Twenty

August 8th, 2001 marked the first Face Off Hockey Show. Known just as “Face-Off,” it was a streaming radio show that pre-dates the iPod by two-and-a-half months– which is why we didn’t call it a podcast. It was a show that streamed live and thanks to code and all of that– it was made available as an on-demand stream. It was kind of ahead of its time.

If you were to tell me then that this show would still be going two decades later, I’d be a little apprehensive. At that time, Marc and I were both about to head to college, while Jon had a career already, and Sean was running the streaming business that hosted our show. At any time it could have just fell by the wayside because of life getting in the way. Hell, I moved to another country three years into the show, so needed to adjust and adapt to that was a big deal.

But we did just that. From VOIP phones to cell phone cards to Excalibur boxes, to then Hangouts On Air and now Skype– we’ve found a way to do a show every Wednesday (give or take two or three) from 2001 until the present. It’s been a way for us to keep in touch, it’s been a way for us to get/keep our names relevant in the hockey landscape, and it’s allowed up opportunities we might not have otherwise have taken. Granted, Sean has gotten plenty on his plate nowadays and really dropped off for a bit; the Pitzes and I have kept this train a-rollin’.

When you look at the 20 years or work we’ve done and the places we’ve been; the question that may come up and one that I always have is whether or not we feel we should be bigger in terms of popularity than what we have now??

Personally (since I don’t know what the Pitzes think), I do think we should be bigger. That’s easy to say when there’s a bias in it, but I mean– we’ve put in the work, the longevity, know some of the right people– but the wide-spread notoriety hasn’t happened for us. While that sucks, the core group of people who enjoy us seem to enjoy us a lot. Having that “underground” fan base is pretty cool and I love them to death. I just wish more people enjoyed us how our fans have enjoyed us.

We don’t play the game well. We never wanted to be the fake persona on the podcast or any kind of online presence just to be in the good graces of people. We know who we like, we want to talk to people who we like, and it’s kind of easy for us to pick up the people who might be great in some capacity in their own online bubble; but are people I personally don’t think I could be fake for if they were to come on the show. We know the people we gel with on the show and that’s why they’re a constant for us. But we also know who we wouldn’t gel with and I wouldn’t want to do a forced interview just to get listeners from their portfolio.

Another way we don’t play the game well is that we don’t mesh with the NHL ideology. That was never more noticeable when Jen (NHL History Girl) introduced me to former senior VP of communications for the league, Frank Brown, and to get the response of an icy cold stare and a “I know who you are” as a response to my introduction…pretty much shows why we as Face Off Hockey Show rarely get NHL credentials under the show name. The show hasn’t been credentialed since 2017. No reason why, no real idea why– but it is what it is now, I suppose.

Granted, I’m sure a lot of other bloggers and podcasts have been treated the same way. After the big internet boom of the late ’00s, early ’10s; the NHL has had to be picky and choosy about who gets what and where. Add that to everyone old beat writer joining The Athletic and doubling the coverage by team beats because of it– if you don’t have a big status; you’re not going to get into the show.

In any case, we still soldier onward. This show has been great for me to stay in touch with my friends back home every week and make me play pretend radio guy as a hobby for the past two decades. This has been a great time for me and I hope it continues for many more years to come. We have a great relationship with the Maryland Black Bears of the NAHL, a solid relationship with the University of North Dakota, and made some pretty long-term friends/fans out of this whole thing. For me, someone who wanted to get into media since I was a teenager, I couldn’t think of a better time than these past 20 years.

Take care of yourself and someone else.

Black Bears Getting Fresh Threads for ’20-21

With the auctioning off of the jerseys for the first two years, it became clear the Maryland Black Bears would have new ones coming– but no one knew the kind of design they would have. That got answered on Monday when Black Bears owner Murry Gunty dropped huge news on Twitter Monday, showing off the new jerseys for the Black Bears for the next season and beyond.

Both of the new jerseys are very Maryland-centric, with the flag being displayed prominently. As well, the Black Bears will use just the roaring bear for their jersey and not the crest from the first two season. The home yellows will have the Maryland flag completely across the chest and elbows, while the away blacks have a smaller, banner-like look to the flag across the hem and elbows. The shoulder patch is that of the original crest on the first jerseys.

They are quite the departure from the traditional jerseys that the Black Bears have worn to start the franchise, but this feels like the correct move forward. With the addition of the Maryland flag everywhere, it really puts it into the mind of others that this is Maryland’s hockey team. It will also stand out, with yellow being an unconventional home jersey color; but one that catches the eye across the league.

Personally, this is a great change, even if it seemingly came out of nowhere with the design change. I’m a big fan of the standing bear logo and though it would look great standing alone as the primary logo. While I did like the old ones for the traditional feel, the added Maryland touch is great progress for this team and the footprint they have with the community. There is one little critique I have and that’s the bottom hem of the black jersey and the Crossland flag being a bit cut off looking, which took me a little time to figure out what it was. Aside from that small thing– it’s tremendous and only hope the socks will have the Maryland flag on them in some way, shape, or form.

On the Topic Of Virtual Playoffs

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.

Black Bears 2019-20 Season in Review: My Three Wishes for 2020-21

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.

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.

Clutch and Crab Hockey Weekend Preview 023

MARYLAND BLACK BEARS vs. Johnstown Tomahawks

After a sweep against Jamestown, the Black Bears enter another crucial weekend not only for playoff contention, but for a rivalry weekend. Not only that, but it’s “Guns N’ Hoses” weekend for support local fire and police officer. These two teams don’t like each other, especially with who’s between the pipes at the other end and the tactics that were pulled last time the Tomahawks were at The Den. Some upsides is the Black Bears looked solid and will build off it and Johnstown played two games earlier this week, which could make them a team primed to beat.

Team defense will be a big deal, as it was very solid last week, limiting the Rebels to 36 shots the entire weekend and Cooper Black stopping 35 of them. That said, one thing that needs improve is the power play, which has no goals in their last 37 attempts with their last power play goal being on January 24th. Keeping the defense strong and making the power play effective will be the biggest keys for the weekend and season ahead.

TEAM MARYLAND vs. Philadelphia Little Flyers

Though it won’t start until the 9th, Team Maryland will start their playoff run after the weekend and hope to take it home. They’ll take on a team that they had a 4-2-0 record against during the season, out scoring the Little Flyers 29-21. One thing to look for from coach Josh Fusco is who will start in net– either Peter Siolas or Zach Richards, both who have had ups and downs.

With seven players in double-digits for goals, offense shouldn’t come at a premium, but it’s a matter of keeping their hot streak alive– as they come into the playoffs on a four-game winning streak. It’s a landmark time for TM and they will hopefully make the most of this during the week and beyond.

STEVENSON UNIVERSITY MUSTANGS D3 WOMEN at Elmira College

After a huge win against Neumann, Stevenson reaches the UCHC Final Four against the host Elmira. In their only meeting this season, Elmira took it 2-1, though Annie Smyth-Hammond played stellar with 45 saves in the loss. Smyth-Hammond was amazing against Neumann last weekend, with Nikki Kendrick and Trin Barcless leading the way scoring.

More impressive during this five-game win streak is the defense the Mustangs have played, only letting up three goals in those five wins, while scoring 20 in that same span. If the team defense can keep the solid work up, they’ll move onto the UCHC Final and maybe an automatic NCAA bid by the weekend’s end.

NAVAL ACADEMY MIDSHIPMEN D1 vs. ECHA Playoffs

After some time off, the Mids are back at it and are at home for the ECHA Playoffs, which is something that will play well into Navy’s hands with their supporters right there at McMullen all weekend. The rest can be really great for some teams or a detriment to them, especially in a one-and-done tournament scenario. In games coming out of an off weekend for Navy this season, they were 2-1 with their only loss coming early in the season.

That said, as the season rolls and going against a team that will have played the day before– as Navy has a quarterfinal bye– the odds seem in their favor. Add to the fact they were ECHA runner-ups last season, they’ll want to get the championship and have it mean that much more to do it on home ice.

Clutch N’ Crab Hockey Weekend Preview 022

MARYLAND BLACK BEARS vs. Jamestown Rebels

After a disappointing weekend in Wilkes-Barre, the Black Bears are back at home and are now in crucial win territory from this point forward. Also, trying to fix the power play will need to happen, as they have no converted on their last 28 power plays. Hampus Rydqvist scored the last PPG on January 24th against this Rebels’ team. This team needs to make their own luck rather than hoping that puck luck reaches them. It’s a gut-check time for all involved if they want to make hold onto the final playoff spot, especially against teams chasing them.

TEAM MARYLAND vs. North Carolina Golden Bears

In the final regular season weekend, Team Maryland takes on the EHL whipping boy in North Carolina. The biggest thing for Team Maryland is to get in playoff form. They can’t shy away from their game plan even against a team lower in standing. If they sweep this weekend, they’ll move into fourth spot and still face the Philadelphia Little Flyers, but at home rather than on the road.

STEVENSON UNIVERSITY MUSTANGS D3 MEN at Wilkes College

After an 8-4 win thanks to a Nick Gray hat-trick, the Mustangs go to Wilkes for a two-game playoff with mini-game tactics in effect if each team takes a game. Unfortunately, Stevenson dropped both games to Wilkes, once at the start of the season and once at the beginning of February. The same offense shown against Neumann needs to carry over, while the defense needs to tighten up, as Ryan Kenny has faced a ton of shots down the stretch and showing some flaws.

STEVENSON UNIVERSITY MUSTANGS D3 WOMEN at Neumann University

Riding a four-game winning streak into the playoffs, the Mustangs head up to Aston, PA to With a loss and a tie this year against the Knights, the Mustangs will hope to put that aside and make sure they make the most of this quarterfinal and make the most of their momentum. Outscoring their opponents 18-2 in the four-game win streak, the Mustangs are getting their offense going at the right time, especially for a one-and-done scenario.

Clutch N’ Crab Hockey Weekend Preview 021

MARYLAND BLACK BEARS at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights

Every weekend is pretty much a playoff weekend for the Black Bears as they continue to fight for the last playoff spot in the East Division. This weekend, they head to WBS and maybe try to close the gap on the Knights, who are four points ahead of the Black Bears going into the weekend. After a split against Maine last weekend, the Black Bears are looking to get some kind of offense going, as they haven’t scored more than two goals per game in their last three games. With Brayden Stannard being out the last couple of weekends, the Black Bears will need others to step up should he be out again this weekend coming up. On the upside, Jackson Sterrett has been getting some puck luck recently, while Aaron Swanson has jump into a more prominent role as his tenure has gone on.

STEVENSON UNIVERSITY MUSTANGS D3 MEN vs. Elmira, Lebanon Valley

In the last weekend of the regular season, the Mustangs try to improve their spot in the UCHC and perhaps get as high as second in the UCHC, but will have to battle against Elmira– who is right behind the Mustangs in the standings. If nothing else, the Mustangs will use this as a dress rehearsal going forward, though their second half of the season has been a little rougher down the line, as they are 6-5-2 since the semester resumed in 2020. The upside that their conference record is strong and they beat both Elmira and Lebanon Valley on the road just one month ago.

STEVENSON UNIVERSITY MUSTANGS D3 WOMEN at Alvernia, Wilkes

With a 4-1-3 record in their last eight, the Mustangs head into their last weekend of the regular season and sit second in the UCHC South Division. Facing off against two teams lower in the table and two teams they’ve beaten already this year, the Mustangs have their own destiny in their hands if they want to stay in second spot. The only down side if that they are below .500 on the road this season, which could make it a little more difficult for them to get points, but this team has faced adversity this season and come out the other end fine. Here’s hoping going into playoffs, they’ll be able to use this tune-up weekend as a jumping off point for a bigger run.

Clutch N’ Crab Hockey Weekend Preview 020

MARYLAND BLACK BEARS vs. Maine Nordiques

With only one win in their last 10 games, the Black Bears are in for a crucial match-up against a team creeping up on them for that fourth and final playoff spot. With the line-up set, everyone is going to have to step up in a bigger way to keep hold of that fourth spot while holding off the competition behind them. Hopefully, Brayden Stannard will be back in the line-up to add to the offensive punch of the Black Bears.

TEAM MARYLAND vs. Philadelphia Little Flyers, North Carolina Golden Bears

After plenty of goals in their split last weekend, TM has a task in the Little Flyers to start the weekend, a team they’ve already beaten three times; while they’ll have North Carolina come in for the first of three games to end the season. While these are primer games, TM shouldn’t take any of these games for granted going into the playoff season. Despite playing a weaker team in North Carolina, the pedal still needs to be to the floor to gear up for the second season.

STEVENSON UNIVERSITY MUSTANGS D3 MEN at Nazareth University, Utica College

After sweeping the weekend last weekend, the Mustangs will look to continue that on the road, where they have only lost one game all year. The power play clicked well last weekend, though the penalty kill did let up three goals against Neumann on Friday. With first place in the UCHC within reach, every conference point matters– especially against a team in Utica who is right behind the Mustangs in the standings

STEVENSON UNIVERSITY MUSTANGS D3 WOMEN at Lebanon Valley College, Chatham College

After a less than desirable finish to their home schedule, the Mustangs head out on the road, where they are the opposite of the men’s side– winning only one game on the road. With only road games left, the Mustangs will need to find an extra gear in order to get over those road woes, and bring home at least one victory out of this trip to stay up in the playoff conversation.

STEVENSON UNIVERSITY MUSTANGS D2 MEN’S CLUB at MACH Playoffs

With their first task being Rowan University, the Green Horses will be taking their most successful team in the brief three year period into the MACH playoffs. They run into a Rowan team who is second in the conference and has taken both match-ups this season. Yet, the playoffs are a different beast and with all the adversity Stevenson has faced already– what’s a little more to overcome to get to the next round and maybe a title shot.

LOYOLA UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND GREYHOUNDS WOMEN’S CLUB at DVCHC Playoffs

The Greyhounds won the South Division of the DVCHC, so they’re automatically into the semi-final game, where they’ll take on the second lowest seeded team in that game. Loyola comes in winning seven of their last eight to end the year and with Jessica Chicko playing out of her mind with four hat-trick in her last five games, including three straight. It’s always good to have that hot a hand when going into the playoffs– especially in a one-game scenario.

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND TERRAPINS WOMEN’S CLUB at DVCHC Playoffs

While they looked like world beaters in the early going, the Terps had a bit of a bumpy patch late in the season, going only .500 in the last six games. They’ll take on West Chester in the first round, a team they met and lost to two weeks ago. If there’s any time for a revenge game and for Alix McKillop to really bust out the scoring– it’ll be here.

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND TERRAPINS D2 MEN’S CLUB at MACH Playoffs

The Terps have a bit of an uphill climb for the MACH playoffs, coming in as the last seed and facing powerhouse Liberty in the first round– a team that swept the Terps two weeks prior. The Terps have only won one game since semester break (seven games) and will have to dig deep or they’ll be preparing for the Crabpot tournament a little bit earlier than they’d hope.