ODENTON, MD– After not having met for ten weeks, the Maryland Black Bears and Johnstown Tomahawks renewed acquaintances in the last match-up before the holiday break. Two hard fought games in each, with both sides taking a game, and shining a light on the penalty troubles that the Black Bears have had the past couple of weekends.
FRIDAY DECEMBER 17th, 2021: BLACK BEARS (6) vs. Johnstown (4): Thanks to injuries, illness, and loans; the Black Bears were without six of their regular players. This game Kareem El-Bashir, Thomas Rockey, and John Werber chances to jump into the line-up for this rival weekend. Despite not seeing each other in two-and-a-half months, the rough stuff started early; with Laker Aldridge trying to drop the mitts with Dusty Geregach, but Geregach didn’t take the bait– give Johnstown the early power play. After the kill, Aldridge made up for getting called by putting home his eighth of the year after a turnover in the Johnstown end allowed Brad McNeil to find Aldrdige for the early lead. The next shift, Aldridge found his dance partner in one Cedrick Theodore with Theodore taking the decision. When play finally continued, Maryland continued their pressure on the offensive zone, but had some hiccups in their own zone, which led to Cole Bianchin’s game-tying goal thanks to the Tomahawks forecheck in deep. Maryland didn’t let that get to them, as they continued to press on Sam Evola, finally breaking through with Jesse Horacek getting a touch pass from Tyler Young and beating Evola to make it 2-1 Maryland after one.
The second frame was all Maryland, as their offense took control early. Following a penalty expiring, Ryan Bottrill found Branden Piku coming off the bench, who beat Evola blocker side to make it a 3-1 Maryland lead. Continuing to buzz, the Black Bears kept on Evola, with the fourth goal coming off an Aden Bruich tip off of a Sean Kilcullen shot to make it 4-1 for Maryland. That would be the end of the night for Evola, making way for Liam Gross. Maryland got on Gross early, with Kevin Scott registering his third goal in as many games with a quick wrister from the top of the circle to give Maryland the 5-1 lead. At the other end, Michael Morelli was sharp with key saves to keep the Black Bears’ lead at the size it was.
In the third, the momentum shifted, with Johnstown being the aggressors for most of the frame. They used their speed to get around the Maryland defense, while also drawing a couple penalties, one resulting in a Frank Jenkins’ blast on the power play to cut the lead to 5-2. Their aggressive play also helped them on the penalty kill, with Jake Black picking up a loose puck and putting behind Morellit to make it 5-3. The Black Bears picked up their game after the shorthanded goal, with Vlad Polegoshko putting home a rebound off a Matthew Davies shot to make it 6-3, and stopping the leak for the time being. With five seconds left in the game, Stephen Kyrkostas snuck one in the net; but Maryland would take the game by a score of 6-4. Morelli made 27 saves for his ninth win of the season.
SATURDAY DECEMBER 18th, 2021: BLACK BEARS (2) vs. Johnstown (5): The penalty kill was the forefront for the Black Bears, as they gave up five power plays in the first frame, which would be the downfall of the first period. While the Black Bears did have their chances offensively, they couldn’t get a good flow going due to the penalties they were taking. Johnstown cashed in on the power play with 10:03 remaining as they worked the puck around the zone with precision to open up Jacob Badal for a clear shot that got past Michael Morelli for the 1-0 lead. As they tried to get some chances going with, more penalties came and Johnstown would score once again, with Frank Jenkins loading up a slap shot with the two-man advantage to give the Tomahawks a 2-0 lead. Despite the tough goals, Michael Morelli was sharp after that, making key stops after that not only on the power plays, but on a shorthanded attempt by Johnstown to keep it 2-0 after one.
Maryland had a little more pep in their step in the second period, really taking control possession wise and created a lot more offensive chances for themselves, while also being more cautious on taking penalties. Their work would pay off with Laker Aldridge getting the first goal from a tip on a Luke Van Why shot to net a power play goal and cut Johnstown lead in half. However, it was short lived, as 26 seconds later; Zach Stoner trailed the play and got a pass from Ryan Vellucci and created Stoner’s first of the season to regain the Johnstown two-goal advantage.
Trying to get some momentum, the Black Bears did attack Sam Evola, but he was equal to the tasks in the start of the period. More penalty trouble for Maryland, as a cross-checking call turned into Sean Ramsey scoring from the slot to make it 4-1. Even with loads of opportunities, the Black Bears couldn’t seem to find the luck they needed for the game. However, on a short-handed attempt, Aden Bruich banged home a rebound off a Ryan Bottrill rush to cut the lead in half. With Maryland pushing the envelope late, a couple of opportunities couldn’t be completed and an Egan Schmidt goal off the face-off put the nail in this game, making the final 5-2.
The Black Bears now are at the halfway point of the season with 30 more games to go. The holiday break will span until January 7th, when they take on the New Jersey Titans at The Den at Piney Orchard. If you want to start the new year off right, go to Tickets.MarylandBlackBears.com for info on how you can see the game in-person.