Black Bears 2019-20 Season in Review: Fare Thee Well

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.

Black Bears 2019-20 Season in Review: What Could Have Been

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.