the Month.
The third-year, 20-year-old veteran forward posted 12 points in just six games during the month as the Steel went undefeated in October. The native of Castle Rock recorded at least a point in all six games and recorded seven goals and five assists during the month.
Those point totals included five assists in an 8-2 win over the Kenai River Brown Bears on Oct. 4 and multi-point games in wins over the Springfield Jr. Blues on Oct. 11 and the Janesville Jets on Oct. 26.
“I think it has really helped us to have a veteran group to begin the season and we have had a lot of confidence since the start of the season, which has allowed us to win hockey games,” said Szmul. “I made an emphasis to work really hard in the offseason. Knowing that this is my final year of junior hockey, I pushed myself as hard as I could to get ready for it and am continuing to do so during the season. I want to make the most of this season and try and get better every day.
“Ultimately, I am just hoping to help my team win a Robertson Cup and hopefully make an NCAA Division I commitment.”
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