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.
Another NAHL Draft has come and gone and the Maryland Black Bears come out of it like every other team– with plenty of promise and upside to be had. With eight forwards, three defensemen, and two goalies picked, the Black Bears look ahead with a nice mix of youth and experience to their selections.
However, their first pick at fourth overall could be a solid cornerstone for the team next season, as power forward Aden Bruich got selected out of the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite 16U organization. Only just turning 17 in March, the 6’3, 220 power forward could be what the Black Bears need in terms of grit and grind to counterbalance scoring. The Clarkson University commit put up 28 goals and 43 points across the Tier-1 Elite League and 16U Midgets. If he can get his size to translate into the NAHL style of play, it could be a huge boost to the scoring of the Black Bears. Even in his Twitter old Twitter bio he said he plays a North/South, heavy, physical game. Coming off a National Championship doesn’t hurt either.
Here’s how the rest of the Draft shook down:
3rd Round: Hampus Rydqvist (Frolunda 20U) 7g, 15pts in 44 games 3rd Round: Zachary Borgiel (Leamington, GOJHL) 2.25 GAA, .924 Sv% in 28gms 4th Round: Aidan McDowell (The Hun School, USHS-Prep) 12g, 27pts in 23 gms 5th Round: Samuel Mojzis (HC Slovan Bratislava 20U) 29g, 53pts in 45 gms 6th Round: Liam Ovington (NJ Avalanche 18U, T1EHL) 4g, 10pts in 27gms 7th Round: Brayden Stannard (Oakland 16U) 15g, 44pts in 69 gms 8th Round: Andrew Remer (Ottawa, CCHL) 8g, 25pts in 57 gms 9th Round: Philip Ekberg (Conneicut, NCDC) 14g, 31pts in 50gms 10th Round: Jack Quinn (Northfield-Mount Hermon, USHS-Prep) 19g, 41pts in 40gms 11th Round: Trevor Adams (Salmon Arm, BCHL) 17g, 41pts in 55gms 12th Round: Kyle Peters (Virtua 18U, AYHL) 8g, 26pts in 21gms 13th Round: Aaron Dickstein (Milwaukee, NA3HL) 2.93 GAA, .905 Sv% in 44gms
A couple of things to note from this draft:
-Hampus Rydqvist and Aaron Dickstein are 20 years old this year, making it their last year to be eligible to play. We’ll see if they make the team out of camp; which I think Rydqvist would be a better bet to make it as a right-shot defenseman with higher level experience. Dickstein will have to fight Anthony Del Tufo, Andrew Takacs, and maybe David Tomeo to get some crease time– same goes for Borgiel, though Borgiel does have some NAHL experience with Brookings (now St. Cloud) and Muskegon in 2017-18.
-Along with Bruich, there are two other D1 commits picked in this draft. Brayden Stannard is commit to Nebraska-Omaha and Trevor Adams is a commit to Air Force. Stannard was also picked by the Green Bay Gamblers late in the USHL Draft this off-season.
-Aiden McDowell is an alum of the Mercer Chiefs system, one of the Black Bears affiliated teams. With 29 points in 24 games last year in the 18U program, his scoring touch could prove valuable with the big club this coming season.
It was a solid draft from GM Clint Mylymok and AGM Jason Deskins. We’ll see what the future hold for these players, as open camp for the Black Bears starts in less than two weeks (June 14th) with main camp being held July 17th, all at the Den at Piney Orchard.
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.
As it goes, a new season is going to be upon us sooner than we think. The biggest question is how can the Black Bears improve on this past season?? Off the ice, it’s really just keeping the name out there and getting the community as involved, if not more involved that last season. On the ice, however, there could be some interesting things ahead. The core of players the team may want to build around is there– it’s a matter of putting them in a place to succeed that’ll be the task. Couple that with some possible system changes, it could be an interesting look to the Black Bears next year.
This, however, is if I had a magic lamp and was granted three wishes– what I would like to see happen for next season for the Black Bears. It’s not really in any order, either, so you can prioritize them as you see fit.
SPECIAL TEAMS IMPROVEMENT: This should be an obvious one and it’s one that’s almost unfairly harped on, but best to get it out of the way early. The Black Bears had the second most power play opportunities last season (288, only one shy of Johnstown) and yet they were 22nd in the league with a 12.8% efficiency despite having 37 goals with the extra-man. It seemed many times, the power play couldn’t adjust to the tight-check PKs they faced. When they were able to move the puck around– they were a second or two too late to get a good shot off. Once they can nail down a quarterback on the point to pace the play and direct traffic, this will be a better system.
On the penalty kill, the Black Bears had the most times shorthanded at 303, which was 47 more the next highest team. So, first discipline needs to come into account– but that’s another story altogether. Maryland also let up the most power play goals (81) while– to no surprise– ranked last in the league on the PK (73.3% kill rate). It’s as simple as not taking as many penalties, though you can’t really tell what the refs will call in a given situation. To that point, the team needs to not run so much on the PK. Many times you’d have guys running around, out of position from the quick passing, and it leads to guys getting open and scoring. It seems like an easy task, but it does require some work and dedication to the system.
BULKING THE BLUE LINE: Towards the end of the season, the Black Bears only had four natural defensemen rostered for games thanks to injuries. Which seeing guys like George Vonakis and Jude Kurtas up on the team is great for the offensive creation, the lack of defenseman who were brought up for the season is a bit of a head scratcher. This season, the team had ten defensemen of the listed 46 players. That includes Quinn Warmuth (who was traded), Cameron Teamor (who was released), and Colt Corpse (who went back to prep school). So seven guys from the trade deadline on and they were real beat up with Thomas Jarman, Bradley Jenion, and Sean Henry missing time due to bangs and bruises. It should be noted that the team had six goalies through the season.
Defensive call-ups should be a priority after this season, especially with the -103 goal differential the team had this season. When you’re throwing forwards back a defenseman as a fifth defenseman, it’s a rough time. To have only five defensemen in a game– that’s a very rough time. As much as I love having the scorers on the team, the back of the house needs to be taken care of, as well. The tender of Nick Hauck steer it in the right direction, but it is still to be seen.
DEFINITE FIRST LINE: With injuries and all of that, it didn’t seem like there was any constant first scoring line presence. Connor Pooley was a constant with the first line center, but the parts around him always seemed to move and couldn’t get much figured out in ways of offense. The dynamics of a first line is in the roster, but didn’t really seem to get figure out until late and even then, didn’t spark too, too much to change things.
In a perfect world, Jonathan Young stays to reconnect with linemates of Kurtas and Luke Mountain because the synergy and chemistry they had in the last couple weekends was fantastic. Short of that, if Daylon Mannon can come back, he can slot into the Young spot and add another scorer on that line with Mountain having Kurtas the set-up man between the two. Of course, you have to have some kind of second line system to protect that first line so if they’re shutdown, the rest of the team isn’t lost. In that end, have Vonakis between perhaps Bobby Batten and Luke Posner for that secondary scoring.
Those are the three wishes I hope for in the coming season. Of course, it’s not up to me to determine if they are right or not– that’s GM/head coach Clint Mylymok’s decision to what’s best for his group of players moving forward. The biggest thing is that there is some kind of growth– personal or otherwise– from this team. They don’t need to make it to Robertson Cup finals, but to see them improving would be a great happening, even if it’s just being in the playoff hunt late into the season.
The Maryland Black Bears season ended on Saturday much the way their first series of the season ended– with an overtime loss but one that was a thriller. While their record wasn’t the best thing to write home about, the first season of the Black Bears could be considered somewhat of a success off the ice, while the on-ice product does need just a bit of work.
One of the biggest things for an expansion team is building a fan base, building something that will stick and reside with the community. Junior hockey is nothing if there’s no community to stick by it and support it. Through going to the games, the billets who house these out of town players and make them feel comfortable in their experience. It’s also about the ownership and front office being embedded in the community and wanting to grow the team, but also help the area as a whole be better.
The season had plenty of exciting moments to it, with some ups, some downs, and some sideways. From Marek Wazny’s getting the franchise’s first goal three minutes into the first game or Luke Mountain’s late tying goal this past weekend to end the season, there was a lot to talk about. There were viral videos of celebrations, highlight reel goals and saves, and a community built around the area from virtually nothing.
For me, that’s what sticks out amongst this whole season. Later this week, I’ll get to the actual on-ice product, but the fact that for an area that’s not recognized as much as a hockey heavy area– the people turned out to Piney Orchard and the hockey community was brought out in force. The biggest thing the Black Bears did was get the surrounding youth hockey clubs involved. They didn’t just keep to the Nelson Hockey club, but branched out to Bowie, Howard, Baltimore, and more teams from the area. It truly made it feel like the different club teams were united by one common thread in the Black Bears.
To build this fan-base up from scratch in as little time as they did it is truly something and shows that word-of-mouth worked out for people. Maryland closed out the season with a total attendance of 11,118 for 30 home games, which works out to an average of 373 for each game– which may not seem like much; but it ranked them at third in the East Division and for a rink where the capacity is around the 350 mark (I can’t find the “official” capacity), it’s a great turnout.
The team also got it right with having entertainment between the hockey action with some solid intermission happenings, great in-period participation, as well as the fish toss after the first goal and the staple chuck-a-puck after the game. Obviously, the in-game entertainment is as crucial as the game itself for people experiencing the event. They checked all the boxes for what was needed for this team to get people talking about and get some coverage for the team in the community and grow it more.
But from the first series to the last series and all in between, the Black Bears created much more for the state of Maryland when it comes to hockey than just wins and losses. It bonded together a community that usually just stuck to their own areas of the state. It brought together fans and gave them some decent hockey to watch while giving the youth players something to aspire to when it comes to growing their own game trying to get to the NAHL level.