BLAINE, MN– The NAHL is back at the NSC Super Rinks for the 2021 NAHL Showcase, where all the teams from the league head to Blaine, Minnesota to have inter-divisional play for four games. The Maryland Black Bears, having split their first weekend, took to the ice on Wednesday and Thursday against two teams from the South Division and took away two wins in the process.
WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 15th, 2021: BLACK BEARS (5) vs. Corpus Christi IceRays (3): The first game of the week, the Black Bears took on the newly reformed Corpus Christi IceRays, who sat out last season due to COVID protocols. The first period was a tale of two halves. The IceRays took control early, but Luca Di Pasquo was able to help stave off the shots against. Maryland started to get their wheels in the second half and gain momemtum just as the first period ended.
It took five minutes and one second in the second period for the Black Bears to strike, as Vlad Polegoshko got his first of the year off a Luke Van Why shot that was deflected in front on a delayed penalty call. Maryland then took advantage, putting pressure onto the IceRays, but Damon Beaver was equal to the task. With only 48 seconds left in the second, Corpus Christi struck with Jayden Jensen tipping home a shot in front of Di Pasquo to end the period at one.
Another quick start for Maryland, striking within the first five minutes of the third with Matthew Davies pinching in and getting a great pass from Dimitry Kebreau to put Maryland ahead. Just over three minutes later, the IceRays stretched the zone with cross-rink passing while it was 4-on-4, which ended with Oliver Stumpel putting home his first of the year. Polegoshko took control after that, first scoring a shorthanded goal with some great stick-handling though the defenders; then finding a loose puck deflected in front to sneak it by Beaver to complete his hat trick.
With some penalty issues, the Black Bears were able to kill off most of the threats, with some great blocks by Branden Piku and Sean Kilcullen, but Zach Dill was able to get one in on the power play with the goalie pulled to make it 4-3. It was for not, as Philip Tornqvist buried an empty netter to give the Black Bears the 5-3 win. The win was the third straight opening game Showcase win for Maryland.
THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 16th, 2021: BLACK BEARS (4) vs. WICHITA FALLS WARRIORS (2): Debuting their “black-out” jerseys, the Black Bears, Maryland looked to not fall into the pattern they had in Showcases past where they alternated wins and losses through out the event. Things were a bit deadlock in the first, both teams feeling each other out. However, the Warriors struck first shorthanded when a turnover in the defensive zone bounced around and ended with Carter Korpi potting home the goal. Just three minutes later, Luke Van Why found the back of the net, throwing a shot on goal that trickled through Matthew O’Donnell’s pads to tie the game up.
The second period started with Maryland getting into some penalty issues and just as the first one expired, Jack Blanchett carried the puck in and let it go from the top of the circle that Michael Morelli seemed to lose and it went right past him making it 2-1 Warriors. Maryland started to take the play to Wichita Falls in the middle part of the frame, creating plenty of chances before Van Why struck again with a laser of a shot from the point to tie the game up again. Morelli came up big after the goal, as the Warriors got a breakaway and Mo stuck out his right pad to keep it tied. The Black Bears had chances late, including a couple that went off the post, but did not direct in.
Going into the third tied for another game, the Black Bears used the momentum from their penalty kill and blocked shots and used it for the middle of the frame. Ryan Bottrill redirected a Van Why shot with under eight minutes left to give the Black Bears the lead after taking a puck to the top of the knee during that momentum shifting PK. No more than two minutes later, Bottrill set up Dylan Wegner in front for the 4-2 lead and eventually the win. Bottrill and Van Why had four points apiece, while Wegner had a goal and two assists on the game.
Maryland is right back at it on Friday with a late afternoon game against Odessa and closing out the Showcase with Chippewa.