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.