Clutch N’ Crab Preview: NAHL Showcase Edition

Photo by Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction

It’s the time of year where Blaine, Minnesota becomes the mecca for hockey, even if only for a weekend. All 26 NAHL teams will be in action across four days in a clash of divisions that’ll stay that way until the Robertson Cup Final Four.

Last year, the Maryland Black Bears got their first win in franchise history against the Springfield Jr. Blues and went 2-1-1 in their four games. They’ll be heading back to the Schwan Super Rink to get their first win of the season

Last Weekend: It was one of firewagon hockey against the New Jersey Titans, as they got outscored 15-10 over the two games, with Wilmer Skoog proving to be a great off-season pick-up for the Black Bears, as well as putting himself 2nd in league scoring after the first weekend. While the Titans had their top guns on full display, the Black Bears held their ground as much as they could and if not for the second period in each game– it could have been a different outcome for the team. The defense was able to pick-up some offense, as well, with two goals and nine assists coming from the blue line, Aidan McDowell and Bryden Sinclair leading the way with a goal and three assists a piece.

This Weekend: The Black Bears will face a three teams from the Midwest Division and one from the Central Division. They’ll start off with the Minnesota Magicians being first, a team that finished second in the Midwest and lost in the division finals. On Thursday, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs will be the opponent, the league runners-up from last season and one of five teams to score over 200 goals on the season. Friday has the Janesville Jets, who got the last spot in the Midwest playoff run, as they lost to Fairbanks in the first round. Finally on Saturday morning, the Minot Minotauros– Skoog’s last team and 2nd in the regular season in the Central Division in 2018-19 before losing in the division finals.

What To Look For: Obviously, the biggest thing is to see how the Black Bears play in the second period. Giving up eight goals in the second frame, including five in Saturday’s game, is not a good look and something that the team needs to buckle down on. Also, how sustainable is the offense for Maryland and what other players can breakout to compliment Skoog’s offensive touch; which we’ve seen some glimpses from Brayden Stannard, Jackson Sterrett, and Ethan Heidepriem; not to mention Luke Mountain– who had two assists this past weekend and is trying to build off his great second half last season.

Bold Prediction: I expect the Black Bears to get at least two wins, like last season; but I fully expect them to be a bit more stingy on defense. Defensive zone coverage plagued the team last year and a little bit of that showed last weekend. Both Andrew Takacs and Gavin Abric will be tested and hopefully they can get some more support with the first weekend jitters out of the way.

Black Bears II: Electric Boogaloo: 2019-20 NAHL Schedule Released

Photo by Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction

Tuesday evening, the NAHL released the schedule for the 2019-20 season, which means we can all start figuring out when Scotty is going to get home to see the Maryland Black Bears play in his old arena. There will be 60 regular season games, including the NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Minnesota– and it’ll be a time for the Black Bears to see if they can not fall into a sophomore slump and make a big push in the East Division.

Puck drop for the Black Bears is at home on September 13th, as the New Jersey Titans will be at The Den at Piney Orchard for the two-game weekend set; which is the exact same match-up to open up the season last year. The Black Bears went 3-8-1 last season against the Titans, but played them tight with the exceptions of the first and last games of the year against them.

Maryland will play three-game weekends twice in the new season, first against the Northeast Generals November 8th through the 10th, while they’ll make their first trip up to Lewiston, Maine to take on the Nordiques December 13th through the 15th. The Black Bears will only see the Nordiques twice next season, with Maine traveling to Piney Orchard February 14th and 15th for a Valentine’s Day weekend of fun.

Of course, with Maine being the new team in town and travel being hell (about 550 miles between the two rinks), that’s seems to be the only reason why there isn’t more than two meetings between these teams. The Black Bears will get their fair share of their normal foes in Johnstown, Jamestown, Northeast, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and New Jersey in a push to make their first post-season appearance.

It should also be noted that the NAHL Showcase is not put into the schedule yet, but that will happen September 18th through 21st at the Schwan Super Rink. This will be the only time before the Robertson Cup Final Four that the Black Bears will play outside of their division.

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.

What is Happening With Maryland Hockey??

Photo by Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction

A few days back, an account on Twitter popped up by the handle of @marylandjunior1 and the display name of “Maryland Junior Bears Hockey.” In their tweets, the account is showing photos and video of Piney Orchard Ice Arena and talking about the “future of hockey is here.”

I’ll go on record saying I have no insider information to this, but my belief in all of this is that the EHL Team Maryland squad is about to be rebranded as the Maryland Junior Bears. This would make sense, as there are other teams in the NAHL– specificially the Northeast Generals and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights– that have their feeder teams named exactly like their NAHL teams.

It would also make sense, as the Team Maryland EHL team has only three active players who are actually from Maryland: Marcelo Palacios, Antoino Briggs-Blake, and Zach Richards. I’ve squawked about it on the Chesapeake Hockey Week that if you’re going to go by Team Maryland, I feel that the majority of the players should be from Maryland. In talking with owner Murry Gunty– the goal is to have players from the DMV to heavily populate the roster, but so far it hasn’t been the case. To rebranded it would give a little less emphasis on the Maryland part, but actually give the Black Bears (or Bears in this case) a little more clout because the players are being promoted from the Junior Bears to the Black Bears.

Of course, this could be a whole other situation, where the Maryland Black Bears will be having a youth program that will be akin to what teams in the area have where there’s U8 to U16 programs to be going around. That’s not a far-fetched idea, but it would make ice time a little more congested for Piney Orchard, even with the second sheet of ice going up in the near future. It could be any number of things with the vagueness that’s going onward.

With all that said, the biggest thing is that highly-competitive youth hockey is going on in Maryland beyond the Chesapeake Bay Hockey League and high school hockey. In fact, with these additions to the area, you can bet that the players in the area will have closer vision of what they can achieve and the heights they are able to get to without really having to leave home for the opportunity to get noticed. It would keep the talent in region, while also making it a destination for players starting out to get a look into what their future could be like.

Until the final word– we’ll speculate, though with Team Maryland’s season ending these next two days; I’m sure we’ll find out sooner rather than later if my hypothesis is right about the rebranding.

Two Games In, Black Bears Showing Growth

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Photo by Jonathan Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction

The results on the scoreboard weren’t what they would have wanted, but overall– the first weekend of the Maryland Black Bears was ultimately a success. A sold-out Piney Orchard Ice Arena on Friday night brought about all the pomp and circumstance for a team’s first game, while the second night showed what this team could be without the flare.

Sidebar: If you haven’t seen Jonny P’s photos from the weekend– check out the FOHS Media Faction Facebook page to see his great shots of the games.

The first night brought about a packed out, a big entrance, a lot of bells and whistles, though the outcome wasn’t what they wanted. Though Marek Wazny got the Black Bears on the board early, they couldn’t find a way to stymie Kyler Head and the rest of the New Jersey Titans. It was a rough go for Black Bears’ goalie David Tomeo, who let up five goals on 35 shots in a 6-3 Maryland loss. Friday was a shootout with 76 total shots and the nine total goals. You can bet nerves and dealing with the opening game was on the mind of the Black Bears. Not only that, but the rough side of the NAHL came out, especially at the end with Carter Wade and Cam Gendron getting in a fight in the middle of the third.

Saturday night showed a different side, a very shutdown side of the Black Bears, who put Tyler Matthews in net for the second game. They kept the Titans chances to a minimum and played a smarter game, though the Titans scored their only goal on the power play in overtime.

Overall though, you probably couldn’t ask for a better start from a team that was born only five months and two days before their first game. From April until now, it was a sprint to start the season for Murry Gunty and the rest of his team. As Jonny chronicles, Gunty was working every aspect possible off the ice in merchandise, media affairs, doing a whole lot of things to make sure they ran as smoothly as possible for the fans in attendance.

While Jonny said that it was noticeable change from one day to another, it seemed that everyone started to figure out what was going on Saturday, both on and off the ice. The PA announcer was able to get the crowd more into it, the team settled down after the first game, things started to move finally as one. As the season goes along, you can bet that things will continue to run more smoothly. It seemed that the game operations during intermissions were able to get people interacting more, the kids in attendance seemed to be well involved with Bruno the Bear, and it seemed like a great atmosphere for everyone who came out.

This franchise is really going to be a word-of-mouth situation for the start. With things coming so quickly, it could have been a little hard to get out into the community as much as they could, especially when the roster wasn’t set until days before opening night. However, from what I’ve heard– it was a great time. It’s a damn shame I’m in North Dakota or I’d make my way down there to experience things myself. Plus, it seems like a fun team to watch. Wazny, Wade, and Matteo Menotti are going to be favorites and ones to watch this season. While they won’t be back at Piney for about a month, they should be able to bond well on the road, especially with the four-day NAHL Showcase happening in Blaine, Minnesota this week.

Here’s to Murry Gunty, all of Black Bear Sports Group, coach Clint Mylymok, and the Black Bears players for giving the central Maryland area a team to call their own. It’s only two games, but it’s two games that many didn’t think would have happened so fast.

Black Bears Announce Inaugural Season Schedule

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The inaugural season of the Maryland Black Bears is inching closer, especially with the NAHL revealing the 2018-19 season schedule. The season for the Black Bears starts at home on September 14th and 15th against the New Jersey Titans at Piney Orchard.

The schedule can be found here on the NAHL website, but here’s a bit of a breakdown of the first year and who they’ll face:

  • There’s no Western swing for the Black Bears, as expected. The NAHL looks to keep travel costs down, therefore you won’t see Maryland really go over to play the Western Conference until the end of the season.
  • That is unless the Black Bears play some Western opponents at the NAHL Showcase–which doesn’t seem to be on the actual schedule. All the teams will play four regular season games from September 19th through the 22nd in Blaine, Minnesota at the Schwann Super Rink. I’m sure that schedule should be coming out if it hasn’t already and I’m just too stupid to find it.
  • In fact, the Black Bears will play exclusively in their division. They’ll face Johnstown 12 times, New Jersey 12 times, Northeast (Attleboro, MA) 12 times, Jamestown (NY) 12 times, and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 8 times. This will breed a lot of familiarity with players and fans alike– which is either really good or really bad; but either way exciting.
  • While all the home games are being played at Piney Orchard, there is the weekend of January 11th and 12th where Maryland will play at Laurel Ice Gardens and Rockville Ice Arena respectively. That weekend, the Black Bears will take on the Johnstown Tomahawks in a way to show off the newest development team to other parts of Maryland hockey.

So there you have it– the Black Bears season is just two months away (get your season tickets here) and it’s a pretty exciting time for developmental hockey in Maryland. This program will be a solid start for hopefully a bigger impact for Marylanders in higher hockey.

Black Bears Welcome Former Hound Into the Den

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Another step was made in building the Maryland Black Bears first season in the NAHL, this time with naming their head coach and general manager. While they could have gone on the inside with the variety of coaches in the systems, they decided to go well outside the Maryland space by hiring Clint Mylymok from the Notre Dame Hounds of the Saskatchewan Junior League.

Mylymok is coming off of four seasons at Notre Dame, where he went 114-90-13-13 in that time, as well as reaching the Anavet Cup Final for the SJHL champion in his first season of 2014-15. This season, the Hounds under Mylymok went 29-24-1-4 and lost in the Wildcard portion of the playoffs.

While he bounced around in California for a bit after originally being born in Ontario, Mylymok played in the Notre Dame prep system before going to Western University in Ontario and then hung up his skates, aside from stepping in during an emergency goalie role for the Columbia Inferno in 2003-04. Aside from that, Mylymok plied his trade in the front office in Columbia and El Paso of the Central League before going back to Canada for coaching in the lower Ontario junior levels before going to Notre Dame as an assistant coach first, then into the head coach/GM role. In addition, Mylymok has been in Hockey Canada’s radar, coaching Team Saskatchewan in the last two seasons at the WHL Cup for U16 players in the WHL boundaries.

To bring in this sort of coach and GM to help craft this team from the ground up shows that the Black Bears won’t be messing around with pinning down the proper talent to make this team successful and to display the top talent that needs to be displayed on and off the ice. While it remains to be seen how Coach Mylymok will put as a priority, the resume he has will definitely get some eyes on the Maryland Black Bears as they start their first year.

Black Bears Create Pipeline to NAHL and Beyond

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On Wednesday, the Maryland Black Bears further their push to keep the best players from Maryland in Maryland, as well as bringing in an outside source  to help keep their pipeline strong. The Black Bears announced they have formed a partnership with Team Maryland in their Eastern Hockey League and AAA programs, as well was a partnership with the Mercer (NJ) Chiefs.

It’s almost a no-brainer that Team Maryland and the Black Bears would have a partnership, as the brass of Team Maryland was a big pusher when it came to talk to Black Bear Sports Group about bringing in a high-level junior league to the Maryland area. This working partnership will allow the Black Bears to display Maryland-grown talent, while also give incentive for kids to play on the Team Maryland squads– as if there wasn’t one prior.

Despite being in New Jersey, the Mercer Chiefs are also connected, as the Ice Land Skating Center in Hamilton Township, NJ is one of the arenas that Black Bear Sports Group has under their umbrella. The Chiefs program runs from the Squirt Minor level to the U18 AAA level, which having this not only gives another region to pick from in the Mid-Atlantic, but also gives the younger players something to strive for as they advance in hockey.

The one thing that the Black Bears and this ownership group is doing is creating a bit of a family atmosphere to this team. While some might think it’s a little too much of staying inside the bubble, the fact they’re trying to make the most of their investments not only in Maryland– but with all their holdings.

If their alumni is anything, the pipeline is strong with Team Maryland. Sam Anas (Iowa Wild), Mikie Chen (Knoxville Ice Bears), William Nylander (Toronto Maple Leafs), and Nick Sorkin (Wheeling Nailers) all came up through the Team Maryland system at one point or another, but had to move elsewhere to get bigger exposure than they had. With the NAHL now putting stakes in the ground– odds are a lot of the next class of players will not need to go far in order to get the exposure others had to leave home to get.

Welcome the Black Bears

After weeks of waiting, the new Maryland NAHL has names and colors. As mentioned prior, the colors are the Maryland flag colors, but the name is a bit odd to the idea of Maryland.

The Black Bears will be the new identity, named after the main holding of the ownership, Black Bear Sports Group. The black bear population in Maryland is primarily in the Western part of the state, very rarely going into the suburbs. The logo and website for the Maryland Black Bears was revealed today.

The logo itself incorporates the Black Bear Sports Group logo with a wilderness scene, much akin to the Minnesota Wild motif. The colors are black, red, yellow, and white.

While it’s not the Crabs or anything of that sort, it’s a solid name and solid logo. This is the first of many things to come for this new team.

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.