ODENTON, MD– Coming back from the NAHL Showcase, the Maryland Black Bears set their sights on divisional play with the Maine Nordiques coming into town for an East Division Final rematch. While some of the names may have changed, the intensity remained as both teams came out firing in Friday’s match, while Saturday’s tilt felt like a playoff affair.
FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 24th, 2021: BLACK BEARS (5) vs. Maine Nordiques (3): Maryland got off to a quick start Friday night, dictating the play early, which resulted in a goal within the first 3:30. Brad McNeil’s forecheck disrupted the Maine breakout, allowing Branden Piku to find Sean Kilcullen at the point and thanks to a screen in front, Kilcullen’s shot alluded Avery Sturtz to make it 1-0 Maryland. An Aden Bruich slashing call put Maryland on the penalty kill, but that wasn’t going to stop McNeil, who got past the Maine defense before getting hauled down by Matthew Connor and gave McNeil a shorthanded penalty shot. With a second chance, McNeil made no doubt, going backhand over Sturtz’s glove to make it 2-0 Maryland.
The Maryland lead was short-lived, however, as Maine got on the board 1:26 later with Nicholas Bernardo threw a puck by the goal line on Michael Morelli that squeaked in for the power play goal. A minute and 32 seconds later, Maine tied it after a turnover in the neutral zone lead to Dom Marcinkevics firing a wrister past Morelli to tie the game. The Nordiques kept pressing, but Morelli was solid, stopping a couple odd-man chances befor the period ended.
Things settled down in the second period, with chances going both ways. However, a turnover coupled with a mistimed line chance led Maine on a 2-on-1 with Marcinkevics burying his second of the game. Maryland kept pressing, however, as the Black Bears evened the score three minutes and change later with newly acquired Laker Aldridge getting a rebound in front and putting it home to tie the game.
Heading into the third tied at threes, the Black Bears used their forecheck again, this time from Miles Gunty, who picked up the loose puck and found Bobby Staring at the point, leading Staring to wire it home for his first of the year and to give Maryland the lead again. Maryland kept pressing, but Sturtz played strong to keep it a one-goal game before Elliott Lareau picked off a breakout pass in the neutral zone and fired it into the empty net to seal the 5-3 win for Maryland
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 25th, 2021: BLACK BEARS (0) vs. Maine Nordiques (3): With both teams making some line-up adjustments, it was a totally different tone of game in this one, a much more plotting game for sure. Maine got up early on the power play, as solid puck movement in the offensive zone allowed Matthew Connor to score on Luca Di Pasquo just under four minutes into the game. From that point on, Maryland started to turn up the possession numbers, putting shots on throughout– but not being able to beat Gus Holt.
Maryland dominated the offense in the second period, putting 20 shots on Holt, but nothing to show on the scoreboard. Di Pasquo wasn’t tested much in the second frame, but stood tall on a couple breakaways that Maine had on the night.
The third period has Maryland pressing more, moving the puck around their own zone well, but the bounces were going Maine’s way– quite literally. Bernardo took a shot that rebounded off the back wall and clipped the stick of Marcinkevics to make it 2-0 Nordiques just halfway through the period. Maryland got into penalty trouble late, which allowed Maine to clamp down on the Black Bears’ attack and capitalized, as Caden Pattinson got his first of the year off a rebound from Tristan Fasig to make it 3-0. That was how the game ended, as Maryland gets shutout for the first time since April 30th.
Maryland falls out of first place, as Northeast swept Johnstown this weekend. While it is still early, in what is shaping up to be another tight East Division, every game is going to matter that much more. The Black Bears are on the road plenty this weekend, as they’ll play in New Jersey on Friday night and then bus to Johnstown for a Saturday night affair.