ODENTON, MD– A rematch of the 2021 East Division Final started with a different look. The Maryland Black Bears held home-ice and were welcoming the Maine Nordiques for the first two games of the series. After a shaky start, the Black Bears finally got into their zone and swept their home start and are up two games to none in the best-of-five series.
FRIDAY MAY 5th, 2023: BLACK BEARS (4) vs. Maine (2): The usual feeling out portion of the opening period, Maine was able to get their feet moving a little more with their forecheck giving Maryland fits and causing a couple of early icing calls. With sustained zone time, Maine got an offensive zone face off which turned into a set play with Nick Bernardo being the first to break the ice with a wrister from the slot to beat William Hakansson for his first goal of the playoffs. In the early going, Maine was beating Maryland in the small board battles and putting Maryland on their heels to start off with. The Black Bears would try to respond, getting their offense going and getting some shots on Thomas Heaney, but were not able to beat him in the first, going into the locker room down by a goal.
After a less than phenomenal start, the Black Bears came out amped up in the second period, taking less than a minute to tie the game up when Adam Schankula won a board battle behind the net and found Kareem El-Bashir streaking down the slot for El-Bashir’s first NAHL playoff goal to tie the game. Minutes after that, Maryland get a power play and wasted no time, as the passing at the top of the zone led to Branden Piku hammering a one-timer only nine second into the power play and gave the Black Bears the lead. Penalty issues would arise for the Black Bears with three straight penalties against them. While they were able to kill off the first two, Brandon Gibbons would tie the game with a shot from the slot. The Black Bears tried to get some pressure on Heaney to get back ahead, but had nothing to show for it; going into the second intermission tied.
Maryland came out, again, very quick and another board battle win– this time from Brayden Stannard– led to Dimitry Kebreau ripping home his second of the playoffs to again give Maryland the lead just 33 seconds into the third. The offense for the Black Bears would come alive in the third with plenty of opportunities in their zone with their forecheck really shaking up the Maine defense. That forechecking would lead to the fourth goal, as Gunnar VanDamme picked off a breakout pass and fired one through Heaney to give Maryland the 4-2 lead. Maine wouldn’t let up, as they would try to get something going, but Hakansson and the defense would stay strong– even with some adventurous moments at time– and retain the lead to get the series opening win.
SATURDAY MAY 6th, 2023: BLACK BEARS (5) vs. Maine (1): Knowing Maine would press hard to start, Maryland kept their heads about them, with William Hakansson coming up big early with some key stops. Maryland would get an early power play and Gabriel Westling would cash in with a wrister through traffic past Thomas Heaney to make it 1-0 Black Bears. Hakansson would be called on a couple more times in the first, with crucial saves to keep the Black Bears’ lead, while Westling and the offense were pressuring the Maine net, but to no avail by the first intermission.
Then bounces started to go Maryland’s way, as 1:32 into the period, Samuel Stitz got credit for the Black Bears second goal when Branden Piku threw a puck on net and got deflected over Heaney to make it 2-0 Maryland. Close to midway through the period, Maryland struck again with Sean Kilcullen throwing a shot on net from the point that got through traffic and made it 3-0 for the Black Bears. However, some penalty troubles in the latter half of the frame gave Maine their first goal of the game with Oliver Genest potting his second of the playoffs off a redirect from a Maryland defender’s skate after the Black Bears penalty had expired. Maryland did get a penalty late, which carried over to the third period, as the Black Bears headed into the third up 3-1.
After killing the early penalty, the Black Bears would attack again and get another big bounce with Adam Schankula wristing a shot on Heaney with the rebound coming back at the goal and into the net to make it 4-1 for the Black Bears. Things got fiesty at the middle part of the frame, with penalties called on both sides, but nothing to show for it. With the goalie pulled late, the Black Bears were able to seal it with Dimitry Kebreau– who missed the open net a couple chances prior– received an alley-oop pass from Riley Ruh for the dagger and the 5-1 win in Game 2. With that, the Black Bears take a 2-0 series lead and can clinch the East Division as early as Friday.
Maryland heads to Maine for Games 3 and possibly 4 on Friday and Saturday. If they are unable to get one win in Maine, they’ll come back to Piney Orchard on Sunday for Game 5. Keep an eye on the Maryland Black Bears social media for ticket information.