After the season that the Maryland Black Bears had in 2020-21, the squad from this season had a hard act to follow. With eight players returning from last season and two others who had affiliate time in, they knew what it took to get back to that pinnacle and beyond. While they were able to surpass last season in terms of success in the regular season, they were unable to get into the playoffs in a gritty East Division. While the building blocks were there, there is also plenty of room to improve to get back into the second season.
In September, the Black Bears had a split month, splitting both series they played against New Jersey and Maine, while also going 2-2-0 in the NAHL Showcase. However, you were able to see the players stepping up offensively, returnees Michael Morelli starting the season with a shutout and Branden Piku potted three goals and five assists in the month, while newcomers Ryan Bottrill (2g, 8a) and Luke Van Why (3g, 7a) also showed off their stellar play in the first month. The Black Bears really started to shine in October, going 8-1-1, even with the start of the month consisting of two road games in two different locales in New Jersey and Johnstown. They were able to sweep three weekends and started to make a statement in the East Division, battling for the top spot with New Jersey for the first few months of the season. Luca Di Pasquo was shining in net, winning goaltender of the month for October with a perfect 4-0-0 record for the month with a 1.23 GAA and .959 save percentage in his four games that month.
For November and December, things started to turn for Maryland. With the exception for the December series against Danbury, where Maryland swept the Jr. Hat Tricks; it was split city for the other five series in that time span before the winter break. That included two losses in extra time, which would become a factor for this team as the season went along. In that six series stretch, the Black Bears had four-or-more goals six games out of 12, with them giving up four-or-more six games as well.
Right after the new year happened, the biggest change and only trade for the Black Bears happened with Philip Törnqvist being moved to Wichita Falls for Jack Blanchett, as Törnqvist left the Black Bears as the all-time team leader for goals by a defenseman with 14. Yet, the splits kept occurring after the new, with the next five weekends being splits– but it also included a weekday New Jersey game that had the Black Bears up 5-1 but dropping it 6-5. In those five splits, four of the five losses came in extra time
As mid-February and the stretch to the playoffs hit, so did a speed bump for the Black Bears. Starting February 18th until the end of the season, Maryland went 5-10-4 and dropped from the second spot to a fight for their lives. It wasn’t without controversy, as there was a goal in Johnstown where Di Pasquo was ran into, but the goal counted; then an overtime goal by Conor Cole in Maine that got called back, leading to a shootout loss in that affair and a lot of bad tastes in the mouth of the team following that. Despite a win in the last regular season game, the help the Black Bears needed didn’t come and they ended with one of the most statistically successful seasons, but no Robertson Cup playoff run to show for it.
That notwithstanding, on the development side of things; the Black Bears did a tremendous job not only in moving players on with college commitments, but also bringing younger players into the fold to evaluate them moving forward. For the commitment side, the Black Bears were able to get 10 players during the season to get commitments for NCAA hockey as they go forward in their career. Conversely, the Black Bears brought in six players under the affiliate tag, with Leo Schwartz and Adam Schankula catching on for the second half of the season in a regular role, as well as getting a tender from Ervie Terwilliger. On top of that, countless players from the local 16U and 18U teams to get a taste of the NAHL style of coaching and play. One thing that the team can proclaim is the idea of progression throughout their system to advance to the next level.
With 12 games that ended in the Black Bears not getting an extra point in overtime or shootout coupled with five other one-goal games that were lost in regulation; there will be plenty of questions about what could have been, how it got to that point, and what can be done to prevent it in the future. Unfortunately, there’s plenty of time to answer those questions as the preparation for 2022-23 begins sooner than expected for the Black Bears.
(All Photos: Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction)