When the NAHL announced in April 2018 that they were expanding to Odenton, Maryland– I was excited, but also apprehensive. In fact, I was wrong about a lot of things that they were going to do in the infancy of that team– like the name and inclusion of Natty Boh. However, as time goes and proves me wrong– I’m happy that I was wrong. Spending time around the team this week and at a home game after a season-and-a-half reporting from afar, this team couldn’t be in better shape with what they’ve laid out from the beginning of the team.
The experience of the week was nothing short of tremendous both in a fan experience side of things with participating in intermission festivities to the professional side of thing with access to players and coaches, as well as helping with recaps of the intermission and getting some time in the booth with play-by-play announcer Alex Utano. The open-arms that the Black Bears welcomed Jen Conway (@NHLHistorygirl) and myself was great. It shouldn’t be such a surprise considering how well they take care of Jon Pitonzo as our official podcast photographer.
Thursday morning, Jen and I went to practice and immediately had Black Bears captain Logan Kons tap on the glass and give a head-nod acknowledgement of us being there– which is a stand-up act in and of itself, but more on that later. Following that, communications director Colin MacCarthy came over to welcome us and following practice, team president Robyn Remick came up to us to make sure that we were well taken care of and offered us a skate in the now-reality Rink Two, which we took her up on.
During the, Colin and I worked out who I wanted to talk to for the week– which turned out to be not only a podcast; but the weekly Black Bears’ Report they put out on their social media streams. Following that, Robyn, Colin, Jen, and myself sat up in the Black Bears war room and talked about things inside and out of hockey. It was very good time hearing stories of Robyn’s past at ESPN and the different things she’s experienced when in the sports lifestyle. We took our leave later to let them get to work and have us adventure on our vacation.
Friday night was a great night, not just because of the Black Bears win, but also just being able to experience the game first-hand. The in-game production, coordinated by Harrison Hascoe, was top-notch and very well executed to keep the fans involved during stoppages in play and during the intermission– even if it means putting two podcasters in a grueling obstacle course that is not meant for two former athletes with dwindling cardio. With my time up in the HockeyTV booth with Alex Utano and cameraman Will (whose last name I didn’t get or forgot– sorry Will) was also awesome, as it had been over 15 years since I last called a hockey game.
Also on Friday night, it was meeting up with billet parents who I have interacted with online before, but have never met face-to-face– with the exception of Bethany and Brian; who came to North Dakota in the summer. It’s always great to meet those people behind the scenes to help keep these players in a family lifestyle while they’re away from home.
While Saturday night was a loss, the production and energy in the arena was amazing and kept everyone invested in the game throughout. Especially after the game, where autographs for fans in attendance happened; which happens win or loss– which is a nice connection with these players to the fanbase and the community as a whole. Also, before the game, a reception was held beforehand, as it was Swedish Heritage Night. Delicacies were made and brought from Sweden that season ticket holders and staff partook in with the families of defenseman Hampus Rydqvist and Filip Jakobsson, as well as Lars-Erik Tindre from the Swedish embassy. Another way that the team connects the fans with the team and also making those from the team feel a little closer to home, if only for a night.
Not only that, but seeing people I haven’t seen in a while– like my former teammate Kevin, meeting people who know my former teammates and who I interact with online– Mark; meeting fellow DMV area hockey backers– like Derek of Chesapeake Regional Hockey Review and his son; plus meeting a podcast listener whose name I didn’t get, but was wearing a Patrick Kane US Hockey jersey– so shoutout to you PK88 listener. It was a great coming together of the hockey community in the region.
Back to Logan Kons for a second. I mentioned earlier about him saying hi when Jen and I got there– but after that practice, he formally said hi to us and we chatted and after the game Saturday he came up and thanked me for coming out and asked when I’d be back in the area. I noticed that Friday, as well, with Kons going up to fans, billet families, player’s families, and talking to them and thanking them for coming out. That’s the mark of a true leader when the off-ice commitments are as strong as the on-ice commitments. If there’s someone to look at when it comes to all-around good person in hockey– Kons will be tops on that list for me.
The entire experience was great, the staff there from Robyn to Colin to Harrison to Alex to Will to Herb the PA Announcer to Mitch the Media Intern to the Ice Crew to everyone was top rate, very welcoming and open, and willing to take time out to make things right if there were problems to make sure that they are running a top-notch program on and off the ice.
If you have the chance to make it out to a Black Bears game, I implore you to do so. This is a team that cares about the community from the president to the players and everyone in between. They all make sure the experience you have there is one you will want to come back to and one that will last in your mind. Thanks to everyone who welcomed Jen and I to the rink and it’s something we’ll be sure to return to hopefully sooner than later.