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.

Black Bears Gearing Up for Second Draft

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction

It’s been a minute since we talked about the Maryland Black Bears here, but it’s a good time. This afternoon is the NAHL Draft, which means the season starts anew and we’re all at a clean slate. With a new assistant GM and head scout Jason Deskins , head coach and GM Clint Mylymok and the Black Bears look to be much more prepared for this draft than they were a year ago when they we’re a very fresh team.

There have been changes, however, from this team last season. Luke Mountain was selected in Phase II of the USHL Draft by the Lincoln Stars and if he carried over his hot streak from the end of last season, then he’ll be up in the USHL next year. Also, Luc Salem was traded to the Topeka Pilots for a tender contract. Salem had 21 points in 54 games and was relied on heavily after Quinn Warmuth was traded to Minot.

Speaking of tender contracts, all the slots in Maryland are full and here’s who’s got them:

G: Andrew Takacs
G: Ben Fritsinger
D: Anthony Mollica
D: Jack Hillman
D: Bryden Sinclair
D: Nick Hauck
F: Jude Kurtas
F: Bobby Batten
F: Reid Leibold
F: Finn McLain
F: Logan Kittleson
F: Brett Reed
F: Joey Petronack
F: Ethan Heidepriem

Many should be familiar with Takacs, Kurtas, and Batten– as they did play in some games with the Black Bears; so people know what to expect out of them. The Minnesota pipeline continues with Reed, Kittleson, Fritsinger, and Hauck; while McLain has DMV roots growing up in Woodbridge, VA; with some Canadian flair in Sinclair and Heidepriem. Should be interesting to see how they all fit into the team this coming season– especially Hillman, who has USHL experience from last season with the Omaha Lancers. Hillman looks like a stay-at-home defenseman, which is something that could be nice for the Black Bears when shoring up the Black Bears end.

Last season’s draft was the first for the Black Bears and they did have some solid pick-ups from the draft who contributed with the team last season. Seven draft picks from last season played at least a game for the Black Bears, with Kobe Keller playing the least at three games before going back to Ontario to play for the Soo Eagles. Keller, Mountain, Salem, Marek Wazny, Thomas Jarman, Patrick Choi, and Max Borst all made an impact coming out of that first draft, which helped with it being a young team and a team looking for players to step up right off the hop.

The Black Bears will slot in at the 4th spot overall this year, as the two expansion teams in Maine and New Mexico will pick first and second respectively, while the Brook–errrr… St. Cloud Blizzard will pick third. The fourth pick has yielded some solid picks, but also very risky ones. In 2018, Chippewa picked defenseman Sam Miller– but he played in the USHL all of 2018-19; in 2017, Amarillo picked Marko Sturma, who was then moved to Northeast and has tandemed with David Fessenden in his last two seasons. Defenseman Frank Sullivan was picked in the four-spot in 2016 and played one year with Janesville before going to D3 college, while in 2015 Casey Jerry was picked by Minnesota after time with Cedar Rapids in the USHL and some time in Austin in the NAHL, as Jerry then moved to Canisius for his college hockey. To wrap up a five-year plan, the 2014 fourth pick was Kenny Hausinger– who was a part of the Skipjacks HC team who played out of Piney Orchard– but Hausinger wouldn’t play for Odessa, as he would go to the USHL.

There’s some room to have a stellar player at the fourth-spot or someone who goes elsewhere in the league or up to the USHL overall. It’s a tough spot to be in, as the Black Bears know from their first overall pick in Steve Agriogianis never suiting up for the team and moving to the USHL with Lincoln. We’ll see what the afternoon brings and hope we’ll get a solid pack of Black Bears coming into next season.

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.