JOHNSTOWN, PA– An odd three-game set between two rivals battling for position in the NAHL East turned out to be classics once again, as the Black Bears traveled to Western PA to take on Johnstown. All three games had solid action, with the last two being solid classics in this rivalry. Unfortunately for the Black Bears, they only got two of six points and slide to third in the NAHL East standings.
THURSDAY FEBRUARY 24th, 2002: BLACK BEARS (1) at Johnstown (4): Coming into town during a nasty storm, the Black Bears return to Johnstown for the first time since October 2nd. Off the hop, the Black Bears got into penalty trouble with a tripping call, but the penalty kill was able to keep the Tomahawks to the perimeter, limiting their effectiveness. After the kill, the Black Bears looked to gain some momentum, playing well on 5-on-5 chances and getting some sustained offense in the Johnstown zone. Despite the chances, Johnstown struck first as they cycled down low to get Maryland chasing, leaving Stephen Kyrkostas unchecked in the slot, putting it behind Michael Morelli to get the early lead. Maryland responded two minutes later, as Brad McNeil potted his seventh of the year thanks to great work by Branden Piku to win the puck battle along the boards and finding McNeil in front for the tying goal. The defensive zone issues continued, as there were some mishaps leading to Morelli needing to be sharp and keep the game tied up. That would be ended with only four seconds left, as a turnover led to Braedon Ford getting open for a one-timer off a Kyrkostas’ pass to make it 2-1 before the intermission.
Despite some chances on an early power play, Maryland could not even the game up early in the second; even with solid movement in the zone in the first half of it. After the power play, Johnstown was able to shift the balance in their end, eventually upping their lead to 3-1 thanks to a Jake Black redirect off a Tyler DesRochers slap-pass with Morelli not having much of a shot on it. The Black Bears then got another power play on a slashing penalty, but could not get much going due to Johnstown stacking the blue line and stopping Maryland in their tracks. While they had some zone time post-power play, Maryland couldn’t get within one before Johnstown went up 4-1 in transition with Johnny Ulicny patiently holding the puck, drawing the defense, then finding Kyrkostas wide open for the easy tap in. With another power play yielding no goal, the Black Bears went into the intermission down three.
Johnstown took over control in the third period, outshooting the Black Bears 13-6, but Morelli was sharp when facing the shots, keeping the scoring at 4-1. Maryland got back-to-back penalties, which actually yielded a solid chance for Ryan Bottrill on a diving play off a pass from Tyler Young, but it couldn’t get past Matt O’Donnell. Even with the power play at the middle of the frame, the offense for the Black Bears could not figure out O’Donnell, making the final 4-1 for the Tomahawks.
FRIDAY FEBRUARY 25th, 2022: BLACK BEARS (6) at Johnstown (5): On the 45th anniversary of the release of “Slap Shot,” which was filmed in Johnstown, the Black Bears knew they had to be as aggressive as the movie portrayed hockey to be. One issue that haunted the Black Bears in recent games happened again, as Johnstown struck first with Maryland unable to get the puck out of the zone, Johnny Ulicny was able to get behind the defense and beat Luca Di Pasquo. Maryland would get it right back 41 seconds later as Miles Gunty potted his ninth of the year redirecting a slap-pass from Kevin Scott into the yawning cage to even the score. Building off that momentum, Maryland was looking to create their own luck– which they did 1:22 later when Scott dumped the puck into the Tomahawks zone, it took an odd carom and got behind Matt O’Donnell to give the Black Bears their first lead of the weekend. The Black Bears sustained their pressure in the offensive zone, which lead to their third goal from Jack Blanchett who got a solid pass from Laker Aldridge and wired it home for his ninth of the year and gave Maryland the two-goal lead.
Another issue plaguing the Black Bears has been bulk-size penalties the team has been taking. This started late in the frame, as Johnstown got to within one goal before the end of the period as Jake Black got a deflection off a skate in front and behind Di Pasquo to cut the Maryland lead to one before the end of the frame.
Maryland looked to get back on the offensive swing to start the second and would be able to control the pace for the majority of the period. The two-goal lead was regained when Jacob Brockman had all the time and space in the slot and fired it behind O’Donnell to make it 4-2. Johnstown got a power play around the middle of the frame and were able to turn the tide a bit, holding the Black Bears in their defensive zone, tiring out the penalty killers– but no goals to show for it. After Vlad Polegoshko was denied on a breakaway coming out of the box. Jesse Horacek made it a three-goal lead, deflecting a Blanchett bomb from the point to make it 5-2.
The third period is when all the penalties almost took Maryland for a turn. Early in the third, Johnstown only needed 12 seconds of power play time before potting their third goal of the game with Sean Ramsey gathering a rebound at the side of the net and putting it home. Right after the goal, however, Maryland got a power play that they were able to cash in on, as Tyler Young weaved out of the corner and put it through O’Donnell to give the Black Bears their three-goal lead back. Maryland then had three straight penalties called on them. They were able to dodge the first one without harm, but the second penalty allowed Johnstown to get back within two, as Stephen Kyrkostas getting a rebound off the end board and shoveling it into the net. In the last of the eight penalties the Black Bears took, Black was able to find a loose puck around the crease and put it past Di Pasquo to cut the Maryland lead to one. Despite pressing with the extra attacker, the Black Bears held off the pressure for the 6-5 victory.
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 26th, 2022: BLACK BEARS (2) at Johnstown (3): The Black Bears continued their offensive ways on Saturday, as they took control of the first period offensively, pinning Johnstown in their zone, but were unable to capitalize early on Dominik Wasik in net. The defense for the Black Bears, which was four units strong, held the Tomahawks at bay for most of the period, only allowing three shots on Luca Di Pasquo. Unfortunately, the second shot of the period handcuffed Di Pasquo, as Braedon Ford wristed one from the left side to make it 1-0. Maryland stayed persistent, continuing to take the fight to Johnstown, who got themselves into some penalty troubles in the first. The Black Bears were able to cash in on the second power play of the night, with Elliott Lareau wristing one home from the top of the circles to tie the game late in the first.
Continuing the offensive fire, Maryland took it to Wasik and the Tomahawks, eventually breaking through in the first five minutes of the period. A save at one end by Di Pasquo transitioned the play for Maryland, as quick passing from Jesse Horacek to Tyler Young ended with Young finding Ryan Bottrill for the goal and the lead. Johnstown would fight back in the middle part of the frame, starting to get their legs underneath them more and crashing the Black Bears net. They crashed it so hard that their second goal had a bit of controversy in it, as Di Pasquo was bumped in front of the net as a shot from Frank Jenkins came from the point and got tipped by Jake Black to tie the game. Despite some conferring, the goal was counted. Maryland was able to close out the period strong, trying to gain some momentum back and get another go-ahead goal, but to no avail.
The third period was a battle, with neither team wanting to give up an inch. Maryland was able to get some shots on, as did Johnstown, but both defenses were selling out left and right to block shots and get into passing lanes. For a rivalry game that usually has some bad blood, both teams played a smart, penalty-less third period– thanks to the refs for letting them play. However, it didn’t end the way Maryland wanted to, as with 1:44 remaining, as dump-in was mishandled by the Maryland defense and Jacob Badal found Jake Black on a bang-bang play to make it 3-2 late in the game. Even with a late push with the goalie pulled, Maryland comes up short on Saturday.
The Black Bears return home this Friday and Saturday against the Danbury Jr. Hat Tricks. Tickets are available at Tickets.MarylandBlackBears.com through the Severn Bank Ticket Center.