Three Days at The Den

When the NAHL announced in April 2018 that they were expanding to Odenton, Maryland– I was excited, but also apprehensive. In fact, I was wrong about a lot of things that they were going to do in the infancy of that team– like the name and inclusion of Natty Boh. However, as time goes and proves me wrong– I’m happy that I was wrong. Spending time around the team this week and at a home game after a season-and-a-half reporting from afar, this team couldn’t be in better shape with what they’ve laid out from the beginning of the team.

The experience of the week was nothing short of tremendous both in a fan experience side of things with participating in intermission festivities to the professional side of thing with access to players and coaches, as well as helping with recaps of the intermission and getting some time in the booth with play-by-play announcer Alex Utano. The open-arms that the Black Bears welcomed Jen Conway (@NHLHistorygirl) and myself was great. It shouldn’t be such a surprise considering how well they take care of Jon Pitonzo as our official podcast photographer.

Thursday morning, Jen and I went to practice and immediately had Black Bears captain Logan Kons tap on the glass and give a head-nod acknowledgement of us being there– which is a stand-up act in and of itself, but more on that later. Following that, communications director Colin MacCarthy came over to welcome us and following practice, team president Robyn Remick came up to us to make sure that we were well taken care of and offered us a skate in the now-reality Rink Two, which we took her up on.

During the, Colin and I worked out who I wanted to talk to for the week– which turned out to be not only a podcast; but the weekly Black Bears’ Report they put out on their social media streams. Following that, Robyn, Colin, Jen, and myself sat up in the Black Bears war room and talked about things inside and out of hockey. It was very good time hearing stories of Robyn’s past at ESPN and the different things she’s experienced when in the sports lifestyle. We took our leave later to let them get to work and have us adventure on our vacation.

Friday night was a great night, not just because of the Black Bears win, but also just being able to experience the game first-hand. The in-game production, coordinated by Harrison Hascoe, was top-notch and very well executed to keep the fans involved during stoppages in play and during the intermission– even if it means putting two podcasters in a grueling obstacle course that is not meant for two former athletes with dwindling cardio. With my time up in the HockeyTV booth with Alex Utano and cameraman Will (whose last name I didn’t get or forgot– sorry Will) was also awesome, as it had been over 15 years since I last called a hockey game.

Also on Friday night, it was meeting up with billet parents who I have interacted with online before, but have never met face-to-face– with the exception of Bethany and Brian; who came to North Dakota in the summer. It’s always great to meet those people behind the scenes to help keep these players in a family lifestyle while they’re away from home.

While Saturday night was a loss, the production and energy in the arena was amazing and kept everyone invested in the game throughout. Especially after the game, where autographs for fans in attendance happened; which happens win or loss– which is a nice connection with these players to the fanbase and the community as a whole. Also, before the game, a reception was held beforehand, as it was Swedish Heritage Night. Delicacies were made and brought from Sweden that season ticket holders and staff partook in with the families of defenseman Hampus Rydqvist and Filip Jakobsson, as well as Lars-Erik Tindre from the Swedish embassy. Another way that the team connects the fans with the team and also making those from the team feel a little closer to home, if only for a night.

Not only that, but seeing people I haven’t seen in a while– like my former teammate Kevin, meeting people who know my former teammates and who I interact with online– Mark; meeting fellow DMV area hockey backers– like Derek of Chesapeake Regional Hockey Review and his son; plus meeting a podcast listener whose name I didn’t get, but was wearing a Patrick Kane US Hockey jersey– so shoutout to you PK88 listener. It was a great coming together of the hockey community in the region.

Back to Logan Kons for a second. I mentioned earlier about him saying hi when Jen and I got there– but after that practice, he formally said hi to us and we chatted and after the game Saturday he came up and thanked me for coming out and asked when I’d be back in the area. I noticed that Friday, as well, with Kons going up to fans, billet families, player’s families, and talking to them and thanking them for coming out. That’s the mark of a true leader when the off-ice commitments are as strong as the on-ice commitments. If there’s someone to look at when it comes to all-around good person in hockey– Kons will be tops on that list for me.

The entire experience was great, the staff there from Robyn to Colin to Harrison to Alex to Will to Herb the PA Announcer to Mitch the Media Intern to the Ice Crew to everyone was top rate, very welcoming and open, and willing to take time out to make things right if there were problems to make sure that they are running a top-notch program on and off the ice.

If you have the chance to make it out to a Black Bears game, I implore you to do so. This is a team that cares about the community from the president to the players and everyone in between. They all make sure the experience you have there is one you will want to come back to and one that will last in your mind. Thanks to everyone who welcomed Jen and I to the rink and it’s something we’ll be sure to return to hopefully sooner than later.

Forming the Maryland NAHLers

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It’s been a week since the NAHL announced that they’ll be putting a team at Piney Orchard Ice Arena in Odenton for the 2018-19 season. While I’ve reached out to the ownership group to talk about the team and how they are going to get things going, there has not been a reply thus far– so we will only have to speculate. Yes, we had some fun on the April 18th Face Off Hockey Show, there are some ideas that should be floated out there in order to make this team successful in the community and in the league. So– why not have a rough draft here??

Solid Coaching/Management is a Must: When you’re thinking about this league, it’s purely about development and getting these young players to the next level. There’s plenty of candidates out there, but for a first year team in an unnatural location, you’d probably want to have a coach who knows the area not just for people to recognize, but for him to help these players adjust to the area and know how and where to go and where not to. For me, if you can shoot for DeMatha Catholic’s head coach Tony MacAulay— it would be a huge get. Now, it’ll be hard-pressed to get him away from DeMatha– where he has been from 1997 until 2002 and then from 2007 until present day– but it would be a big opportunity for him to get back into a bigger scene, as well as be a huge plus for the development of the players, while bringing a winning pedigree with five state championships to show for his work. If they can convince him and he’s willing– it’d be a huge get for this team.

It’s All in the Name: To a less serious thing– the team name needs to be very Maryland. While the NAHL hyped that Odenton is a suburb of Baltimore– the distance between Odenton and Baltimore is just five miles shorter than Odenton to the DC area. This team needs to be the pride of the entire state rather than one metropolitan area over another. Plus, the amount you could use the flag in the color scheme– though cliche at this point– is perfect for the team to make a splash. Not only that– we all know that branding is a huge deal in these days. If the look is slick, you can have merchandise sold hand over fist. And yes, we’re pushing for “Maryland Crabs” hard for a name– anything that is state related will be solid…but we’ll still call ’em the Crabs.

Embrace Your Surroundings: Sure, the NAHL is looking for high school kids to come and join the league and it could be a competition to some people– the new team needs to embrace the high school hockey culture of Maryland and not only promote themselves to the masses through the Mid Atlantic Prep Hockey League, but promote the local hockey around since the timing of the games will be different in most cases. Hell, even see what it’ll take to get the Capitals on board with this whole thing and see how much you can get promoted that way because that’d surely be a big get for people who may not be able to go and see the Capitals all the time due to location and pricing.  On top of that– get the media involved in a big way. The Maryland Gazette is a good start for local news in the Anne Arundel County area, but outside of the newspaper; look at local radio like WNAV in Annapolis, which is owned by Caps super-fan Pat Sajak. Not only that but– hey, Face Off Hockey Show is AA County-based and we’ll promote like no one’s business if you want to be promoted. It’s all about getting the word and the hype out there and people will acknowledge it.

Look to the Future Rink-wise: In February of 2018, the Piney Orchard Ice Arena brass said they were still looking for a second rink to be put in the vicinity. It has been a rumor for the longest time that they wanted to add a rink, so much so that they have wishful thinking on their video boards claiming all events are held at “Rink 1” of a one rink arena. However, with the NAHL team– they should focus around building something bigger than just the idea of a single-sheet of ice like they wanted. Personally– build some stands, updated locker rooms, just a full rebuild of it all in order to keep this team here a long time.

I’m sure this will be a bit of a running list, but it’s a start to making this team successful for the long run of not only the NAHL, but for the interest in area hockey.

Odenton, Maryland Granted NAHL Franchise

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It was announced late Thursday that Odenton, Maryland will be the latest addition to the NAHL for the 2018-19 season, as Piney Orchard Ice Arena will be the home to this currently unnamed team. For someone who played their club hockey career at Piney Orchard (RIP Chesapeake Chiefs), this is an amazing development for hockey in Maryland.

For those who don’t know, the NAHL is the second-tier Junior league, right under the USHL. They’ve been around for 42 years and have teams all over the US and is a great catalyst for players to get to the NCAA level. It will be the first time a team is based out of Maryland, which is a little odd for the placement for the team.

When it comes to hockey in Maryland, which I’m a big supporter of, this is great. This will put a spotlight on the area, and while the kids won’t always be from the Old Line State– the fact that it could give some of the local high school kids something to shoot for on a higher level they probably wouldn’t have had right in their backyard.

NAHL is decent hockey, but I hope people in the area don’t expect Major Juniors like in Canada and northern states– it will be very developmental based and will need a lot of patience for the team to really flourish. Yet, it’s a good first step to really show off how much hockey can be supported in Maryland outside of the Washington Capitals.

About the arena– like I said, I played at Piney as a youth and was there when it opened almost 30 years ago. I’m surprised a place like the Laurel Ice House or Rockville Ice Arena wasn’t a choice, as they are a bit more modern than Piney– but who knows what Piney has in store for upgrades– which I think they’ll need in order to have players as competitive as they need to be in this league.

This is a great day for Maryland hockey. To have a league like this put a team in the central Maryland area is tremendous. If anything, it could get some shine on the college programs in the area and maybe even boost those teams to try and get some D1 consideration– looking at you, Navy and maybe you, Stevenson University— but if nothing else– this is a start of a new era of hockey in Maryland.

Hope you all are along for the ride because I may have to spend a lot of time on this subject going forward.