On Friday, the Maryland Black Bears will step into their first playoff game in franchise history, as they take on their rivals from Western PA, the Johnstown Tomahawks. Albeit, it is a one-sided rivalry with Johnstown having an all-time record of 7-21-7 record over the Black Bears, this season has had a much closer feel to it.
In the 14 games between the two teams this year, 10 of them were one-goal games and five of those 10 games going into extra time. That was a carryover from the 2019-20 season were seven of the 10 games between the two were one-goal affairs. It all started with the Tomahawks winning a wild 7-6 thriller in the opening game of the season, one which saw the Black Bears go up by five goals before dropping it in overtime. Johnstown won the season series 9-3-2.
However, the five wins the Black Bears did have were pretty huge. They swept Johnstown for the first time this season, they won their first game in Johnstown this season, and showing their improvement across the board. Getting the boogeyman of not winning in Johnstown was a huge advancement for this team and something they won’t have to think about going into the series.
When it comes to scoring, Conor Cole has enjoyed playing against the Tomahawks. With three goals, seven assists, and a shootout winner, Cole has been able to find a way to get points against Johnstown. Josh Nixon and Garrett Szydlowski both have two goals and five assists this season versus Johnstown, though Szydlowski leaving Thursday’s game and not playing Friday’s game could have his availability in question going into Friday night. Reid Leibold has scored five times to lead the Black Bears in this series, with Daniel Colabufo and Hunter McCoy joining Cole with three goals a piece.
Between the pipes, Michael Morelli has played nine times this season against Johnstown with a 2.76 GAA .921 Sv% in those games and Hannes Kollen has started four times with a 3.20 GAA and .901 Sv%. Should be interesting to see how head coach Clint Mylymok goes about this one. Kollen played the last two games against Northeast, taking two wins away from that, while Morelli has been the work horse this season– though did suffer an injury a couple weeks back. The upside in this is that both played the Tomahawks tough in their outings.
One interesting note is that of Luke Mountain’s stats against Johnstown. Mr. Black Bear has only two goals and four assists in 35 games. If there were any time for the team captain to make an impact, it will be in his first playoff appearance during his last season in the NAHL.
In a best-of-five, a quick start is going to be more than crucial and being able to win on the road is going to be a must. While in a perfect world, you win all the games on the road– should the Black Bears come out of Johnstown with a split– it will set them up nicely coming home, as they ended the season winning seven of their last 10 games at The Den.