MIDDLETOWN, NJ/JOHNSTOWN, PA– A most interesting weekend for the Maryland Black Bears, as they we the visitors for two different home openers in two different cities. While the travel was long, the Black Bears looked sharp for the most part and came out of it with a 1-0-1 weekend.
OCTOBER 1st, 2021: BLACK BEARS (3) at New Jersey (2): In their first match-up of the weekend, the Black Bears visited the Titans and former goalie Andrew Takacs. It was a tough start for Maryland, as they put pressure on Takacs; though on one chance, a rebounded shot went around the boards and cruised down 2-on-1 with Jake LaRusso going down the ice and putting it past Michael Morelli for an early lead. Three minutes later, a bobble at the blue line sprung the Titans on an odd-man rush with Anthony Calafiore spinning around and finding Tommy Bannister, beating an outstretched Morelli to make it 2-0 New Jersey. Even with all the pressure, Maryland couldn’t cash in just yet. A power play later on in the first allowed them to cut the lead in half, with Luke Van Why putting a pass on a platter for Philip Törnqvist to hammer a one-timer past Takacs and make it a one-goal game after one period.
Maryland kept the pressure on New Jersey in the second, becoming a force on the forecheck and clogging up the neutral zone. The forecheck was what helped lead to the tying goal, as Dylan Wegnar picked off a pass up the middle and put it past Takacs to even it up. Five minute later, Vlad Polegoshko got into the mix, picking up a Ryan Bottrill shot off the boards and putting it past Takacs for the 3-2 lead. After dominating in shot in the second stanza (22-7), Maryland continued to clog up the areas for New Jersey, while Morelli held the fort down to keep the score at 3-2, the eventual final.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 2nd, 2021: BLACK BEARS (3) at Johnstown (4) SO: No rest for the wicked, as the Black Bears traveled over 300 miles to get to Johnstown for another home opener. The last time Maryland was in Johnstown, they had eliminated the Tomahawks in Game Five of the Eastern Semis 4-3. Things got hot and heavy quick as TJ Koufis slashed at the calves of Laker Alridge and the two tangled three seconds into the game.
After that nonsense, the Black Bears showed they didn’t have as bad of bus legs and some though, with Aden Burich picking up his own rebound and putting it past Sam Evola to give Maryland the lead 3:14 into the game. On the other end, Morelli was big in net, making three big saves early on. Penalty issues reared their ugly head, as the Black Bears gave Johnstown a shot midway through the first and Holt Oliphant put a one-timer past Morelli to even the score. Maryland struck back with a power play goal of their own, as Bottrill picked up the rebound on an Aldridge shot and made it 2-1 before the end of the frame.
Johnstown got on the power play again and cashed in again, moving the puck around the zone and Stephen Kyrkostas ending it to tie the game up at two just before the midway point of regulation. It took the Black Bears less than two minutes to get the lead back thanks to a drop pass by Conor Cole that found Branden Piku who found a space between Evola to make it 3-2.
Overall, the goalies were on display, as Morelli and Evola traded big saves in this game and kept their teams in it. It wasn’t until an alley-oop pass late in the third sprung Kyrkostas and he beat Morelli with 2:40 left in regulation to tie the game. In overtime, Maryland and Johnstown traded chances with no results. Johnstown won the shootout 2-0 and the Black Bears take the point out of Johnstown.
While three out of four isn’t bad, the bigger thing is how well Maryland played in those conditions, especially in Johnstown after a tough game in New Jersey. The Black Bears return home to take on the Northeast Generals, who they are tied with atop the East Division.