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.)

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.