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

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/ FOHS Media Faction

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.

Black Bears Season in Review: We Hardly Knew Ye

Kind of hard to believe that just after one season, the Black Bears are graduating players. But, as with junior hockey and trying to build a new team– you need an older player on the roster to help guide the younger guys along for the ride. And even in just one season, these players were able to make a big impact for this team and sow the seeds for the future members of this team.

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/ FOHS Media Faction

First, you have to start with the guy they call Mr. Excessive, the captain Connor Pooley. Pooley took over the captaincy when Quinn Warmuth was traded, but his leadership by example was on display as an alternate early into the season. Pooley has a strong hockey lineage, with his father Perry played in the AHL and IHL after his career at Ohio State, his brother Austin currently plays at Ohio State, his uncle Paul is another Ohio State grad with a cup of coffee in the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets, while his cousin Scott currently plays with Newfoundland in the ECHL after four years at Holy Cross.

Pooley has the hockey IQ and was the primer offensive player for the Black Bears, leading the team with 47 points (17g, 30a) on the year and being able to adapt to playing alongside anyone in most situations on the ice. Also, he’s durable, as only he and Jake Sujishi played all 60 games for Maryland. Pooley was one of the few players who had NAHL experience previous to this year, as he played 42 games with the Lone Star Brahmas in 2017-18. He knows what it takes to make it in the world of hockey and if he keeps applying himself, he’ll go far and was a solid representative for this squad.

Photo Jon Pitonzo/ FOHS Media Faction

Next is Karim Del Ponte, the Swiss import who also had NAHL time before coming to Maryland and understood the grind of the East Division, as he played with the Johnstown Tomahawks last season, while also playing for the defunct Wichita Falls Wildcats the season before. While he wasn’t the flashiest of players on the blue line, Del Ponte’s game was more consistency than anything else. He’s one of the few Black Bears who played more than 10 games for the team to finish with a plus rating in the plus/minus category.

Speaking on consistency, Del Ponte had 12 points each of his three years playing in the NAHL, though he had a personal-high three goals this season. Despite being a bit on the small on the side at 5-foot-11, Del Ponte plays bigger than his size and has solid vision and decision making on the point to know what to do and how to get out of certain spots. With a solid history in his native Switzerland, it’ll be interesting to see if he goes back to Europe or hopes to find a spot in the US college or minor league route.

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/ FOHS Media Faction

Another graduate is someone who wasn’t with the team for long, but Bradley Jenion brought a lot of impact to the team upon his arrival. Jenion brought a big presence to the team with his 6-foot-4 frame on the blue line and his willingness to throw around his body. Granted, that did get him in trouble some with ill-advised penalties, but the big Brit picked up the physical game in the absence of former Black Bear Carter Wade.

However, his short-time already was also cut short due to injury down the stretch, missing about six weeks of action due to an injury, which hampered an already thin defensive corps. It’ll be an interesting thing to see where Jenion goes from here, as he has been in North America for the past five seasons, but also has been part of the England national team program, which could mean he heads back over the pond if there’s no opportunity for him in North America. There’s plenty to his game that teams would take a shine to, which will hopefully get him some looks stateside.

These three guys left their mark on this first team. They were the right trio of players to mentor the young players and maybe lay the groundwork for something bigger down the line with the younger players passing along what they learned from these three to the next crop of Black Bears. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would like to thank Connor, Karim, and Bradley for their contribution to this team.

(NOTE: As we get closer to camp and rosters being kind of finalized, I’m sure I’ll do one of these for other players who left a mark on this team– whether it be the first year or beyond.)

Black Bears Year in Review: Building a Community

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction

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.

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 Bear Sports Group Makes More In-Roads, Buy Youngstown Phantoms

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Lost in the whole drunken debauchery of the Washington Capitals Stanley Cup victory, the Black Bears Sports Group made another impressive move. If nothing else, they could be the biggest movers and shakers of this offseason and it just barely begun. Not just for the expansion team in the NAHL being brought to Odenton– but this move is huge.

On Friday, Murry Gunty– the CEO of BBSG– and BBSG has purchased half of the ownership stake of the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL, buying the stake from former NHLer Troy Loney and his wife. Bruce Zoldan and his family will keep their half of the ownership, but Gunty made a move to put former NHLer Keith Primeau as vice-chairman of hockey operations.

If nothing else, BBSG has done a helluva job when it comes to building not only the brand across the mid-Atlantic, but also to make sure their NAHL team is going to be leading players to success. We mentioned earlier in the year about the Maryland Black Bears having a feeder system through Team Maryland and the Mercer Chiefs– but now they have a team that players can be fed to in the Phantoms. Maybe not directly, but will have a better chance to actually make the USHL in that situation and give more of the Black Bears a chance at trying out for the USHL.

This goes to show that when I spoke to Ryan Scott earlier that the BBSG is going to grow hockey in the mid-Atlantic (and now Ohio Valley) region and have a pipeline of talent be able to stay in and around the area rather than shuffle off to somewhere else. And to buy up the assets they are putting in their portfolio is a great way to grow the game, but to also make sure the players have a place to play and that people in the area have a place to go towards.

Now, how that translates on the ice remains to be scene. It’ll be a big task for them to make an expansion team successful on the ice and in the box office– but with the recent success of the Vegas Golden Knights, maybe they can take off that formula to create a success for all aspects of the team from the ice to the pay-window.

First Draft For Black Bears Yield Interesting Results

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The annual NAHL Draft happened on Tuesday and the Maryland Black Bears used it as a nice jumping off point for their franchise, selecting 13 players in the draft. The NAHL draft lasted 16 rounds, which means Maryland made the most of their time.

However, before the draft, they tendered two offers to two players out of the pre-draft camp in Matteo Menotti and Brady Lindauer. Menotti had 24 goals and 45 points in 29 games with the Minnesota Moose of the US Premier League. Menotti has also played seven games in the NAHL in the past two seasons between the Odessa Jackalopes and Minnesota Wilderness. Lindauer played in the NA3HL with the La Crosse Freeze, netting 48 assists and 64 points in only 34 games while also having seven games of NAHL time with the Coulee Region Chill.

With the first overall pick in the actual draft, the Black Bears picked Steve Agriogianis, who split time between Cedar Rapids, Omaha, and Central Illinois of the USHL last season. The interesting thing with this pick is that Agriogianis is supposed to join Penn State University this season, as well as attending camp with Central Illinois in the summer. This means Maryland is third on the depth chart with Agriogianis most likely, which makes you wonder why they picked someone with obvious other options with the top pick if your team is the second fall-back option.

In the second round, Maryland picked another player committed to Division I in 2018-19 in Patrick Choi. Choi is committed to Bentley University for next season, but if he does stay in juniors another year, Choi would be a great producer. In the NCDC AAA side, Choi was the tenth leading scorer in the league with 23 goals and 53 points in his 48 games between Boston and Syracuse.

A little local flavor in the third round, as Maryland picked Andrew Lucas, who was born in Alexandria, Virginia. A commit to University of Vermont, Lucas played with the Loomis Chaffee Prep School and Yale Jr. Bulldogs this past season. Lucas is coming off of back-to-back 28-point seasons with Loomis Chaffee from the blue line.

Here’s the rest of the picks from the Draft for the Black Bears:

-Cole Gibbs, D, St. Mary’s Prep (MI)
-Luc Salem, D, Alberni Valley (BCHL)
-Max Borst, F, Edina High (MN)
-Tristan Culleton, D, Steinbach (MJHL)
-Joseph Demers, C/RW, Dallas Stars U18 (TX)
-Brayden Shaw, F, Regina (Sask. Midget)
-Kobe Keller, C/RW, Soo (Northern Ont.)
-Luke Mountain, F, Shattuck St. Mary (MN)
-Marek Wazny, C, Burlington (Ont.)
-Thomas Jarman, D, Omaha AAA (NE)

There are still free agent camps to be had for the Black Bears, as they’ll hold a free agent camp in Rockville before they have their invite-only game in late July to round out their team before the September training camp in their inaugural season.

First Black Bears Acquire from Kenai River

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Via @BlackBearsNAHL

A few days late, but the first two rosters players were announced for the Maryland Black Bears, as a deal was made with the Kenai River Brown Bears, which sent Carter Wade (’98) and Luke Posner (’99) to Maryland for what appears to be future considerations, though nothing was put as a return.

The move was a decent one for Maryland, as they’ll immediately be bringing in older players who have experience at the NAHL level to help mentor the other players who may be getting their first shot at this chance.

Wade finished his second season in Kenai River, putting up three goals and 14 points in his 88 games over two seasons, as well as serving as an alternate captain last year. Wade comes from Ephrata, Washington and came out of the Everett Jr. Silvertips program before jumping to the NAHL in 2015-16 with the Odessa Jackalopes before getting a taste of the USHL in two games with the Sioux City Musketeers. After that season, Wade moved to Kenai River before heading now to Maryland. The big stat for Wade is his 407 PIMs in the last two seasons, which means the Black Bears may have found their enforcer already.

Posner finished his first year in the NAHL with five goals and 27 points in 56 games after a high school career in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. Posner captained his Mahtomedi Zephyrs get to the Class A State Tournament his senior season, though they were eliminated in the first round. Described as a slippery player, Posner was sixth on the Brown Bears in points in his rookie year. A hot start helped Posner, with 11 points in his first seven games, but it cooled as the team cooled down. A new start in Maryland could help him get back on track.

With speed and some toughness on the roster already, the Black Bears are setting things in motion for the new younger class coming in. The NAHL will hold their draft on June 5th, which will be another step in the Maryland Black Bears molding their team either through the draft or making trades to get some established players on their roster.

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.