Black Bears Clinch Playoff Spot

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction

For the first time in franchise history, the Maryland Black Bears are headed to the post-season.

With the Maine Nordiques beating the Danbury Jr. Hat Tricks in regulation Friday night allowed the Black Bears to clinch a spot on points percentage. Especially considering the 2019-20 season was cut short due to COVID, this is a huge accomplishment for this franchise to get into the playoffs; as it would be for any franchise for a chance to play for the league title.

From a team that was put together in less than four months in their first season, to starting to gain an identity and be in a playoff spot int the second season, to now being a team who will finish at or above .500 at the end of the season and will be playing for a chance to get to the Robertson Cup. On top of that, this season also had to deal with the injury bug that most teams face; but also a long losing streak in the middle of the season they had to bond together and overcome– which is something that should help them in the playoff setting.

Even with the playoff berth, there’s still three games to play. The focus is going to be on being smart about how they play in terms of discipline in not wanting to get suspended, as well as trying not to get injured– but also playing competitive enough to keep the in-game reps going for the post-season. The fact is, Saturday night’s game could be a preview of the first round match-up with Johnstown having won the East Division and Maryland still fighting between 3rd and 4th spot.

Enjoy the berth tonight, get back to work for Saturday’s game, as well as next weekend’s games to close out the regular side of the schedule. One box has been checked off, now to focus on the next boxes in the way.

Marathon Week Leads to Sprint Run for Black Bears

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction

Friday night, Mother Nature tried to give the Maryland Black Bears an extra day to their marathon week of six games in eight days. The lights did come back on in the rink, but the Black Bears couldn’t get the win in the late-night due, dropping a 5-0 decision to the New Jersey Titans.

At the conclusion of this six-game marathon week, the Black Bears came out of it with a 3-2-1 record, securing the team at least a .500 points percentage for the season. That’s crucial, as the East Division of the NAHL will be (by all accounts though nothing has been made public by the league) percentage-based due to the the Northeast Generals (60) and Maine Nordiques (56) playing more than 54 games that the other four teams will play on the year. With the Black Bears having only three games remaining, every point is going to be crucial for them.

Should the Black Bears win out, they’ll have a .556 points percentage with their minimum being the .500 mentioned above. Here’s how the rest of the unclinched teams look with their minimum and maximum for the two remaining playoff spots: New Jersey (.528/.583), Danbury (.361/.546), Northeast (.367/.483).

Obviously, the Black Bears control their own destiny and really are battling to keep Danbury out. They have a one-off game next weekend against Johnstown to make up for the game that got cancelled due to Pennsylvania changing their COVID restriction for a time, then the final home weekend is against Northeast, where the Generals could play spoiler.

While this Black Bears team already owns the distinction of being the best Black Bears team in the short franchise history, while also being the first team to not have a losing record– making the playoffs would be another check-mark for this squad in an abnormal season. While there’s even more hurdles with key players being out, this team will have to look deeper into themselves to get that last drop of gas out of the tank for this three-game sprint.

Some rest and some home cooking should be able to go along way this week as they prepare and hopefully they’ll be able to let this past week be what it was and focus on the next task at hand.

Reworked Schedule Gives Black Bears Six Games in Eight Day Stretch

Photo by Jon Pitonzo, FOHS Media Faction

When I last wrote about the Black Bears before real-life, work, and apathy towards writing happened, they were mired in a pretty big skid of eight games. Unfortunately, it got to the a franchise-record 12 games before they finally broke through into the win column. After the down streak, the Black Bears have gone 5-0-1 including a recent sweep in Johnstown against the Tomahawks, which has helped give them a bit of breathing room in the fourth and final playoff spot.

However, they’re going to be going on a hell-week of sort after this weekend’s games against the Northeast Generals at The Den in Piney Orchard. After this weekend’s games, they’ll have six days without games, then starting April 23rd, they’ll have six games in eight days. This is due to the make-up games that are needed for when Danbury shuttered down for a couple months due to COVID restrictions. The eight-day trip starts in Attleboro to play Northeast on the evening of the 23rd and afternoon of the 24th, then down to Danbury for games on Monday and Tuesday afternoon, before returning to The Den for a Thursday and Friday tilt against New Jersey.

As if these players haven’t been battle-tested enough, this will really show their determination going into this string of games.

While it is a lot of hockey in the short time frame, this is a team who has dealt with adversity and such before. Knowing the task at hand, head coach Clint Mylymok and assistant coach Brandon Gotkin will be able to keep the team’s focus at said task during this stretch. Plus, who knows, but a road-trip like this could be something that bonds this team closer together, like so many youth hockey tournaments in years past. Not only that, but the returnees from last year are running it back, as this team is neck-and-neck with the virus-shortened season team from last year in terms of their record.

If nothing else, it’ll make the players dig deep within themselves and maybe find an extra gear they didn’t think they had. They might be a tired bunch, but it feel like this team is a tight bunches, too. Guys who will be able to pick others up on the bench, get each other motivated when the time calls for, and carry through it all together.

But that’s two weeks from now. Task-at-hand is attempting to get four-points this weekend and then figure out the next weekend at that time.

Lacey Eden Arrives on National Scene

Photo: Tom Lynn/ University of Wisconsin Athletics

With two game-winning goals, including the title-clinching overtime winner, it’s probably safe to say that Lacey Eden’s arrival season in the NCAA can be deemed a success. While there’s still the NCAA tournament to go, the Annapolis native has been nothing but stellar in her first season with the Wisconsin Badgers.

To think, it almost didn’t happen like this.

Eden had initially committed to Princeton University and was going to attend there this fall. The pandemic had other ideas, as the Tigers and the rest of the Ivy League shuttered down their winter sports season. Since she had never started at Princeton, she stayed home and trained with her skills coach, Russell Smith, while trying to figure out the next step. Ivy League schools don’t use Letter of Intents, so there wasn’t any “contract” to break. While she was training in Maryland, a spot at Wisconsin opened up and the rest was paperwork and logistics.

“It’s been an amazing experience so far and I’m excited for the future. Everything has been so surreal,” Eden said post-game Sunday of her choice to join Wisconsin. “Everyone accepted me on the team right away and we’ve gotta so close over the past couple of months. Everyone is so focused on the goal and it’s such a special environment to be in. There’s nothing quite like that.”

Eden started with the Naval Academy youth hockey program before moving onto the Washington Little Capitals to join their 14U and 15U AAA team, where she was teammates with London Knights defenseman Bryce Montgomery and Team Maryland forward and Maryland Black Bears tendered player Farrell Dinn.

After two years at Archbishop Spalding High School, Eden moved forward in her junior season; heading to the legendary Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Minnesota. Immediately at Shattuck, Eden thrived finishing her two years there with 75 goals and 175 points in 96 games. Going to Shattuck also allowed Eden to get noticed by the US National Teams, participating twice in the Women’s World Junior U18 Tournament, getting a silver and gold medals to her name.

While she did show up on the Badgers roster after the season started, she has left her mark in only 12 games with eight goals and 15 points in that span. That’s good enough for fifth on the team in points, tied for 11th in WCHA scoring, and tied for 2nd in rookie scoring. Also, her 1.25 points-per-game have her third in the WCHA behind teammates Daryl Watts and Sophie Shirley.

One has to think that with all the talent around her, Eden would feel at home after competing on the national stage. Eden mentioned to Katherine Fominykh of the Capital Gazette that Wisconsin was the closest thing to being on the National Team as you can get. “You still have a ton of girls who have competed nationally on this roster. Practices every day have to be prepared for that next level.”

That next level is still to be determined. Both the NWHL and PWHPA are out there, with the latter doing more of a touring system than a league per set. With the constant call for a sustainable league moving forward, it will be interesting to see how professional hockey on the women side is set up by the time Eden finishes school in three years time. The support from NHL players and team with both women’s hockey entities have started to fuel the call for something to happen to display the talent of women’s hockey in a domestic stage rather than just be all international setting.

Though, that international setting would be key for Eden, as she hopes to make it onto the US Women’s National Team for the Olympics in the future, hoping to follow fellow Marylander Hayley Skarupa in capturing a gold medal. Both Eden and Skarupa, as well as Madison Farrand, Sam Walther, and Veronika Pettey have led a great charge for the talent that is coming out of the Maryland hockey ranks and making it onto bigger stages.

For now, however, Eden and the Badgers have their sight set on something more– back-to-back National Championships. They’ll start that quest Tuesday March 16th, as the Badgers take on Providence College in the quarterfinal round before the Frozen Four at the end of that week.

Attempting to Snap Slide as Crunch Time Hits for Black Bears

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/ FOHS Media Faction

Bear down.

It’s not just a clever pun, but it needs to become the mantra for the Maryland Black Bears right now.

Mired in an eight-game losing skid, you have to feel it’s a frustrating feeling for these young men. A team that got out to a lightning start, that looked like world beaters, that looked like they could be the team to beat in the East Division. But hockey doesn’t happen like that, you have limit mistakes, get the bounces going your way, and make the most of opportunities given. The Black Bears have done most of those three on the list, but still haven’t been getting the results.

The stats tell a helluva tale from the results. In this slide, the Black Bears have been involved in four one-goal results, three games with the opponent potting the final goal as an empty-netter, leaving only one game that they were down bad– the first game of the skid against Maine. Only three games were the opponents had four-or-more goals, which shows that the defense and goaltending is pretty on-point. On the flip side, the Black Bears have only scored three-or-more goal in two of these games during the slump.

One possible outcome for the lack of scoring may be the power play not being able to connect on their opportunities given. In this slide, the Black Bears power play is 1-for-32 (3.1%), which doesn’t bode well moving forward. Maryland power play is working at a 7.8% (9-for-116), ranking last in the NAHL. Putting that in perspective– the Black Bears have more short-handed goals in the skid (2) and in the season (11) than the power play does. When you have an average for four power plays per game, plenty of chances are left on the table.

Is there one big issue to fix with the extra man, though?? The puck movement has been better on the power play, but it seems like the possession of the puck where they have some issues. Whether it’s an over-aggressive penalty kill throwing guys off or too much over-handling of the puck, there’s nothing that’s not allowing this team to get a lot of looks on net or keeping consistent pressure on net. Just an adjustment here and there on zone entry and then how rebounds are handled after blocks or attempt on net– this machine could get rolling.

This is still a solid team, still a team that can be the best in the young franchise’s history. It’s just a matter of getting the offense clicking again, which shouldn’t be hard for a team who had a 3.25 goals-per-game clip prior to this slide. With 19 games remaining, it’s definitely gut-check time for the Black Bears. The East could be one of the tighter divisions in this league and Maryland is in the thick of it. They have to tools to make the playoffs and make some noise.

They just have to bear down.

Another Division I Commitment Adds To Success Culture for Black Bears

Photo: Jon Pitzono/FOHS Media Faction

On Thursday, Maryland Black Bears’ defenseman Jack Hillman announced his commitment to College of the Holy Cross. It is the sixth commitment from a Black Bears this season, fifth to a Division 1 school. With Hillman’s commitment, the Black Bears have 13 players on their current roster going to D1 schools in the future. Not only that, Hillman becomes the 14th players on the Black Bears to make a college commitment while rostered on the team.

Hillman has been solid in his second season in Maryland with a goal and six assists on the year. With the departure of Thomas Jarman, Hillman has stepped up in a big way, play a more physical role on the blue line while also keeping the opposition in check defensively and starting the transition game from the Black Bears zone. The intangibles that Hillman breaks may go unmarked on the scoresheet, but is something many people look at when it comes to a player having a complete game.

It should come as no surprise that the Black Bears are off to their best season in their short time in the NAHL. With that much talent on the team, it shouldn’t be surprise they’re 12-6-5 on the season and have played very solid as a unit. It helped that the roster from the start had plenty of committed players, coupled with acquisitions of players who had their college seasons shut down for the year– you’d have to think all of that combined helped the four in-season D1 commits get noticed by playing with players who have already committed.

By-and-large, the on-ice moves that Clint Mylymok has made for this Black Bears team has definitely accelerated the success for the team, as well as showing off that by playing in Maryland– you’re going to get noticed by D1 schools and get plenty of chances to show how well you play alongside and against D1 talent.

Hockey isn’t the only thing schools want to see, they want to see how the player is outside of the rink. The team has taken that issue to heart, as well, creating a better culture off the ice to counter balance what is put on the ice. When there has been a hint of trouble off the ice, it has been dealt with swiftly and for the betterment for all involved. Mylymok and president Robyn Remick have shown that they want not just good hockey players on the team, but they want good people on the team, above all.

It speaks to the culture that the Black Bears have built up and the personnel they bring in as reason for the success, as not only do players have to hockey skill– they also need the grades and maturity to get into these school in the first place. The Black Bears have built that from the ground up, which is paying off for the players on and off the ice.

Trio of New Signees for Black Bears

After trading away Brendan Hill to Kenai River last week, the Maryland Black Bears restocked their defensive cabinet by signing two defensemen and a goalie, as Dylan Finlay, Philip Tornqvist, and Hannes Kollen signed with the team on Tuesday.

Dylan Finlay joins the Black Bears after spending last season with the Powell River Kings. In the BCHL, Finlay had 18 assists in 40 regular season games and one assist in five playoff matches. The left-shot defenseman from L’ile Bizard, Quebec also had quite the resume at the AAA level with 54 assists and 62 points in 87 games with the Lac St-Louis Lions. Finlay is another University of Vermont commit on the Black Bears, as he’ll join teammate and future classmate Luke Mountain.

The other rearguard is Philip Tornqvist, who does have some NAHL experience with the Aberdeen Wings last season, registering a goal in seven games, while also playing in the USHL for two games with the Fargo Force. Tornqvist had been playing with the Rogle HK J20 squad in Sweden with three goals and nine points in 16 games. The UMass-Amherst commit came from the Frolunda youth program before setting out to Karlskrona in 2018.

Another Swede to the mix is Hannes Kollen, a goalie who also came up from the Frolunda youth program and then moved to Karlskrona, where he is 1-3-0 this season on the J20 team. Kollen’s numbers were solid when playing with the Frolunda squad, but since leaving there; he has had some rough patches. However, he was tendered by the Black Bears in the spring and the talent and upside is there for him to succeed in the NAHL.

Sweden has shut down most of their hockey leagues and for players like Tornqvist and Kollen, you have to believe it was a deciding factor to move overseas to play– especially for Tornqvist, who will be playing in the NCAA next season. Finlay was in a similar holding pattern with the BCHL’s delayed start to the season, but needing to get some reps in before going to Vermont, the door in Maryland was open for him to come over.

No word on whether we will see any of these three in the line-up for this weekend, but we hope for big things moving forward with these new Black Bears.

Black Bears Weekend Takeaways: January 7th and 8th at New Jersey

Photo via New Jersey Titans

The first weekend back of the new year for the Maryland Black Bears ended up in a split in New Jersey. With a month off between games, the Black Bears looked solid off the hop on Friday. Though, the less said about the Saturday match-up, probably the better, but we digress.

The star of the weekend had to be newcomer Jack Brackett, who had four goals on the weekend in his first games in the NAHL. Brackett comes to the Black Bears after RPI cancelled their season due to COVID and Brackett needed a place to play. The former Powell River King showed off his skill even with being off for 11 months between game action. His ability to find the puck in the offensive zone and create scoring chances in the smallest of areas is a nice addition for the Black Bears moving forward. A great first impression for the Manassas, Virginia native.

A point of concern, especially on Saturday, was the turnovers in the defensive zone. I believe it was twice on Saturday that turnovers directly turned into goals for the Titans. Errant passes up the middle of the ice from the defensive zone and less than optimal breakouts led to the turnovers. On top of that, Saturday showed that the Titans looked to stretch the ice a lot, which didn’t get picked up too well by the Black Bears defense. It was very similar to the December 4th game, where the Titans stretched the ice and got a 6-1 victory over Maryland.

You’ve got to feel for Michael Morelli in the Saturday game, letting up all nine goals due only due to protecting the recent signee in Klayton Knapp, who was called up from NAPHL 18U Tri State Spartans. Morelli did play well on both days, but the bounces seemed to be against him on Saturday more than Friday. He had his number of highlight reel saves and probably kept the Titans from putting up double-digits on the scoreboard. With a short week to get ready, hopefully Morelli can put this in his rear-view quickly.

There was one thing that I didn’t understand was the extracurricular activities when the game was well out of hand. I could see the Brad McNeil fight being viable– the Black Bears were down 4-1 and maybe could have sparked a comeback. However, the Titans scored right off that faceoff from the fight– and it should have ended there. Grady Friedman dropping the gloves due to just normal play in front and Garrett Szydlowski getting into it right after didn’t make sense to me. It was 8-1 and 9-1 respectively and seemed like fighting for fighting sake and could have resulted in injury and possible suspensions. Just seems like a frivolous thing to do when it’s that out of hand, no need to make it more out of hand.

To end on an up note, the power play looked very solid. While they only connected on one goal out of the four they had on the weekend, they did create a lot more chances and had plenty of possession within their offensive zone. Whatever adjustments made were a welcome change and let’s hope this can carry onward through the season.

Up next, the Black Bears head to Maine for an unusual Thursday night/Friday afternoon schedule for the first meeting of the season between Maryland and the Nordiques, as well as the first weekend of the home-and-home weekends coming up. It should a solid match-up between the two, especially with Maine leading the division and the Black Bears being six points behind in third place. Both teams have six wins in their last ten games and the Nordiques will be happy to see someone other than the Northeast Generals, who they’ve played their last eight games against due to travel restrictions in the Northeast US.

UCHC Reach Decision on 2020-21 Season

On Tuesday, the UCHC put out a statement in regards to their 2020-21 season, which they plan to have start on February 19th. This is the first news out of the conference since they postponed their competition timeline in July. The UCHC stated that it’s up to the local jurisdictions in regards to healthy and safety protocols and how the institutions conduct their athletic’s departments.

With this announcement, it paves the way for the Stevenson University men’s and women’s teams to restart their season in two months from now. If I’m reading the Baltimore County executive order on gatherings correctly, the university should be able to go about their games at the Reisterstown Sportsplex (and if I’m not, feel free to mention in the comments). The Stevenson women’s side rejoiced with the announcement on their Instagram, while the men’s side showed relief on Twitter.

Now, we wait to see what Stevenson University decides to do with their sports. They have posted the story on their main athletics page, which seems to sign to me that they are going to do all they can in order to get a season going for the student-athletes. The Middle Atlantic Conference deferred all decisions on hockey to the UCHC after saying they would start men’s and women’s basketball in early February, as well as other guideline for winter sports.

One can only hope the teams will be able to play when February rolls around. Just as simple as following the rules and not getting into situations where they could be exposed to sickness outside of their normal bubble.

Black Bears Weekend Takeaways: December 11th at Johnstown

Photo by Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction

What was supposed to be a two-game set turned into a frenzied one-game affair. The overtime loss salvaged what otherwise was a very subpar game from the Black Bears. If anything, it felt like the previous Friday’s game against New Jersey where the Black Bears got outworked and it wasn’t until the end of the game did the offense finally got started.

First and foremost, the play of Michael Morelli in net to keep the Black Bears in the game for the first 57 minutes of play was astounding. Morelli has been the work horse in net and this game was a culmination of how well he’s play in the first 15 games of the Black Bears’ season. While I was assured that he wouldn’t get hurt flailing around as he does, it still worries me when he makes one of his dramatic desperation saves that he might pull or strain something in those attempts. Either way, Morelli has been a great bright spot for this squad in net this season.

Defensively, there were still some hiccups when it comes to dealing with turnovers in the Black Bears’ zone, including dealing with the opposition’s forecheck and creating enough havoc to cause turnovers. While it could be adjusted by being quick with their breakout passes out of zone, It’s all a matter of timing and hopefully when the team regroups, the transition game will be a little swifter as they head into the 2021 calendar year part of the schedule.

On the other side of the puck, there’s not much to write home about. Aside from the last 2:31 of regulation and maybe the first five minutes of the second period, the offense had some struggles. Only 11 shots in the first 40 minutes doesn’t usually bode well for many teams, especially with only three shots from the first 20 minutes of the game. As mentioned prior, it seemed like this Friday’s game was like the previous weekend’s game against New Jersey where the offense didn’t look so stellar until the second half of the game and couldn’t get much going until they figured out the forecheck early. It’s not like they can’t produce because once one goal goes in, the Black Bears get that quick shot in the arm and they wake up. It’s a matter of waking earlier and getting on the opponents early so they don’t get behind.

Special teams were a mixed bag. The penalty kill did very well going 3-for-3 on the night, the 0-for-5 mark on the power play is something that still is concerning. The upside is that they did move the puck around better in this game, they tried out more things on their power play and tried different looks, which is something that hasn’t usually happened because of their inability to get into the offensive zone in the first place. Some progress with the extra man, but still waiting for consistent power play scoring for this squad.

The Black Bears are now off until January 1st when they are schedule to trek up to Maine and take on the Nordiques. Obviously results may vary when it comes to the pandemic, but one can hope things keep going smooth and games are able to get in during their schedule times.