With the idea of the NHL coming back around July or whatever and so many weird scenarios being thrown out there, the location(s) of the events are going to be crucial. Of course, the idea of a big, vacant arena is a trippy situation that’ll border on the absurd to open up the venue when getting no revenue out of it.
Sure, there’s going to be some players weary of it because the training facilities aren’t going to be up to snuff with the exception of the main weight room area, but why not think about going to the practice rinks in order to play these games?? It seems like something that’ll won’t really cost that much in comparison to the actual giant arena.
There’s not going to be fans in attendance, thus not going to be need for much arena staff, outside of bare bones security; the big time presentation on ice isn’t needed– just speakers. A temporary set-up for the media could be put up if need be, because most practice rinks don’t have the control center for big money productions. The rinks are all the same in dimensions and really the only thing that may not be up to snuff could be the system that holds the nets on– but you’d hope that’s been addressed when they built the facility knowing that a NHL team would be doing their training there and you want the game-experience there to not really mess up a rhythm.
Looking at all angles, it only makes sense because it’ll be low overhead when you look at going practice rink versus the big arena. It’ll already be unique in the situation we’re in right now, so why not double and triple down on the situations, while saving a few bucks for not having to open the big stage when not making any income from it at all. Just a thought to save some kind of money– which could really help everyone in the end going forward.
According to Pierre LeBrun, the start of the 2020-21 season will be in December; accounting for the idea that the NHL season will resume in July like some people are hypothesizing. LeBrun said that the league would hope to have a full 82-game slate for the squads, but is there a chance that isn’t feasible.
It’s hard for everyone right now being without entertainment as their cooped up in the house in this Schrodinger world we’re living in, but you also have to look out for common sense. Money is going to be lost by the NHL because the odds are good that no fans will be allowed for whatever’s left for the 2019-20 season. Yet, the biggest thing to look at is the idea that players will be very worn out from the summer hockey and then however short the offseason is for them and then right into the next season in December. The start and stop aspect probably isn’t the most ideal, especially when the goal is a 82-game affair and everything that would give breaks would be scrapped to get back on schedule for everyone.
Now, of course, there’s plenty of red-tape that the league will need to get through in order to go through with their plan of finishing the current season. The border of Canada and the US is closed, so teams there would need to figure out how the hell to get out and play if they indeed get this whole thing started up again. Then you have to hope the proper testing is in place because one setback could ruin the entire rest of 2019-20, despite what Bill Daly may have said. You also have to wonder how keen the players are to fit all those games in what looks like it could be an 11-month window.
As much as I miss live hockey, the idea that we need to push for it to come back in the most uncertain of times seems very short-sighted, the business aspect be damned. What’s gained by getting back on the ice sooner than needed?? What’s gained by further pushing the players’ bodies by keeping the schedule for next year the same, while giving them much less off-time for said schedule and taxing their bodies even more?? Is it worth rushing things for this season and then condensing next season in order to not lose as much money?? These are the questions that need to be asked when you look at the entire scope of things.
If the NHL is rushing back just to get back, then it could be a high-risk, high reward situation. If it pays off, they look like geniuses for getting back when they did and plotting out things to get back on track by the 2021-22 season. If it stumbles and turns out to be the worst thing to happen to hockey– they might not hear the end of it. I don’t envy those making these decisions, but they can’t make it in haste just because we’re all anxious and bored with no live sports.
The NAHL is doing something pretty solid. They’re actually simulating the Robertson Cup Playoffs on XBox with NHL18 and using that as a thing to crown a virtual Robertson Cup champion. They modded the jerseys to somewhat resemble the team jerseys and use the player’s names on there.
With the whole world going to Esports, the way they’re going about this to give the fans something and maybe some closure to their season is fantastic. It kind of answers the “what-if” for some people, even though there are some teams I’m sure a little bitter they didn’t get into the playoff position with uneven games and what-not.
But the bitterness should be subsided– says the guy who’s team got into the playoffs– because it’s something for the fans. In this time of…well, who knows what the hell this timeline has become, it’s a great distraction for everyone involved. Plus, it gives the NAHL a little bit of an upside because– and I’m sure someone will correct me– this is the first league who had their season cancelled to do this. I don’t think the ECHL or SPHL have attempted, but it’s a nice marketing tool for the league to get some eyes on their product and have the teams a little something to hype up in a very down time.
It may not be solace to players to not be playing in a real playoff game, hell– I know it’s not. But maybe they can see this and take it all in virtually and hopefully hype up their virtual doppelganger to victory and more.
When you hear people talk about Ralph Engelstad Arena, you hear the chorus of how beautiful it is and how much it’s as good as or better than (in some cases) most NHL arenas. With a passionate fan base for the University of North Dakota, along with the tradition the program has; it’s easy to see why they would want to have such a top-notch facility for their student-athletes and be able to use that to bring in top talent.
Now, it could be time to see how it does shape up to the NHL standard.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman dropped some knowledge Sunday night that the NHL is looking at options if they should get their season back together in one way, shape, or form. One of the options has been Grand Forks, North Dakota and The Ralph. Friedman says that nothing is eminent, but it’s been floated around due to the facilities and the low population density that North Dakota does have in comparison to other states with rinks. Considering places like Toronto and Calgary say that they won’t have games in those cities until June 30th at the earliest; neutral site games are a must.
Logistically, however, could be an issues. While the Greater Grand Forks area (Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, MN) has about 30 hotels— not all of them are the nice, five-star places players may be used to and some hotels may not want to have a sharp influx of people from out of town given the climate of things. Of course, adding to that is the US/Canada border being closed for the time being, on top of the leagues voting how their season should go along and what format it needs to be in.
Not to mention, whether or not the state would be willing to take people in given North Dakota has a 14-day quarantine for incoming travelers, then to decide if there should be fans in the arena for the events given the pandemic, how you put first responders into the arena while taking away from the hospital in town and other red-tape that would be necessary to have this happen.
Personally, living here– it’d be a huge buzz for the area and something that people wouldn’t forget if it were to happen. Emphasis on “IF.” There’s no doubt that the facilities of The Ralph are beyond comparison in some instances and that it does have the ability to house a regional tournament should that be the case. And it’s not like they haven’t hosted NHL game before, albeit preseason games— but the area has houses many IIHF events with multiple nations represented with teams and with fan bases.
While I’m still of the opinion the NHL should shutter the season for the sanity of everyone and not to give people false hope only to diminish that hope later, this could be interesting overall. It’d give the local economy a boost with lodging and food and such, it’d give people something to look out for when it comes to sports in the area, and it’d being back some kind of normalcy to the landscape a whole.
Plus, if I can get in to cover some of these games– I’ll take it.
But you also have to think about the long-term venture over the short-term solution. If it all makes sense and things are trending properly– then by all means, go with North Dakota and other neutral sites. However, if the states are cautious to it and don’t want it to happen– you have to respect their decision to keep the interest of their residents the top priority over the allure of a tick of normalcy.
GQ’s Sports department did a thing where they have a “One on One” segment where they usually have a current player from a certain league and an entertainer that roots for that team or grew up in the area. Recently, they bucked that trend and had Connor McDavid and Wayne Gretzky on there to talk about Edmonton, being a hockey phenom, and Gretzky reassuring McDavid that he’s going to win a Stanley Cup.
It was probably the most…cringe, but interesting thing I’ve seen in a bit, but far from an “epic conversation” that GQ would have you believe.
A couple things here. Thing the first– this is the Gretzky we kind of need. Sure, the Great One was currying favor to McDavid– especially reassuring McDavid he’s going to win a Cup in Edmonton and all of that– but he was actually very talkative. Gretzky was lively, he was more than the corporate figurehead that the NHL trots out in special events, and he showed some kind of personality. So much so, it made McDavid look much more milquetoast than usual.
Now, thing the second– McDavid looked like he did want to be there. Not in an uninterested way, but in a way that he was too nervous and not comfortable with the limelight (much less being there with Gretzky) and didn’t know what he was supposed to do in a situation like this when they’re talking about the greatness and the link between Edmonton and the two superstars. It came off as McDavid sitting there anxiously waiting for it to be over while Gretzky was trying to reassure him that he’ll get the Oilers to a way like they were in the ’80s.
The premise of this is solid, but it’s also the first time that they’ve seemingly done an old star and new star. The other were more athlete and musician with Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers talking with Justin Vernon, lead singer from the band Bon Iver; RJ Barrett of the New York Knicks and Spike Lee; and Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat talking with Rick Ross. Those connections have more to do with the location of the team and a person growing up there. This kind of bucks that trend, which makes for…I don’t know what it made for.
If they did this format with Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby and Gretzky, it would have maybe been little less awkward and more conversational…maybe. However, the cliche machines of today’s hockey players seem to kill any kind of starting point with this.
Also, I hate this kind of format with an off-screen moderator doling out a subject and almost forcing these two to try and relate. It just seemed so forced. Not only that, but of what I’ve seen— this is the only one where they needed questions or subject matters thrown at them from off camera. No wonder this was shorter by about 15 minutes compared to the other ones; it was all around too forced.
Should be so inclined and have nothing better to do….maybe give it a watch and make your own opinion. This just seemed like it was very unnatural when there’s so many other options that you could have presented to make the hockey connection be better than just trotting out Gretzky and the next “Great One” in Edmonton.
Last year, I did this three wishes for the 2019-20 campaign and they had varying results in the grand scheme of things. First was the special teams, where the power play was better going from 12.8% to 16.7%, but they ended the season with an 0-for-47 streak, while the penalty kill was second in the East Division at 80.7% efficiency, raising from last year’s 73.3%. Next, the blue line was a bit beefier, but I think more durable than before. They worked has plenty of guys to work in and out and not have to drop a forward back there. Finally, I don’t know if there was a totally definitive first line, but they had definitive scoring strengths.
So, with that review down, my THREE WISHES for the 2020-21 season.
BRING BACK AS MANY AS POSSIBLE: There has to be a feeling of unfinished business for many of the players on this team and with the exit of five solid contributors, the Black Bears may have to reset once again. Hopefully, however, it’s not going to be a big reset for the rest of the squad. You would have to think a lot of these guys would want to come back to prove this team is a playoff caliber team and deserved to be in the playoffs for the 2020-21 season.
Granted, you’re going to have some guys trying to move up to the USHL or even possibly departing for college before the season– but if you can just tweak a little bit to fill the holes left by the graduating players– they should be good. Of course, my ideas of player personnel hasn’t had a great track record; which is why I’m in this position and now in a front office gig.
BETTER IN EXTRA TIME: The Black Bears went to eight overtime games in 2019-20, but only mustered one win in those games. Their seven losses in OT were the most in the league last season, with many of the losses coming on some bizarre instances– bad bounces on a clear, bad line changes off a turnover, and some power play goals against. While the point is nice, it still isn’t two points at the end of it.
Of course, the one thing to do is to finish it in regulation and not get into that overtime situations. However, keeping composure mentally in the extra frame is very crucial for this team where every point is crucial, as the race towards the end of this season showed.
DEFENSIVE ZONE CLEAN-UP: While they got better as they year went on, the play in the defensive zone was scary at times. Ill-advised passes, sloppy breakouts, and lapses in coverage were things that seemed to haunt the team from the beginning of the season. Like I said, it got better– but some mental lapses did happen later on in the season.
While I’m not delusional to think that it’ll be crisp and clean all the time, there needs to be better decisions made when in their own end for the upcoming season. A fair amount of goals-against were caused from turnovers inside the defensive zone and coverage being lost. Tighten up in the defensive zone and success will almost surely follow.
The downside of junior hockey is the fact that there is a definitive end to it all. Whether it’s leaving for college when the time comes or it means getting to the age-limit; there is a finite amount of time players have in the NAHL. It’s time to relive what they were able to bring to the Black Bears– no matter the term.
NOTE: This is for the players who are definitely leaving as of this writing. It does not take into account players who may be leaving for the USHL or elsewhere.
First things first, we start with the captain– Logan Kons. Going from fighting for every minute last season to being the leader of the Black Bears this season, Kons grew as a player in the off-season and showed off his personality off the ice as a leader for the community. It should be no surprises that Kons took home the East Division Community Service Award, as he was front and center of initiatives for the team within the Baltimore/Washington community, as well as showing his appreciation to people who came out to The Den by coming out and being around the fans after games.
On the ice, he was very noticeable with 24 points in his 52 games on the season, as well as potting three game-winning goals– tying him for the team lead with Aden Bruich and Brayden Stannard. With an appearance at the NAHL Top Prospects game, Kons was able to put his hard work out on a bigger scale for scouts to see. While there hasn’t been a clear path for his future, the way Kons carries himself will make him successful as his life moves forward.
Another part of the leadership group leaving is defenseman Hampus Rydqvist. In his first year in North America, Rydqvist was able to pick up on the different nuances of the smaller rink and succeeded enough to capture the East Division Defenseman of the Year, as well as being named to the East Division First Team. With an explosive shot, smooth skating ability, and a small wrecking ball when the opportunity arises; Rydqvist provides all the tools to be successful moving onward.
His time in Maryland allowed the Swede to get recruited by Miami University to play in the NCHC starting next season. A player with a good outlook off the ice, but serious when the blade hits the ice; Rydqvist took the time in a new locale in stride and as the season went along, got plenty comfortable with his new surroundings Stateside. Here’s hoping it continues for him in Ohio.
A third member of the leadership team departing is Jackson Sterrett, the leading scorer for the team this season. With his speed and ability to find holes in the oppositions’ defense, Sterrett was able to put home 19 goals, including four short-handed. The UMass-Lowell recruit was consistent all season, never going more than three games without a point. With the departure of Wilmer Skoog, Sterrett put up 21 points in 27 games to end out the campaign.
Having moved all around North America to pursue his goal, Sterrett leaves the Black Bears having set the single-season mark for goals and short-handed goals. There’s a tremendous upside with Sterrett, which he will put on display in Hockey East starting next season in hopes of helping the Riverhawks get back to the NCAA Tournament.
One of the late-season acquisitions for the Black Bears is Aaron Swanson, who came over from the Springfield Jr. Blues. However, even in his short time; Swanson made a big impact for the Black Bears with four goals and nine points in only 12 games with Maryland, while adding a veteran presence to the squad and would have been a great asset for the playoffs.
Even with the short time, Swanson was able to leave an impression with his teammates in regards to his work ethic and with the Black Bear Nation in his hustle and grit in his games played at The Den.
To round it out, Jack Smiley was another late-season pick-up, but made a mark on the team. The physical forward brought more size to the team when he was picked up from Corpus Christi, as well as a tenacious forecheck which helped the Black Bears create some turnovers in the neutral zone.
Much like Swanson, the hard work Smiley was able to put in won the favor of Black Bear Nation. Despite only getting one goal in his 12 games, the intangibles that Smiley brought to the table helped give the team an important piece they may have been missing for their playoff run.
To all five of these men, thank you very much for your tenure with the Black Bears– regardless of service time. Even just one game makes you part of the family from this point forward. Make sure to come back and visit or call every once and a while.
For the Maryland Black Bears, this season was one of statements. After a rough first season, the Black Bears pretty much overhauled the roster with only five players who played any games for Maryland in the 2018-19 season. There was plenty of time for head coach/GM Clint Mylymok to assemble his team, rather than the rushed circumstances of last season. And, in all honesty, there was only one way to go– and that was up.
On the new squad, Mylymok brought in seven players who had already committed to Division I NCAA schools, which would show that the talent of the team would be on the higher end. Add that to the improvement of the returnees and all that was needed was the buy-in of the players and to create chemistry in order to succeed.
The theme for the year from the players I talked to was the togetherness of this team. You could see a lot of the players playing for each other, picking each other up, and not showing defeated body language out on the ice if the chips were down. Regardless of where the lines came through, the team was able to mix and match in situations. You could see the players getting better as the year went along, even if the stats didn’t show as much.
Even when, at the time, their top player– Wilmer Skoog– left for Boston University mid-season; the team banded together and got stronger after that, with a six-game win streak happening not too long after Skoog’s departure. Players like Jackson Sterrett and Brayden Stannard picked up the main offensive duties, while down the stretch Reid Leibold and late acquisition Aaron Swanson chipped in towards the end of the year.
Goaltending was stable with Andrew Takacs and Cooper Black swapping in and out before Takacs was dealt for Aaron Randazzo before the trade deadline. Black had a stellar rookie season, while Randazzo brought experience to the cage in the short time he had with the team.
Defensively, the team got better as they went along. The own-zone turnovers got less and less, the breakouts were better overall, and the team as a whole was able to support their goaltenders out in sticky situations. Not to mention captain Logan Kons and Hampus Rydqvist contributing offensively, while also taking care of their own zone.
But everyone played the role they were told and even chipped in other places. Andrew Remer was an energy guy, but potted some crucial goals and create chances down the stretch. Garrett Szydlowski had a hard shot, but played a decent board game. Cameron Recchi was a havoc on the forecheck, which created scoring chances on turnovers. Thomas Jarman had a physical presence, but also was called upon on power play duties. This team had the “next man up” mentality down, which helped if things got dicey.
It’ll always be a mystery of what could have happened in the last eight games. The tension of the playoffs were something that would have gotten a lot of people excited, anxious, and would have shined a light on the team as they moved forward. Unfortunately, that’s not something that happened. Everything was cut short, though officially the Black Bears did finish fourth in the East Division; technically in the playoffs.
The biggest factor for this team was growth. The development of the players, the development of the fan base, and the overall success rate from year one into year two. The goal should always deal with being better than your last season of play. That’s something the Black Bears were able to do, albeit getting cut short in the process. But a 20-win season and playing meaningful games late in the season should constitute a successful season, even if there wasn’t a chance to show off the hardware or banners for it.
Yet, they did the fans at The Den proud, improving immensely from where they were last season with hopes of things to come next season. Granted, the roster may, once again, see a lot of new faces on it.