Closer Look at Maryland’s NAHL Team; Team Name Coming Soon

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As you may have seen here, I’m quite excited for the NAHL to come to Maryland. For someone who played in the Maryland hockey system, this is something that was lacking when I was growing up. However, with the wave of players being born in Maryland and not having the chance to play at home, this is the perfect time to keep the players in the area and play a high level of hockey.

“We’ve worked closely with the people who run Team Maryland and we thought an opportunity like this would give local kids a path to college scholarships without having to leave the area,” mentioned Ryan Scott, VP of the Black Bear Sports Group, owners of Piney Orchard– the home of this new Maryland team. “There’s a lot of times where players are developing in Maryland for pee-wees and bantams, but then have to go to the Northeast for prep schools to get really noticed. With this, we can keep the players here and have them develop that way.”

Working with Team Maryland– who has a minority stake in Piney Orchard, as well as seeing the talent in and around the area with high schoolers and club teams, the hope for this NAHL squad is that they’ll have a local flavor that will help out with getting people interested in the team.

“It’s still a couple years away,” Scott stated about the local flavor, “But this will be a great fit for the players who play with Team Maryland. We’ll be able to retain them and have them play locally rather than having them uproot and move away from home.”

There have been past teams who have been in a developmental league, but as Scott told me– they were a pay-for-play situation, which is no different from youth hockey. With the NAHL, the league is tuition-free so the players won’t incur costs while playing. But NCAA Division I wasn’t in mind for this instance.

“If that happens (D1 hockey), it’s a byproduct,” said Scott. “It’s not really our goal to bring in the NCAA. We wanted to make sure the players who grew up in this area could stay in this area. Also, to be able to attract scouts for this players in this area is always a plus for the development of hockey in the state.”

Another note that I had mentioned before is the placement of Piney Orchard as the home base. Black Bear Sports Group has managed Piney Orchard for some time and Scott had said that it wasn’t in the best shape, but it was still the option they wanted.

“Piney needed some love,” mentioned Scott. “We spent $700,000 renovating the lighting, the boards, the front offices– everything we could think of to bring it up to a modern standard. We also have that great facility that the Capitals left behind when they had their facility here, so the players will have a top notch place to train. Also, while Piney is a little more remote, the arena is better situation for what we wanted than Iceworld in Abingdon.”

Also mentioned was the concession, which Scott said will be run by an unnamed local Italian eatery with a liquor license. Therefore, young and old can enjoy the games– maybe with some lovely Natty Boh.

As this is published, there is not an official team name, but one could be announced but the end of the week or early next week. I was reassured that the Maryland flag color scheme will be in use for it. Other front office decisions will be made in the near future as far as coaching, general manager, and the like.

Stay tuned here for all the updated happenings and more as it comes with this new Maryland team in the NAHL.

Caps By The Numbers: Late Captain Heroics Give Caps Series Lead

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It wasn’t pretty, but it was a typical Pens/Caps game…but with the Caps getting the better of the Western Pennsylvania foes with Alex Ovechkin tipping in his own rebound with 1:07 left in the game to give the Caps a 4-3 win and 2-1 series lead. Not without controversy, as Tom Wilson became more of a villain for the Penguins for a borderline hit on Zach Aston-Reese. However, on the upside– goals from the blueline was big with John Carlson and Matt Niskanen putting up goals for the Caps, while Chandler Stephenson had the other goal for the Caps. Nicklas Backstrom was a true playmaker with three helpers in the game.

Sixth win of the playoffs means it’s time for a famous– if not THE famous– #6 for the Caps.

When it come to the #6, there’s only one guy to look for and it’s Calle Johansson, who’s longevity leaves him at second all-time with most games played as a Capital at 983 games. Johansson also continued the sturdy defenseman role that was left when Rod Langway retired. Having spent two seasons learning from Langway, Johansson picked up the reigns to anchor the Caps defense for 15 years.

After being acquired from Buffalo in 1989, Johansson fit right into the everyday line-up and never looked back. While there was a drop-off, Johansson was good for between five to 10 goals a year and in the mid-30s in points. A major power play contributor and key in their transition game, Johansson hit the 40-point plateau four times, while being a key part in the Capitals’ only trips past the second round in 1990 and 1998.

Calle Jo was quite sturdy, as well, with a few hiccups here and there– the most notable coming in 2001-02 when he missed the bulk of the season with a rotator cuff injury. Johansson played one more season with the Capitals after the rotator cuff injury before he retired for a time, then came back to play eight games before retiring again. Johansson’s legacy is one of an under appreciated defenseman league-wide, but was a major contributor for the Caps from the blue line and could be one of the finest two-way defensemen of his era.

Caps By The Numbers: Luck on Caps Side in Game 2 Win

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It started with an Alex Ovechkin goal, it ended with a Nick Backstrom empty-netter, but in between– it was a battle. The Caps got up to a dreaded two-goal lead, but were able to hold off the on-slaught by the Penguins, including a controversial no-goal by Patric Hornqvist and a hit-to-the-head by Tom Wilson on Brian Dumoulin; but the luck seemed to give Caps a series tie as they go into Pittsburgh on Tuesday. With that fifth in of the playoffs– time to cover a famous #5 in Caps history.

Everyone knows about Rod Langway. He’s a Capitals’ legend and doesn’t need going over. But what about the guy that came before him?? Not just in position, but in number, as well. That’s where Rick Green comes in. Green was a part of the trade that brought Langway to DC, with Green going to Montreal– but he kept the #5 warm for the eventual Caps great.

Green was another first overall pick for the Capitals in 1976 and saw action immediately in the 1976-77 season, part of the lean years for the still new Capitals. Many wondered why he was picked over some proven scorers in that Draft, but then GM Max McNab thought a defenseman would help lessen the brunt of goals being scored on those lowly Caps. Green didn’t have an immediate impact and got plenty of hazing from the Landover faithful when he was around the ice. His minus-100 rating in his first three seasons probably didn’t help either.

Yet, he was still young and thrown into a role on an expansion club that saw the young rear-guard play close to 40 minutes a night, unheard of at the time for a younger defender. Green started to live up to the expectation, along with Richard Picard, to help the Caps get to their highest win total (27) in 1979-80, while the team only gave up 32 more goals than they put in. Green got the team’s top defenseman award and the team’s Unsung Hero award from the fans who used to boo him.

Green chipped in here and there offensively, as well, putting up 31 goals and 158 points in his 377 games with the Caps. But the move to trade him and Ryan Walter to Montreal in order to get Langway, Craig Laughlin, Brian Engblom, and Doug Jarvis was the first part of the “Save the Caps” movement so the team didn’t relocate. Green’s impact started with becoming better defensively and his impact worked well after he was gone by bringing in the Secretary of Defense that was Langway….and the long-time color commentator in Laughlin.

Takeaways and Looking at the Second Round

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The first round is over and it was….something. Here’s some takeaways from it:

-As much as I hate to say it, the Penguins look like they’re world beaters. Sure, they beat the Flyers who were beat-up themselves and not all that great when you look at their goaltending, but to put up 28 goals in six games is impressive regardless of how you look at it. For a team that’s played from top to bottom for two straight seasons, they look like they’re gonna make a bigger push to get to a third.

-Man, those Western Conference series were a bit of a snooze, huh?? Two sweeps, both in the Pacific and the only real big deal series maybe showed the defending Conference Champs showing some vulnerability against a definitively weaker opponent. That said, at least the also-rans are out of the way for the new crop of powerhouses to take control of the division for a bit.

-The question is does this powerhouse really include the Vegas Golden Knights or are they just a mirage. They’ve already overcome the expansion blues and really took the league by storm. The question is whether or not Marc-Andre Fleury can really take the reins of this team and prove his playoff mettle. While defensive teams often take over the playoffs, a little goal support like how they managed this season could really help their cause as this dream season continues.

-Andrei Vasilevskiy will hopefully enjoy this break. For a guy who was talking about how he’s been worn down the entire season by playing so much, this time off will help him get a little recharged and focus. Though, he did look solid in those last two games, only letting up two goals total in them. If Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn can keep the offense up, the Bolts could take advantage of a worn down Bruins team.

Now, with that stuff out of the way– what to look for in the second round.

-The Jets aren’t the Avalanche, so the Predators better not let up early goals like they have been. While Pekka Rinne and the squad have been solid, a team like the Jets and the offensive prowess they have will jump all over the Preds and not give the lead up so easily. You have to believe the best is yet to come for Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, and Blake Wheeler– and what better way to do it than now.

-While I’m a Caps fan and know what could come next, the fact they are going to start Game One without having to face Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin is a good thing. Yet, the Caps are 8-2 in Game Ones against the Penguins and have gone 1-9 in those series by the end. Alex Ovechkin has been scoring and the depth on the Caps is solid– they just have to get the boulder from off their back (and between their ears) if they want to succeed.

-Despite big-upping Vasilevskiy earlier, the Bruins are a team that could very well grind out some wins. It seems no matter what– their depth is chipping in and taking some pressure off Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. However, whether or not Tuukka Rask can withstand the barrage of firepower that Tampa has remains to be seen. You can expect the best out of Steven Stamkos this round, too.

-Someone get the pumpkin ready, because Vegas’s Cinderella season could be at it’s end. It’s nice to believe they can get to the Finals, but when you look at how this Sharks team is performing and how Martin Jones is looking back to form, it’s hard to say they’ll have a cakewalk like they did against LA. With Marcus Sorenson and Melker Karlsson leading the fresh group of Sharks, the Golden Knights could finally see their season end without a fairytale ending.

Caps By The Numbers: Caps Close Out Jackets

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With two goals, Alex Ovechkin once again help lead the way for their 6-3 victory over Columbus to win the series in six games. Braden Holtby had 35 saves in the winning effort, his and the Caps’ fourth straight. Chandler Stephenson potted a goal and assist for the Caps, as they move on to meet the Pittsburgh Penguins for a third straight year and 11th time overall. Before you get to where the Caps are going, gotta know where they’ve been– so time for #4 to go with the fourth win of the playoffs– Kevin Hatcher.

When it comes to the #4 spot, there hasn’t been many guys who made the mark that Kevin Hatcher did. Say what you will about him later on in his tenure, but the defenseman was crucial to production on the blue-line in the early-90s, as well as being a leader to his peers enough to get the captaincy for two years.

The former first round pick in 1984 for the Caps, Hatcher became a full-time blueliner in 1985-86 and kind of showed off his mixture of offensive talent and aggressive style of play in his own end. Hatcher saw his point-production increase through his first six seasons, peaking in his eighth season with the Caps in 1992-93, which saw Hatcher notch 34 goals and 79 points on the season. That goal total is still currently a Caps record for a season. Hatcher represented the Caps at the All-Star Game three times, while also holding the record for most goals by a defenseman in their career in Washington with 149.

While he did have his tenure marred by a contract holdout before the 1990-91 season, as well as his trade demand that saw him shipped to Dallas; Hatcher’s contributions on the scoresheet and as an imposing force in the line-up is what Caps fans should remember about the Detroit native who filled his role well during his 10 years with the Caps

Caps By The Numbers: Backstrom Buries Winner, Caps Up in Series

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Another game, another overtime, but this time– the Amazon Bulk Fortune Cookie was right in that #19 was a lucky number for the Caps. Nicklas Backstrom netted two goals, including the OT winner to put the Caps one win away from advancing out of the first round once again. And once again– we have a former Capital to look at for the win. This time– the #3 is a first for the Caps.

Yeah, it could have been Scott Stevens or Sylvain Cote– but we’re going with the original, we’re going with the first guy– Greg Joly. That’s right, the first ever Draft pick of the Washington Capitals was the first guy to don the #3 for the Capitals.

After an impressive junior career with the Regina Pats, one that saw him put up 21 goals and 92 points as a defenseman in his last season, as well as claiming a Memorial Cup; the Caps thought they had their first franchise player. However, the lights may have been too bright for a young player like Joly. He was never able to get back to the torrid pace he had in Juniors, only playing 98 games with the Caps and putting up a total of 33 points in those games. After two seasons, the Caps gave up on their first ever pick, trading him to Detroit for Bryan “Bugsy” Watson.

Now retired into a life of insurance, many Caps fans should remember someone like Joly. He was the hot product that the Caps thought they had lucked into. Yet, it also made a cornerstone for the future of the Caps– relying heavy on defense and very questionable drafting.

Caps By The Numbers: Captain Promise Fulfilled, Series Tied

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People thought Alex Ovechkin was odd saying that the Capitals would be going back to DC for Game 5 with the series tied. Thanks to Ovi’s goal and assist, the Caps took Game 2 over Columbus 4-1 to go back to DC with the series tied up 2-2. Thanks to that– we get the #2 on the Caps By The Numbers with Ken Klee.

It had to be Ken Klee for the #2. No past Capital wore the number as long as he did and he continued the ideal of the Capitals by being a defensive minded blueliner, only putting up 111 points in 570 games with the Caps. Klee, while only putting up 43 career goals for the Caps, had 11 game winning goals.

Klee came to the Caps via the Draft in 1990, but rather than go to the Baltimore Skipjacks right away, Klee stuck with Bowling Green State University for three seasons before going pro with the Skipjacks and then the Portland Pirates. Klee was a part of the 1993-94 Calder Cup team, a team that kickstarted the careers of Steve Konowalchuk, Andrew Brunette, Olaf Kolzig among others.

Though he wasn’t a top-pairing guy per se, Klee was a shutdown guy that the Caps always seemed to have in their line-ups at the time. He left following the 2002-03 season for a variety of places, while also getting into coaching for USA Hockey after that. Playing the quiet role, but playing it well– Klee could be the most memorable #2 (for now) in Caps history.

Forming the Maryland NAHLers

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It’s been a week since the NAHL announced that they’ll be putting a team at Piney Orchard Ice Arena in Odenton for the 2018-19 season. While I’ve reached out to the ownership group to talk about the team and how they are going to get things going, there has not been a reply thus far– so we will only have to speculate. Yes, we had some fun on the April 18th Face Off Hockey Show, there are some ideas that should be floated out there in order to make this team successful in the community and in the league. So– why not have a rough draft here??

Solid Coaching/Management is a Must: When you’re thinking about this league, it’s purely about development and getting these young players to the next level. There’s plenty of candidates out there, but for a first year team in an unnatural location, you’d probably want to have a coach who knows the area not just for people to recognize, but for him to help these players adjust to the area and know how and where to go and where not to. For me, if you can shoot for DeMatha Catholic’s head coach Tony MacAulay— it would be a huge get. Now, it’ll be hard-pressed to get him away from DeMatha– where he has been from 1997 until 2002 and then from 2007 until present day– but it would be a big opportunity for him to get back into a bigger scene, as well as be a huge plus for the development of the players, while bringing a winning pedigree with five state championships to show for his work. If they can convince him and he’s willing– it’d be a huge get for this team.

It’s All in the Name: To a less serious thing– the team name needs to be very Maryland. While the NAHL hyped that Odenton is a suburb of Baltimore– the distance between Odenton and Baltimore is just five miles shorter than Odenton to the DC area. This team needs to be the pride of the entire state rather than one metropolitan area over another. Plus, the amount you could use the flag in the color scheme– though cliche at this point– is perfect for the team to make a splash. Not only that– we all know that branding is a huge deal in these days. If the look is slick, you can have merchandise sold hand over fist. And yes, we’re pushing for “Maryland Crabs” hard for a name– anything that is state related will be solid…but we’ll still call ’em the Crabs.

Embrace Your Surroundings: Sure, the NAHL is looking for high school kids to come and join the league and it could be a competition to some people– the new team needs to embrace the high school hockey culture of Maryland and not only promote themselves to the masses through the Mid Atlantic Prep Hockey League, but promote the local hockey around since the timing of the games will be different in most cases. Hell, even see what it’ll take to get the Capitals on board with this whole thing and see how much you can get promoted that way because that’d surely be a big get for people who may not be able to go and see the Capitals all the time due to location and pricing.  On top of that– get the media involved in a big way. The Maryland Gazette is a good start for local news in the Anne Arundel County area, but outside of the newspaper; look at local radio like WNAV in Annapolis, which is owned by Caps super-fan Pat Sajak. Not only that but– hey, Face Off Hockey Show is AA County-based and we’ll promote like no one’s business if you want to be promoted. It’s all about getting the word and the hype out there and people will acknowledge it.

Look to the Future Rink-wise: In February of 2018, the Piney Orchard Ice Arena brass said they were still looking for a second rink to be put in the vicinity. It has been a rumor for the longest time that they wanted to add a rink, so much so that they have wishful thinking on their video boards claiming all events are held at “Rink 1” of a one rink arena. However, with the NAHL team– they should focus around building something bigger than just the idea of a single-sheet of ice like they wanted. Personally– build some stands, updated locker rooms, just a full rebuild of it all in order to keep this team here a long time.

I’m sure this will be a bit of a running list, but it’s a start to making this team successful for the long run of not only the NAHL, but for the interest in area hockey.

Caps By The Numbers: Great Dane Nets First Win

There’s no way the Capitals make it easy for themselves. With all three of their games going to extra time, which they had lost two of them– the Caps finally got some “puck luck” in their win over the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 thanks to Lars Eller being in the right place at the right time. A wild puck thrown at the net bounced off Eller, than Zach Werenski, then Eller again to give the Caps their first win. They are down in the series two games to one, however.

But– now we get to the gimmick for this playoffs to honor Capitals of the past and their jersey number with each Caps win. You have to start at #1.

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There are a lot of goalies who could have gotten this slot– Pete Peeters, Semyon Varlamov, Rastislav Stana– but the guy who gets this slot is the guy who help lead the Caps past the second round of the playoffs for the first time. That man is Mike Liut.

Of course, the reason Liut was acquired in the 1989-90 season was simple in that the Caps needed a better back-up goaltending option than they had. Bob Mason wasn’t cutting it and the other options of Jim Hrivnak and Olaf Kolzig were too young in the eyes of the Caps. So, the Caps got rid of Yvon Corriveau (who only had 15 points in 50 games) to get the former NHLPA MVP winner.

It would prove to be a good move because he would be thrown into the fray after Don Beaupre went down in Game Three of the second round and was able to shake off a rough start to his playoffs to help the Caps get past the Rangers and onto the Conference Finals…though they got swept by the Bruins.

Liut would come back for the next two season with the Caps, going an even 23-23-5 in those last two seasons before calling it a career and going into a life as a player agent. He may not have been in Landover for a long time, but he was there for a decent time in the history of the Caps playoff history.

Odenton, Maryland Granted NAHL Franchise

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It was announced late Thursday that Odenton, Maryland will be the latest addition to the NAHL for the 2018-19 season, as Piney Orchard Ice Arena will be the home to this currently unnamed team. For someone who played their club hockey career at Piney Orchard (RIP Chesapeake Chiefs), this is an amazing development for hockey in Maryland.

For those who don’t know, the NAHL is the second-tier Junior league, right under the USHL. They’ve been around for 42 years and have teams all over the US and is a great catalyst for players to get to the NCAA level. It will be the first time a team is based out of Maryland, which is a little odd for the placement for the team.

When it comes to hockey in Maryland, which I’m a big supporter of, this is great. This will put a spotlight on the area, and while the kids won’t always be from the Old Line State– the fact that it could give some of the local high school kids something to shoot for on a higher level they probably wouldn’t have had right in their backyard.

NAHL is decent hockey, but I hope people in the area don’t expect Major Juniors like in Canada and northern states– it will be very developmental based and will need a lot of patience for the team to really flourish. Yet, it’s a good first step to really show off how much hockey can be supported in Maryland outside of the Washington Capitals.

About the arena– like I said, I played at Piney as a youth and was there when it opened almost 30 years ago. I’m surprised a place like the Laurel Ice House or Rockville Ice Arena wasn’t a choice, as they are a bit more modern than Piney– but who knows what Piney has in store for upgrades– which I think they’ll need in order to have players as competitive as they need to be in this league.

This is a great day for Maryland hockey. To have a league like this put a team in the central Maryland area is tremendous. If anything, it could get some shine on the college programs in the area and maybe even boost those teams to try and get some D1 consideration– looking at you, Navy and maybe you, Stevenson University— but if nothing else– this is a start of a new era of hockey in Maryland.

Hope you all are along for the ride because I may have to spend a lot of time on this subject going forward.