Caps By The Numbers: Backstrom With Another Two-Goal Game

In what could be the most complete Caps game in the series, the defending Stanley Cup champions put a six-spot on the Carolina Hurricanes to go ahead three-games to two in the series with a chance to close it out on Monday. Nicklas Backstrom’s hot hand continued with two goals, Alex Ovechkin had a goal and two assists, and Nic Dowd put up a penalty shot goal for the Caps.

It was the first game without TJ Oshie, who is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury. Devante Smith-Pelly, last year’s breakout playoff star, was called up and was the energy boost the Caps seemed to need for Game 5.

When you talked playoffs heroes in DC, there was always one name that came to mind. And he’s the #19 I picked in the Trail to Dale.

Photo by Bruce Bennett

Up until last season, John Druce was a man of Capitals lore. The run that he had during the 1990 playoffs was one that every role player wants to have. While Alex Ovechkin was able to beat his goal total for a single playoff, the short time that John Druce was in Washington was one thing that most Capitals fans shouldn’t forget.

The former second-round draft pick but the Capitals in 1985, Druce plyed his craft in Peterborough of the OHL where he was a serviceable player, with his stats getting increasingly better over his tenure there. The same goes for his time in the AHL with the Binghamton Whalers and Baltimore Skipjacks, which included a 30-goal season with the Whalers. The consistency would continue onto the Caps, where he would split time between Landover and Baltimore. While he was very unassuming in the 1989-90 season, something went very right in the 1990 playoffs, where he was able to create a lot of much for the Caps.

While the first round was the Dino Ciccarelli show, Druce was able to muster three goals in the six-game series. However, Ciccarelli would be injured in the second round against the Rangers, which allowed John Druce to take over offensively. In the five game series, Druce had nine goals and two assists, including a hat-trick in Game Two and OT series-winner in Game Five. Druce would only put up two more goals and one more assist of that playoffs, as the Caps were outplayed by the Boston Bruins in the Conference Finals.

Druce came back to the Caps for the 1990-91 season and would register his only 20-goal and 50-point season of his career. He couldn’t recreate the same magic in the 1991 playoffs, only putting up a goal and assist in 11 games for the Caps, while in the 1991-92 season, Druce had 19 goals and 18 assist, but only one goal in the playoffs. Druce got moved to Winnipeg in the summer of 1992 and then had stops in Los Angeles and Philadelphia before hanging up the skates.

After playing, Druce spent five years doing junior hockey commentary for Rogers Sportsnet before going into financial advising and then co-founding Unique Vehicle Wraps, a company for advertising on cars, trucks, and buses. While some people may forget his playing career overall, I don’t think many will forget his goal-scoring abilities in the 1990 playoffs for the Caps.

Lightning Crashes

Yeah I used a 1994 song title for this blog in 2019, big whoop.

The point is that it’s over for the Tampa Bay Lightning. With 62 wins in an 82 game season, they have yet to record a win in three games to the last seed in the Eastern Conference. Since the first period of Game One, they have only mustered two goals in the next 160 minutes.

Before I go any further– full marks to John Tortorella for amping up his team to go out and take it to the top seed in hockey. There were many questions about if this team would even make it to the playoffs after going all-in at the Trade Deadline, but now it’s looking like it’s finally paying off. The fact they are a win away from completing one of the biggest upsets in playoff history shows this is a team who somehow found chemistry in the last month of the season.

But now to the Lightning– who in the previous four post-seasons have been to the Conference Finals three times and the Stanley Cup Final once. They have had one of the most potent offenses in the league and developed some low-key players– like Brayden Point– into a diamond in the rough. Hell, they just re-signed Jon Cooper to a multi-year extension at the end of March.

How much are they rethinking this after the Bolts developed a case of the Presidents Trophy flu??

But let’s not just use the coach as a scapegoat. No, let’s look at the scoring for the Bolts…or lackthereof. Steven Stamkos– zero points. Victor Hedman– zero points. Nikita Kucherov– no points and was suspended. The aforementioned Point– zero points. Defensively hasn’t been much better with Andrei Vasilevskiy being either bored or tired or both– sporting a GAA around four and a save percentage of .866.

Maybe, just maybe the window for a Cup has been shuttered down. Maybe, this team is just a really good regular season team and then playoffs they morph into the proverbial pumpkin at midnight. Sure does sound like the Caps before last season, this much I know.

Yet, is this a team with the chops to counterattack the possible biggest upset ever with the possible biggest comeback ever?? Well, Vasilevskiy switched pads, so who knows?? But it’s up to Jon Cooper to rally the troops and make it happen. It seems that, however, once they hit the easy button after those first 20 minutes of the series, the team is in a funk it can’t snap out of. You’d think that first game would be a wake-up call to maybe dial into that higher gear they were able to find in the regular season.

Then in Game Two they got trounced on home-ice.

When you have played this many games in a five-year span, you’d have to think your horses are gassed, regardless of the conditioning. You look at the Pittsburgh Penguins right now and they seem to be feeling that same effect in these playoffs as well.

There was going to be a change in Tampa regardless due to the salary cap issues and four of their defensemen turning into UFAs and Brayden Point being an RFA and will probably command an handsome bank for his regular season efforts. As it stands right now, who knows who will stay and who will go– but this team may have a longer time to stew about it when they get eliminated in the next coming days.

Caps By The Numbers: Overtime Orpik

Of all the people to score an overtime winner, Brooks Orpik was probably the last guess. The long-shot did just that, however, as the veteran defenseman took a lovely pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov and launched it over the shoulder of Petr Mrazek to win the game 4-3 and put the Caps up 2-0 in the series. The Caps and Canes traded goals– first two, then one– with Nicklas Backstrom and TJ Oshie having goals, then two for the Canes, then Tom Wilson putting on through Mrazek before Jordan Staal tied it on the power play to send it to overtime. Orpik came off the bench on a change to find a pass and then the back of the net.

The game was not without controversy, as Nick Dowd took a hit from Micheal Ferland, to which Ferland got a match penalty. From looking at it, it’s shocking how the referees gave him a match, as the principle point of contact was to Dowd’s right arm. Nevertheless, the Caps couldn’t score on the major penalty.

With that…we go to win #18 for the Caps in the past two seasons. This time, we’ll look at someone who– when you think Capitals hockey, you think your good buddy Locker.


Craig Laughlin was one of the guys who came over to the Capitals in the Rod Langway trade. A trade that helped the Caps not only with Langway’s defensive game, but also gave the Caps a crop of color commentators in Laughlin and Brian Engblom to choose from when their careers were over.

However, as much as we know Laughlin now as the long-time color guy, many forget what a stand-out he was with the Caps in the mid-80s. Not much of the flash-and-dash, but a serviceable player for that team and was able to pot a lot of goals. Three 20-plus-goal seasons, including 30 in 1985-86; four 50-plus-point seasons, and a bit of a power play specialist with 41 of his 110 goals as a Capitals coming with the man-advantage (37.3%).

The Capitals traded Laughlin in 1988 to Los Angeles and after that season, he went to Toronto for a season, then Germany for another before hanging up his skates and returning to Washington in 1990 to start his career in broadcasting. He’s been a mainstay of the Caps broadcasts since, but it’s not just because of his skills behind the mic do people in Washington enjoy Locker.

Laughlin has always came out in the hockey community to help youth players grow their game. I remember skating at Piney Orchard, the old Capitals practice rink, and see Locker around, skating with rec league teams and giving kids pointers about their game. Laughlin created Network Hockey that focuses on player development for players in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area and helps them get to the next level.

While he was born in Toronto, Craig Laughlin found his home with the Capitals and bridges the generational gap for Capitals fans 29 years after starting his broadcasting career.

Black Bears Season in Review: My Three Wishes for 2019-20

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/ FOHS Media Faction

As it goes, a new season is going to be upon us sooner than we think. The biggest question is how can the Black Bears improve on this past season?? Off the ice, it’s really just keeping the name out there and getting the community as involved, if not more involved that last season. On the ice, however, there could be some interesting things ahead. The core of players the team may want to build around is there– it’s a matter of putting them in a place to succeed that’ll be the task. Couple that with some possible system changes, it could be an interesting look to the Black Bears next year.

This, however, is if I had a magic lamp and was granted three wishes– what I would like to see happen for next season for the Black Bears. It’s not really in any order, either, so you can prioritize them as you see fit.

SPECIAL TEAMS IMPROVEMENT: This should be an obvious one and it’s one that’s almost unfairly harped on, but best to get it out of the way early. The Black Bears had the second most power play opportunities last season (288, only one shy of Johnstown) and yet they were 22nd in the league with a 12.8% efficiency despite having 37 goals with the extra-man. It seemed many times, the power play couldn’t adjust to the tight-check PKs they faced. When they were able to move the puck around– they were a second or two too late to get a good shot off. Once they can nail down a quarterback on the point to pace the play and direct traffic, this will be a better system.

On the penalty kill, the Black Bears had the most times shorthanded at 303, which was 47 more the next highest team. So, first discipline needs to come into account– but that’s another story altogether. Maryland also let up the most power play goals (81) while– to no surprise– ranked last in the league on the PK (73.3% kill rate). It’s as simple as not taking as many penalties, though you can’t really tell what the refs will call in a given situation. To that point, the team needs to not run so much on the PK. Many times you’d have guys running around, out of position from the quick passing, and it leads to guys getting open and scoring. It seems like an easy task, but it does require some work and dedication to the system.

BULKING THE BLUE LINE: Towards the end of the season, the Black Bears only had four natural defensemen rostered for games thanks to injuries. Which seeing guys like George Vonakis and Jude Kurtas up on the team is great for the offensive creation, the lack of defenseman who were brought up for the season is a bit of a head scratcher. This season, the team had ten defensemen of the listed 46 players. That includes Quinn Warmuth (who was traded), Cameron Teamor (who was released), and Colt Corpse (who went back to prep school). So seven guys from the trade deadline on and they were real beat up with Thomas Jarman, Bradley Jenion, and Sean Henry missing time due to bangs and bruises. It should be noted that the team had six goalies through the season.

Defensive call-ups should be a priority after this season, especially with the -103 goal differential the team had this season. When you’re throwing forwards back a defenseman as a fifth defenseman, it’s a rough time. To have only five defensemen in a game– that’s a very rough time. As much as I love having the scorers on the team, the back of the house needs to be taken care of, as well. The tender of Nick Hauck steer it in the right direction, but it is still to be seen.

DEFINITE FIRST LINE: With injuries and all of that, it didn’t seem like there was any constant first scoring line presence. Connor Pooley was a constant with the first line center, but the parts around him always seemed to move and couldn’t get much figured out in ways of offense. The dynamics of a first line is in the roster, but didn’t really seem to get figure out until late and even then, didn’t spark too, too much to change things.

In a perfect world, Jonathan Young stays to reconnect with linemates of Kurtas and Luke Mountain because the synergy and chemistry they had in the last couple weekends was fantastic. Short of that, if Daylon Mannon can come back, he can slot into the Young spot and add another scorer on that line with Mountain having Kurtas the set-up man between the two. Of course, you have to have some kind of second line system to protect that first line so if they’re shutdown, the rest of the team isn’t lost. In that end, have Vonakis between perhaps Bobby Batten and Luke Posner for that secondary scoring.

Those are the three wishes I hope for in the coming season. Of course, it’s not up to me to determine if they are right or not– that’s GM/head coach Clint Mylymok’s decision to what’s best for his group of players moving forward. The biggest thing is that there is some kind of growth– personal or otherwise– from this team. They don’t need to make it to Robertson Cup finals, but to see them improving would be a great happening, even if it’s just being in the playoff hunt late into the season.

Caps By The Numbers: Backstrom’s Two Goals Propel Caps to Start Cup Defense

It was a great start for the Washington Capitals in their first ever Cup defense with three goals in the first period from their top dogs of Nicklas Backstrom (with 2) and Alex Ovechkin– but then almost got people puckered when the Carolina Hurricanes scored two goals in the third period under three minutes apart. Luckily, Lars Eller got that magic going and ended the game to give the Capitals a Game One win by the count of 4-2.

Because of that– they have kicked off the “Trail to Dale” for the Caps by the Numbers Segment. This installment…Mike Ridley.

When it comes to constant scorers for the Capitals in the late-80s, Ridley was one of those guys who brought SEVEN 20-plus goal seasons to the Capitals from his tenure from his trade from the Rangers to the Caps January 1st of 1987. Even in that 40 games of the 1986-87 season, he put up 15 goals in those 40 games he was with the Caps in his early going. On top of that he had 329 assists for the Caps in 588 games, putting to a total of 547 in his seven-and-a-half years.

One of the big years for Ridley was heading into the 1989-90 season when Ridley, along with Dino Ciccarelli and Geoff Courtnall were dubbed the “Goalbusters” by the marketing staff thanks to Ridley’s 41 goals, Courtnall’s 42 goals, and Ciccarelli’s 44 (11 goals in 12 games with the Caps) in the 1988-89 season. The poster was a joy to have in my room because it was cool when I was six.

After his fifth 70-point season in 1993-94, the Caps traded Ridley and a pick to Toronto for Rob Pearson and a draft pick. Ridley found a bit of a scoring touch with the Leafs in his first season (the shortened one) with the Leafs, but was traded to Vancouver in the offseason. An injury shortened season in 1995-96 hampered his production, but he got one final 20-goal season before he went off into the sunset.

Ridley never got as much credit as a star for the Caps that someone like Peter Bondra or Ciccarelli got. He wasn’t that flashy, wasn’t that vocal, didn’t cause a stir– he just went out there and did work, but never got the folk hero status he justly deserves for his tenure with the Caps during one of the peak times for possible Caps success.

While I haven’t been able to find where he’s at, his legacy lives on as an honoured member of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame and has the top scorer trophy of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League named after him, as well as having an endowment award at his alma mater– the University of Manitoba– for the men’s and women’s hockey team. His number is retired by the Bison, as well. Here’s to you, Ridley– maybe the team can honor you like you deserve one day.

Black Bears Season in Review: We Hardly Knew Ye

Kind of hard to believe that just after one season, the Black Bears are graduating players. But, as with junior hockey and trying to build a new team– you need an older player on the roster to help guide the younger guys along for the ride. And even in just one season, these players were able to make a big impact for this team and sow the seeds for the future members of this team.

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/ FOHS Media Faction

First, you have to start with the guy they call Mr. Excessive, the captain Connor Pooley. Pooley took over the captaincy when Quinn Warmuth was traded, but his leadership by example was on display as an alternate early into the season. Pooley has a strong hockey lineage, with his father Perry played in the AHL and IHL after his career at Ohio State, his brother Austin currently plays at Ohio State, his uncle Paul is another Ohio State grad with a cup of coffee in the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets, while his cousin Scott currently plays with Newfoundland in the ECHL after four years at Holy Cross.

Pooley has the hockey IQ and was the primer offensive player for the Black Bears, leading the team with 47 points (17g, 30a) on the year and being able to adapt to playing alongside anyone in most situations on the ice. Also, he’s durable, as only he and Jake Sujishi played all 60 games for Maryland. Pooley was one of the few players who had NAHL experience previous to this year, as he played 42 games with the Lone Star Brahmas in 2017-18. He knows what it takes to make it in the world of hockey and if he keeps applying himself, he’ll go far and was a solid representative for this squad.

Photo Jon Pitonzo/ FOHS Media Faction

Next is Karim Del Ponte, the Swiss import who also had NAHL time before coming to Maryland and understood the grind of the East Division, as he played with the Johnstown Tomahawks last season, while also playing for the defunct Wichita Falls Wildcats the season before. While he wasn’t the flashiest of players on the blue line, Del Ponte’s game was more consistency than anything else. He’s one of the few Black Bears who played more than 10 games for the team to finish with a plus rating in the plus/minus category.

Speaking on consistency, Del Ponte had 12 points each of his three years playing in the NAHL, though he had a personal-high three goals this season. Despite being a bit on the small on the side at 5-foot-11, Del Ponte plays bigger than his size and has solid vision and decision making on the point to know what to do and how to get out of certain spots. With a solid history in his native Switzerland, it’ll be interesting to see if he goes back to Europe or hopes to find a spot in the US college or minor league route.

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/ FOHS Media Faction

Another graduate is someone who wasn’t with the team for long, but Bradley Jenion brought a lot of impact to the team upon his arrival. Jenion brought a big presence to the team with his 6-foot-4 frame on the blue line and his willingness to throw around his body. Granted, that did get him in trouble some with ill-advised penalties, but the big Brit picked up the physical game in the absence of former Black Bear Carter Wade.

However, his short-time already was also cut short due to injury down the stretch, missing about six weeks of action due to an injury, which hampered an already thin defensive corps. It’ll be an interesting thing to see where Jenion goes from here, as he has been in North America for the past five seasons, but also has been part of the England national team program, which could mean he heads back over the pond if there’s no opportunity for him in North America. There’s plenty to his game that teams would take a shine to, which will hopefully get him some looks stateside.

These three guys left their mark on this first team. They were the right trio of players to mentor the young players and maybe lay the groundwork for something bigger down the line with the younger players passing along what they learned from these three to the next crop of Black Bears. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would like to thank Connor, Karim, and Bradley for their contribution to this team.

(NOTE: As we get closer to camp and rosters being kind of finalized, I’m sure I’ll do one of these for other players who left a mark on this team– whether it be the first year or beyond.)

NHL Playoffs 2019: Round One

Since no one asked– here’s my picks and a reason.

TAMPA BAY vs. COLUMBUS
Prediction: Tampa in 5
Reason: As much as I may no believe in the Lightning down the stretch, the Blue Jackets were too hot going into the playoffs to have much left in the tank. Also, Nikita Kucherov will most likely continue to step-up his game in the second season.

BOSTON vs. TORONTO
Prediction: Boston in 6
Reason: We’ve seen this song before and Toronto isn’t that great against Boston in the playoffs. Goaltending is a disaster for the Leafs, while their defense isn’t much better.

WASHINGTON vs. CAROLINA
Prediction: Washington in 6
Reason: Give the Jerks credit, they clawed back to get in this spot. However, the Caps seem to enjoy feasting on the Canes in life. Plus, the Caps want to get back to the Promised Land to hoist the Cup again, so they’ll do whatever it takes to win it again

NY ISLANDERS vs. PITTSBURGH
Prediction: Penguins in 6
Reason: As much as I want to believe in Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss; Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, and a somewhat healthy Evgeni Malkin trump that. Only hope is Matt Murray stinking up the joint

CALGARY vs. COLORADO
Prediction: Calgary in 6
Reason: Goaltending aside, the Flames won the Western Conference for a reason. Especially with Mikko Rantanen just coming back from injury– who knows how effective he will be. Though, some pressure may be on Johnny Gaudreau and friends to make an unexpected run.

SAN JOSE vs. VEGAS
Prediction: Vegas in 5
Reason: Playoffs is about defense and as much as the Sharks have Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson to add some punch offensively, Martin Jones hasn’t been great. The Knights enjoyed a nice taste last year and probably want to make people know it wasn’t a fluke.

WINNIPEG vs. ST. LOUIS
Prediction: St. Louis in 7
Reason: I don’t know why, but the Blues could be a sleeper team to make some noise. They weren’t even supposed to be here, but Jordan Binnington decided that he’d show Jake Allen how to play in net. They’ll be a tough out with JB in net.

NASHVILLE vs. DALLAS
Prediction: Nashville in 6
Reason: With the window for the Preds and all their talent, it could be the perfect time for them to run wild in the West. They probably still feel the sting of the lost to Winnipeg and want to make a statement run at the Cup this year.

Black Bears Season in Review: Making the First Team

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction

Yesterday, I mentioned the community the team built off the ice, especially when the product on the ice was going through some growing pains. Politicians and car salesmen may lie– but numbers never do. Second to last in wins, points, and goal differential. The goals-for and power play was 22nd in the league, the goals-against and penalty kill was last in the league. Defensive zone play was a little shaky with turnovers on breakout attempts, holding the puck too long, or not being able to adapt to a strong forecheck. The growing pains of a first year team.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying, however, as GM and head coach Clint Mylymok did what he could with a team that didn’t have previous experience playing alongside each other. Like most other expansion teams, there’s going to be hiccups when it comes to chemistry and the fact that they had 46 players play in a Black Bears uniform this season also stifles the chemistry of a team. Whether it be due to injury, trades, performances, or otherwise– with a roster in constant flux, hard to have a consistent performance with the shake-ups.

The team started to be built by acquiring Carter Wade and Luke Posner from the Kenai River Brown Bears before the NAHL Draft. In that draft, they went after a USHL player in Steven Agriogianis, though he would never suit up for the team. While Agriogianis didn’t play, plenty of players picked in that draft did don the red, yellow, and black. The likes of Patrick Choi, Luc Salem, Max Borst, Luke Mountain, Marek Wazny, and Thomas Jarman all got selected and played a big role in the first season. Of course, Choi and original captain Quinn Warmuth got traded to bring in Kyle Oleksiuk (EDIT: I wrongly put Christian Brune in the original. Thanks to Colin from the Black Bears for noticing my mistake), but Choi and Warmuth were big part of the first season the time they were there.

However, this was a team that looked solid for a first-year squad in the first few months. They were in a playoff spot for a decent amount of time and were in the hunt until about January, even after going 2-7-1 in November where they played the juggernaut of the Johnstown Tomahawks several times. Even in the last three months where the wins were few and far between– guys came out to play, the new additions were contributing in a big way, while the young players who will be the core for the future got a chance to acclimate themselves to the NAHL style of play.

Everyone played their role, though. I don’t think there were many guys who were passengers on the ride. Everyone had to adapt to the injuries. Hell, the last couple weekends, the team only had four natural defensemen in the line-up with Wazny going back to the point. Mountain turned it on late in the season with eight points (4g, 4a) in his last six games, 25 (6g, 19a) of Jonathan Young’s 36 points came in the 2019 calendar year (27 games). Borst became the go-to guy for the penalty with, racking up three short-handed goals which is tied for third in the entire NAHL. Lest we forget about Connor Pooley (6PPG, 7PPA) and Daylon Mannon’s (5PPG, 5PPA) power play prowess.

In net, it was a mixed bag to start, with projected starter Benjamin Beck being injured, leaving David Tomeo and Tyler Matthews to start the season. Of the two, Tomeo stood out in a big way, really keeping the Black Bears into some games they probably shouldn’t have been. Beck came back, but didn’t live up to expectation and Tomeo took back his spot in net. While his numbers didn’t show it (9-21-6, 1 SO, 3.60 GAA, .901SV%), Tomeo was an anchor in net and then slowly became a mentor to the likes of Andrew Takacs and Anthony Del Tufo later on in the season.

Speaking of Del Tufo, he was one of the many players that came  from Team Maryland and the Mercer Chiefs pipeline and were given opportunities to see if they could make it on the NAHL level. Anthony Del Tufo became part of the tandem with Tomeo later in the season, while standing out amongst the Team Maryland alumni. Connor Redden, Mac Brice, Isaac Mbereko, and Jakub Hasek are others who moved across the dressing rooms from the Team Maryland camp to the Black Bears side; while Jude Kurtas impressed in his short tenure with the Black Bears after playing with the Mercer Chiefs 18U, while Maryland native George Vonakis came up from the EHL’s Philadelphia Jr. Flyers to secure a spot on the team.

Granted, the 16-37-5-2 record isn’t what they wanted and having to end their seasons early wasn’t probably in their plans either– but it probably also wasn’t unexpected for the inaugural club; the Vegas Golden Knights probably stole a lot of that good karma for first year clubs. Yet, it could have been worse and they were in it for a while. It’s a good building block for the years to come and if they can keep even 50% of this team for next season, they’ll be better off for it and continue to grow because of it.

Black Bears Year in Review: Building a Community

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction

The Maryland Black Bears season ended on Saturday much the way their first series of the season ended– with an overtime loss but one that was a thriller. While their record wasn’t the best thing to write home about, the first season of the Black Bears could be considered somewhat of a success off the ice, while the on-ice product does need just a bit of work.

One of the biggest things for an expansion team is building a fan base, building something that will stick and reside with the community. Junior hockey is nothing if there’s no community to stick by it and support it. Through going to the games, the billets who house these out of town players and make them feel comfortable in their experience. It’s also about the ownership and front office being embedded in the community and wanting to grow the team, but also help the area as a whole be better.

The season had plenty of exciting moments to it, with some ups, some downs, and some sideways. From Marek Wazny’s getting the franchise’s first goal three minutes into the first game or Luke Mountain’s late tying goal this past weekend to end the season, there was a lot to talk about. There were viral videos of celebrations, highlight reel goals and saves, and a community built around the area from virtually nothing.

For me, that’s what sticks out amongst this whole season. Later this week, I’ll get to the actual on-ice product, but the fact that for an area that’s not recognized as much as a hockey heavy area– the people turned out to Piney Orchard and the hockey community was brought out in force. The biggest thing the Black Bears did was get the surrounding youth hockey clubs involved. They didn’t just keep to the Nelson Hockey club, but branched out to Bowie, Howard, Baltimore, and more teams from the area. It truly made it feel like the different club teams were united by one common thread in the Black Bears.

To build this fan-base up from scratch in as little time as they did it is truly something and shows that word-of-mouth worked out for people. Maryland closed out the season with a total attendance of 11,118 for 30 home games, which works out to an average of 373 for each game– which may not seem like much; but it ranked them at third in the East Division and for a rink where the capacity is around the 350 mark (I can’t find the “official” capacity), it’s a great turnout.

The team also got it right with having entertainment between the hockey action with some solid intermission happenings, great in-period participation, as well as the fish toss after the first goal and the staple chuck-a-puck after the game. Obviously, the in-game entertainment is as crucial as the game itself for people experiencing the event. They checked all the boxes for what was needed for this team to get people talking about and get some coverage for the team in the community and grow it more.

But from the first series to the last series and all in between, the Black Bears created much more for the state of Maryland when it comes to hockey than just wins and losses. It bonded together a community that usually just stuck to their own areas of the state. It brought together fans and gave them some decent hockey to watch while giving the youth players something to aspire to when it comes to growing their own game trying to get to the NAHL level.

On the Topic Of Fickle Coaching Decisions

Sunday, both Phil Housley and Bob Boughner were fired from their teams only two years into their tenure behind the benches of the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers respectively. We all know coaches are hired to be fired and often they get fired due to the general manager’s inability to build a good roster for them– but only two years behind the bench seems like a mere blink of the eye when you look at the bigger picture.

These are teams that need stability and to have coaches there for that little of a time doesn’t help their cause for that. For Buffalo, post-Lindy Ruff since November 2013– no head coach has survived more than two years. Ron Rolston, Ted Nolan, Dan Bylsma and now Housley have all had short tenures not lasting longer than two seasons. For Florida post-Kevin Dineen after the 2012-13 season the Panthers have gone through Peter Horachek, Gerard Gallant, Tom Rowe, and now Boughner.

Of course, of the two, Housley didn’t have the best of success, only going 58-84-22 in his two years while having a group of young talent at his disposal, but goaltending being a question mark since Dominik Hasek left. Boughner went 80-62-22 while having a talented group that had a top power play, penalty kill, but lacked goaltending. I’m sensing a theme with the goaltending.

Regardless of that, having only a limited time to actually figure out how to coach a team that may not be the top notch squad seems like an impossible task that makes someone destined to fail. Only one year to get situation and then if you can’t get to the playoffs in the second year, it’s done?? I get that there’s a “win now, make money” mentality, but to have this lack of stability– especially for young players on the team– can’t be great from outsiders who teams may be courting in free agency.

It seems to always come to the GMs making bad deals and the owners allowing them to make those bad deals. It hampers any kind of progress most of the times, while giving anyone behind the bench a payday, but a short-term payday. Hell, even college coaches get a full class (four years) to prove their worth. Of course, this isn’t college and some players aren’t willing to adjust and adapt to win. Some players want coaches to fit their styles rather than the other way around. That’s on the GM to get the right chemistry in the room to make them a winner regardless of the coach.

Head coaching is a fickle thing. Most times you’re given a bad roster and tasked to make them into Cup champions. Owners and GM have lofty goals from the onset and these guys aren’t paid enough to have to deal with these lofty goals and deal with some prima donnas that don’t fit the vision they have for the team they want to inherit.

Granted, if they go somewhere else and succeed with the right roster in the right situation, then these GMs and owners will look even more foolish than they have been for letting them go in such a short time.