UNM hockey to host Nuclear Shootout at outdoors rink in Los Alamos. 'It's like nothing else I've ever played,' coach says

Jan. 11—It's hard to put a new spin on an old classic. Take outdoor hockey, for instance.

What started with simple games of shinny on small backyard ponds or sprawling sheets of lake ice has morphed into NHL games hosted in monolithic football stadiums or storied baseball diamonds. If you can think of a venue to host a game, it's probably been done — or at least there's a plan to do so.

Even still, Logan Lemirande said there isn't much like getting out to Los Alamos County Ice Rink for a game.

"You're right in the middle of the mountains, almost in a valley," New Mexico club hockey's head coach told the Journal. "And you see trees everywhere, you gotta deal with shadows and all that stuff. The elements — everything.

"It's fantastic. It's like nothing else I've ever played (at)."

And that's a big reason why Lemirande's team is excited to take the ice in Los Alamos this weekend for the Nuclear Shootout, UNM club hockey's outdoor invitational. Hosted on New Mexico's only NHL regulation-size outdoor ice rink, the Lobos are set to host fellow ACHA Division III opponents Air Force, Arizona State and Missouri State this weekend for the first rendition of the tournament since 2020.

Lemirande, UNM's third-year head coach, is set to experience his first Nuclear Shootout behind the bench. But after seeing games in the 2019 Shootout and a men's league tournament held in Los Alamos, he's more than sold on hosting at a rink that almost feels like it was dropped "right in the middle of nature" and the unique sensation it provides.

"It's absolutely gorgeous. It's phenomenal," he said. "When you first get there, you kind of skate around, and (you're) looking around at the trees and the view of everything, just kinda (taking) it all in. It's just a ton of fun."

It doesn't hurt that it's one of the more competitive fields the Lobos will play this season. Not only is Air Force (12-0-0) one of UNM's primary rivals over the past five years, they're the No. 7 team in the most recent ACHA Division III rankings with Brett Oberle (43 points), Mackenzie Miller (41) and Jason Kleinhaus (32) the top-three scorers in the division.

Factor in No. 13 Missouri State (15-7-1) and an Arizona State (5-7-1) squad that UNM (8-7-1) split with on the road in October and it's a tall task for a team that came back a week before the spring semester started to try to avoid a second-half slump. Lemirande was clear, though: they're not looking to simply be gracious hosts.

"We really wanted to make sure that we made it a point to be ready to go for this tournament," he said. "We really want to have a good showing and be competitive. Our goal is to win it and be competitive."

Getting to that point, Lemirande said, will require a more refined defensive effort. While UNM hasn't struggled to put the puck in the net (Albuquerque native Zachary Ganshaw is 11th in ACHA Division III scoring with 20 points), the Lobos still show their youth on the defensive end with 51 goals allowed on the season.

"At this level, if you're not ready to go and you're not committed, they're going to put it in the back of your net right away," Lemirande added. "A lot of guys, maybe they come from a Triple A team where they were the best player, or a high school team where they were the best player and they would go end-to-end — they were the main guy on their team. And so a lot of young guys when they come into the collegiate level or the junior level, they have to learn how to play hockey within a system and learn to play hockey with other players that are just as good as they are.

"That takes time for some of them and it takes time for them to really commit to those small area plays, stops and starts, being disciplined with their sticks. Things like that, they can get away with at a lower level, because of their competition or because they're the guy."

But with Lemirande considering the last week of practice their best all season and close results against a top squad in Air Force — UNM nearly beat the Falcons in overtime on Oct. 20 before a Lobos' goal was waived off with two seconds remaining — UNM will get the chance to put a new spin on its season.

"We've packed a tournament full of, at worst, top 20 teams and at best, top 10 teams," Lemirande added. "And it should be a really fantastic competition."

Right in the middle of nature, too.