With the Black Bears wrapping up the 2020-21 season, it’s time to look ahead to what’s next. A foundation season is only as meaningful as the seasons that come after that and how it shapes the team and players going forward. So, here’s my personal three wishes heading into next season. Disclaimer, I have ZERO clout when it comes to the decision makings, this isn’t what I think is going to happen, it’s what I wish would happen.
1. Keeping the Home-Grown Pipeline Going: There were a lot of players who played this season that are a part of the Black Bear Sports Group pipeline of talent. Quinn Kennedy, Miles Gunty, Dimitry Kebreau, Jesse Horacek, and Rory Gresham came up through the Team Maryland pipeline. Being able to give them a chance and let them show off is a great look to the future, especially with plenty of spots up for grabs this coming season. Currently, Sean Kilcullen has become an everyday player after being in that pipeline. Add in the mix Jude Kurtas and Aidan McDowell after they came up through the Mercer Chiefs, the growth from within is strong and the talent is definitely available in that pipeline.
2. Returnees Help That Younger Pipeline: The Black Bears had 11 full-time returnees at the start of the season from the 2019-20 season. Even with some trades, Maryland used that older core to help the incoming players transition with what the game-plan from the previous season. A chunk of players will be gone due to aging out or heading to college next season, which is great for their advancement and shows how prepared they are for the next step. That said, to be able to keep some players who know the system could help ease the transition for the incoming players and keep the success going off of this season.
3. Go from Underdog to Favorite: With the Black Bears upsetting the top-seed in the division, the Black Bears left their mark in showing they belong in the hunt of the East Division elite. If not for a 12-game slump, they could have gotten a higher seed– but they showed that they weren’t out of place. It’ll be a little tougher next season with another team in the division as Jamestown returns, but the mindset now shouldn’t be about making the playoffs, it’s about getting the higher seed. Each year is going to be about taking that next season. Going from an expansion team, to a contender, to an underdog– the natural progression is to become a favorite from this point forward. With the make-up of the coaching staff and possible returnees– that shouldn’t be a problem for this squad.
And that’ll do it for the 2020-21 season. The NAHL Draft is July 14th, which should mark the basis for the next season. It was a fun ride this year, now it’s a time to build off this foundation.