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.

NCAA D1 Hockey and Maryland

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/ FOHS Media Faction

Upon the commitments from Maryland Black Bears Thomas Jarman (Boston University), Hunter McCoy (Brown Univeristy), and Josh Nixon (Lake Superior State); a common question popped into my head: Will there come a time where their is a NCAA Division 1 hockey school in Maryland?? Short answer: yes, but it might take a couple of years.

Long answer: the rest of this post.

The most obviously choice to take the Men’s Division 1 jump would be the United States Naval Academy. With Army and Air Force having hockey programs, have Navy as a third service academy with a hockey program just makes sense. They have had club hockey for decades in ACHA D1, but have yet to make the jump to the NCAA ranks. This topic was raised when Navy Athletics doing an Ask the AD segment on their YouTube channel.

In his answer, Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk said that they have gone over every scenario when it comes to having Navy get into the NCAA D1 ranked and the cost associated with it. With 33 varsity teams already, however, it makes consistent funding much more imperative to carry another varsity team without having to cut another club for it. Also mentioned was bringing up the women’s team, currently in D2 club, to the NCAA D1 ranks as well. Gladchuk, a former AD at Boston College and the man who hired legendary BC coach Jerry York, mentioned that Navy wouldn’t do anything at half-force and would do all they can to get the best people for the program if they were to get there. Gladchuk said that it’ll take $1.2M and facility upgrades to McMullen Arena to make it work and have that money be consistent.

A big caveat in this case, as is with Air Force and Army, is the need to fulfill service time after graduation. New guidelines for a waiver were introduced in late 2019, but it seems like those efforts are gears more towards other sports and not hockey so much. While it could give a little more ease in recruiting for coaches, the day-to-day grind these student-athletes would need to endure in preparation of service time could be a turn-off to many recruits from the start.

The other potential candidate that is somewhat in a reality realm is that of Stevenson University. Now, Stevenson is already in the NCAA ranks with their D3 program, but it’s still in its infancy. The women’s team was started at the 2012-13 season with the men’s team following in the 2016-17 season. Pre-COVID, Stevenson had a plans for a new facility for the men, women, and club team to play in, which was a 6,900 square-foot venue with plenty of locker rooms and space within the Reisterstown Sportsplex. Currently, at the Sportsplex, they have two set of metal bench stands that are only three or four rows deep. If the renovated complex can address the stands issues, which a rendering from the Stevenson hockey recruitment brochure shows, seems to make it look like real stands will be installed.

Of course, with COVID happening and funding around college sports being affected, who knows if that plan is still in motion. Honestly, that could be the only hang-up for the Mustangs for getting into D1, outside of their willingness of making the jump up to those ranks.

Among other things, the distance these teams would have to travel would be a bit of a concern for any Maryland team playing in college hockey on top of a conference in which to get into. Princeton, Penn State, and Robert Morris University would the closest in proximity for the Maryland schools, but everything else is pretty far north and west for teams. Of course, conferences, teams, and plenty else could all change by the time any team from Maryland gets into the D1 side of things– but as it stands now, you’d think that Atlantic Hockey is the go-to, as the odd of the University of Maryland having a varsity hockey program that would go into the Big Ten seems a bit of a pipe-dream at the moment.

In the grand scheme of things, you’d think that top-tier college hockey in Maryland shouldn’t be too far away. Having the Black Bears in the area would allow a quicker scouting trips for coaches to see the NAHL East Division up close and personal, while also giving the Mid-Atlantic region some much deserved recognition on the college hockey stage. In order to get that, it’ll take will take money, willingness, and patience for it to all come together.

Black Bears Weekend Takeaway: December 4th and 6th vs. New Jersey

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/ FOHS Media Faction

Maryland was riding high going into this weekend against the Titans, but the Black Bears were quite humbled on the Friday night. It seemed like the day off between the games helped the Black Bears and they came back with more life on Sunday to garner a split out of the weekend.

The Titans team speed seemed to give the Black Bears fits on the weekend. Whether it be coupling their speed with puck possession or getting behind the defense, the Titans got plenty of chances on net and keeping the play alive thanks to their team speed. Many times on Friday, using that speed to get past the Black Bears defense and getting plenty of opportunities on goal. The threats seemed to be minimized on Sunday, but still were there as the Titans seemed to have a step on the Black Bears.

That created a lot of turnovers on the breakouts, as well. That said, at least in Sunday’s game– the support for the puck carrier in the own zone wasn’t as much as I thought it should be. The Black Bears seemed to go for the stretch pass a lot to try and get something going offensively and break the tough forecheck, but it often resulted in neutral zone interceptions or icings.

Discipline is another squawking point I’ve said before and will continue to do so now. Maryland had to defense against 11 power plays for New Jersey this weekend. Luckily, only two power play goals were scored, but the fact the Titans were given so many in the first place isn’t a good sign. The Black Bears are the most penalized team in the NAHL with 332 PIMs on the season and have been shorthanded a total of 78 times– most in the NAHL by 31 attempts. The PK does rank 10th in the NAHL, however, which is nice; but you don’t want to be shorthanded an average of six times a game.

The hustle on Sunday’s game was much needed after Friday. Grady Friedman getting on the board quick had to be a huge boost form the Black Bears, as well as getting some goal support for Karsten Bourgoine in his NAHL debut. But it didn’t stop there– Jude Kurtas creating chances in the third, Josh Nixon using his speed to help advance the puck, Luke Mountain hustling to negate an icing after an empty-net attempt late in the third. It was a welcome chance from what could have been if they let Friday really get into their heads.

And speaking of Bourgoine, he came in Friday night, faced 20 shots, got the nod Sunday and looked okay during his debut. As a tall goalie, his game might not be as refined as some other goalies out there, but stopping 57 of 64 is pretty solid for the new netminder. This wasn’t Michael Morelli’s weekend after his stellar play last weekend, but Morelli took it in stride and actually got the puck for Bourgoine at the end of the game to commemorate his first NAHL win. When you see support like that, you know you have a pretty tight tandem.

Another step forward was the team coming back after being down and getting the win. I mentioned it last weekend, but the consistency is a good thing. Sunday’s game as about growth of this team. They didn’t let Friday bug them too much that they got down on themselves and they didn’t let the Titans system choke them up too much. They made the adjustments needed and dug in in order to get the two points and get back at the top of the East Division standings.

The elephant in the room, though, was the New Jersey Titans equipment manager directing traffic all weekend for the Titans, even removing his mask to do so at times. It’s all gamesmanship, sure, but you usually let that yelling come from the bench from the players or coaches…not usually the equipment manager. He was one of the more annoying parts of the weekend.

As a sidebar, it was good to see Logan Kons back in a Maryland rink. The former captain seemed to make a surprise appearance (at least a surprise to me) at Ice World. It wasn’t the greatest showing for the night he dropped the puck Friday, but it’s something that speaks to the culture that the Black Bears are trying to grow. Give players an experience that they won’t forget and want to keep coming back to see the new era of players, to be someone that the new players go to for advice on not only hockey, but playing in a junior league and thinking about college, to come back and enjoy the community that you lived in for a time in your life. Hopefully, as the years go on– we’ll see more and more Black Bears alum come back to continue that culture.

Next weekend, they go into another rival weekend against the Johnstown Tomahawks for, at the moment, will be the end of the 2020 portion of the schedule. Of course, make-up dates and such could be a thing– but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Black Bears Weekend Takeaway: November 27th and 28th vs. Johnstown

Photo Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction

What’s better than a sweep last weekend?? A second sweep this weekend. The Black Bears keep rolling along as they took both games from the Johnstown Tomahawks to take the lead in the NAHL East. In both games, the Black Bears had to come back from a deficit, but this weekend showed a bit of growth from the sqaud.

That growth really shone through on Saturday afternoon, as the Black Bears were down 3-1 and could have just folded up shop and went to the next weekend. However, this team really showed their maturity and didn’t give up on the game. Shift by shift they kept chipping away at the Tomahawks and shifted the balance of the game, especially after Conor Cole’s goal cut the Johnstown lead to one.

Plus, when they needed it the most, the power play clicked in a big way. Thomas Jarman, who had the last power play goal, connected on Maryland’s last power play of the day to put Johnstown away. While they can now start anew with the extra man, the Black Bears were 0-for-36 on that front before the goal. Not without trying, as many of the attempts from the power play was missing the net or getting blocked. That’s when things were going right, as some missed zone entry attempts slowed the power play from getting set up.

Penalty taking was another thing that needs the address and while the penalty kill has been played solid this year (9th in the NAHL), you can’t rely on them to continuously bail you out. Sometimes you can’t control how the referee’s control a game at all with doling out extra-curricular things; but being careful with stick infractions is a thing the player’s can control.

A big shot in the arm was the addition of forwards Josh Waters and Josh Nixon. Both Waters and Nixon played solid in their debuts, with Waters playing well off the puck on the forecheck and Nixon gathering two assists on the weekend. Waters came to the Black Bears after Dartmouth College suspended their season, while Nixon joins the team after playing with Sioux City in the USHL last year. Miles Gunty from Team Maryland 16U-AA program also saw time this weekend, mixing it up more on Saturday than Friday; but showed off some board work in that time. A final addition was Karsten Bourgoine from the BCHL’s Wenatchee Wild (who also suspended their season), but as a back-up goalie– didn’t see anytime in net outside of warm-ups.

And you have to wonder when Bourgoine or any back-up will see some time, as Michael Morelli has taken over the crease for the Black Bears. Not only has he played in six-straight games, but with four straight wins; it’s almost his spot to lose. In this six game span, Morelli is 5-1-1 with a 2.30 GAA and a .929 save percentage. The key is to not wear him down too much, even though he has been very solid in this three week span.

Next up for the Black Bears is the New Jersey Titans, the team had gave them their only blemishes in this three weekend span. Both teams hold a regulation win and shootout win over the other in four games this season, with both regulation wins being a score of 5-3 on each side. It’ll be a war of attrition, but should be a closely contested weekend.

Black Bears Weekend Takeaway: November 19th-20th vs. Northeast

Photo: Jon Pitonzo, FOHS Media Faction

The Black Bears needed that sweep this weekend of the Generals to kind of re-right the ship that had been on a four-game winless streak coming into the weekend. However, as good as it was to get the four points, still somet hings to take care of moving ahead.

First and foremost, full marks to new captain Luke Mountain. The Shattack-St. Mary product put up a big weekend after getting the “C” on his chest with three goals and an assist coming out of the weekend. After being out last weekend, Mountain seemed to have a bit of a jump in his step in getting into open spaces and looking very confident with the puck on his blade. In fact, the entire line of Mountain, Hunter McCoy, and Brad McNeil played fantastic this weekend with a lot of speed, solid possession, and stellar forechecking to really give the Black Bears some pop on the weekend.

Michael Morelli had another stellar performance in the net, stopping 72 of 76 shots over the weekend and stood tall during the penalty kill, while also creating a lot of transition offense with his puck-handling ability. Speaking of the penalty kill, they played tremendous when called upon. The only power play goal against was during a Northeast two-man advantage, but they stood tall the other 12 Northeast attempts.

Granted, the reason for so many attempts was due to the penalties, many of which could have been avoided. The discipline was a big factor, especially late in the second game with the game on the line. Even with coach Clint Mylymok screaming from the bench for the team to not get into those situations, the emotion of the game got the better of them. While they were able to overcome this time, they may not be as lucky if that trend continues.

The other side of the special teams coin wasn’t as great, as the Black Bears didn’t yield a power play goal in their six attempts on the weekend, even with a couple of two-man advantages. One of the issues was that they couldn’t get things going to start. They often were stood up at the blue line or did themselves in by throwing each other offside when trying to gain the zone.

In the grant scheme of it all, the Black Bears had total team wins in both games even with the games being pretty different. They had full control of the first game, while the second game they needed to stay steady while controlling the lead– which hasn’t been the calling card for the Black Bears this year. They passed the first home weekend with two more ahead of them. Let hope this be a building block for them.

Mountain Named Fourth Captain of Black Bears

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction

The Maryland Black Bears announced that three-year Black Bear Luke Mountain has been named the fourth team captain in the franchise’s history. Mountain has played all 106 of his NAHL game with Maryland and was an alternate captain last season

Joining Mountain in the leadership group is another third-year Black Bear in Thomas Jarman. Like Mountain, Jarman’s entire 91-game NAHL career has been with the Black Bears, really coming on as a solid defenseman in the last two season. Second-year Black Bear Reid Leibold and first-year Black Bear Matthew Shanklin also were named alternate captains for the 2020-21 season.

Including this season, Mountain led the Black Bears franchise in goals (29), points (57), and games played (106). Both Mountain and last year’s captain, Logan Kons, set the example of how a leadership group should be both on and off the ice.

Jarman is second on the list of all-time games played with the Black Bear and his presence is very much felt on the blue line. Not known to shy away from the physical game, Jarman is also known to let his shot fly from the point, especially when given the chance on the power play.

It’s been a breakout year for Leibold, who has been the defacto top-line threat. With four goals and seven points already this season, Leibold is poised to make a run at the single-season goals and points records if his tear can continue.

Shanklin is the newcomer to the Black Bears, but has been solid on the forecheck and giving the team a boost when needed. A well-travelled player, Shanklin has been using what he learned in the USPHL and CCHL to the NAHL game and has impressed his teammates enough to get this honor.

We could possible get a look at the new leadership team in action this weekend, though all of the captain aside from Leibold were out of action last weekend. Either way, the team is in good hands and with this decision out of the way, it’s onward and upward from here.

Black Bears Weekend Takeaway: November 13-14 vs. New Jersey

Photo Credit: New Jersey Titans Twitter/@NAHLTitans

This is a new bit I hope to keep up with where I give an opinion of what I saw from the weekend’s Maryland Black Bears games. Rather than a regular game summary, this will be a bit of a Cliff Notes approach to it all.

Coming off of two weekend that were cancelled and much time off from practices, the Maryland Black Bears went into Middletown, New Jersey a bit rested and ready for game action. On top of the time off, the Black Bears were missing several key players form their line-up. After call-ups from Team Maryland and the Mercer Chiefs, the Black Bears did all they could against the streaking New Jersey Titans, but were only able to come out of the weekend with one point. What was good, what could be better, what’s what from this weekend in New Jersey

With many players out– Luke Mountain, Thomas Jarman, Jack Hillman, and Matthew Shanklin to name a few– the Black Bears still looked like a solid, cohesive unit. Getting reinforcements from Team Maryland in Collin Berke and Rory Gresham, while Jakob Grace came from Mercer; the team looked, on the surface, to have no missed a step from lack of game play. Gresham really took a step forward, logging solid minutes in Saturday’s game and looking like he could stay with this team for a bit if they needed him there.

It wasn’t just the call-ups, but guys like Brad McNeil, Hunter McCoy, and Grady Friedman really stepped their game up with a bigger role on the ice. With the like of Reid Leibold, Daniel Colabufo, and Garrett Szydlowski playing fairly well; the McNeil/McCoy/Friedman line stood out this weekend by causing turnovers, creating chances, and burying their opportunities.

Coming into the season, the power play was lacking in a big way. That trend continues, as the Black Bears are on a 21-attempt goalless skid with their last power play goal coming in the second game of the year, which was Jarman’s winner in overtime against Johnstown. That’s not to say there hasn’t been chances, the puck just doesn’t seem to bounce the right way for this team when they have the extra man. Time for this team to start creating their own luck when it comes to the power play moving forward.

There was a lot left to be desired for the defensive coverage this weekend. In Saturday’s game, there were a lot of times that the Titans were able to get behind the Black Bears’ defense and create odd-man breaks in on Michael Morelli. While Morelli did what he could, he shouldn’t be expected to face that many breaks as the defense gets caught pinching or unaware of the opposition creeping behind them.

Holding a lead was another issue from Saturday’s game, as the Black Bears led after the first 2-0, but couldn’t find a bounce to go in for another goal, which allowed the Titans to claw back to tie the game late Saturday and have it pushed to the shootout loss. Again– not without their chances, especially with two Leibold breakaways where the puck couldn’t cooperate with the ice or Leibold’s stick; but there were other times where shots were coming from impossible angles, which led to a change of possession.

That said, the spirit of this team never waned. They were down three going into the third period Friday and got two goals within 1:18 of each other and were buzzing for more. Saturday, they carried that momentum in the first period, got some back for the third, but just couldn’t get the two points for the victory in either game. Yet, for a team that had two weeks off, keeping the game close should give them some morale boost they could use during this time.

The Black Bears are back in their temporary home in Abingdon Thursday morning and Friday night against the Northeast Generals and hope to get back in the win column and end their four-game winless skid.

Notes and Thoughts From Another Weekend Pause

When I saw the news from Nathan Fournier of the Lewiston Sun Journal that the Maryland Black Bears and Maine Nordiques series this weekend has been postponed, it started to make the gears turn for me and what it would mean for the Black Bears. There’s been no reason given for the postponements of the last two weekend, but you have to wonder how much of it is COVID restrictions related. Maine has a mandatory 14-day quarantine for people coming from out-of-state, visitors and residents alike.

Plus, will the games be played this coming weekend that are supposed to be in New Jersey?? New Jersey has travel restrictions and quarantine precautions in affect for people traveling from 43 states– Maryland being one of them. There’s also a question of Maryland’s numbers themselves and what that will do to home games for the Black Bears, who have a three-weekend homestand coming up here soon.

As an aside, the protocol for the NAHL has been described by the Aberdeen (SD) News when it pertained to the Aberdeen Wings postponing games for COVID reasons. If the postponements weren’t for travel, this is the timeline for teams to come back after a positive test.

More over, the team has not practiced during the break, per the Black Bears’ front office. That brings about the question of when the team plays again, what kind of hop will they have. A break like this is not unusual in the college setting, so I’m thinking it shouldn’t be too much of a drag overall. The hope is that they do come back with solid conditioning in tact and ready to go as needed.

I’m sure the feeling from the start is that it was doing to be a very start/stop season as conditions yielded. The coaching staff and all probably told the players to account for that, as well. Only time will tell the next time we see the Black Bears on the ice.

Small Sample Size, Big Opportunities for Gains

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction

There has been only been six games in this young NAHL season. The Maryland Black Bears are 3-2-1 and really haven’t played badly. Conversely, there’s a lot of room for improvement, especially coming off of a weekend where they were swept, but had some problems that have become trends in these six games.

Four of the six games, the Black Bears have held a lead, but haven’t been able to hold that lead. They’ve got 1-2-1 in those games and while a couple have been one-goal leads, the other team games were multi-goal leads that have been squandered. It could be a case of getting too comfortable with the lead and then not being able to get back into the game when the opponents are coming back. If so, it needs to be nipped in the bid very quickly before it becomes a habit.

While the penalty kill has been solid this season, only allowing six goals on 37 attempts (four of them being this past Saturday); the power play still has had some issues to it. All three of their power play goals came in the first weekend of play against Johnstown. They’ve gone 0-for-17 since, many this weekend happening because penalties were called to shorten the power play, but it still counts all the same. On the upside of the special teams, logging six shorthanded goals in six games isn’t too shabby– especially when they had seven all of last season.

Turnovers in the defensive zone continue to plague the team, but some of that could be chalked up to the short glass at the Ice World complex as opposed to Piney Orchard. That notwithstanding, passes up the middle and pucks not getting out of the zone have lead to counterattacks by the opposition; leading the defense to scramble to get back into position and shut down key scoring chances that didn’t need to be created in the first place.

One big bright spot is the team working as a cohesive unit, even with players shuttling in and out of the line-up. Newcomers like Hunter McCoy, Daniel Colabufo, and Conor Cole have come into the line-up and fit in tremendously. The old guard of Luke Mountain, Reid Leibold, Thomas Jarman, and Jude Kurtas have been able to teach these guys the Black Bear Way, which has seemingly helped the transition of those new players.

More over, they haven’t been out any of the games they’ve played in. All the games have been tight affairs, four of them by one goal. This is also the best start in the first six games in the team’s history. It’s a grind of a season and plenty to look forward to. Any kind of adjustments that need to be made will hopefully be handled early on so that it doesn’t continue to be a trend.

Black Bears Trade Sinclar, Kittleson to St. Cloud

After two games of the season, the Maryland Black Bears are making moves already. Wednesday, they traded defenseman Bryden Sinclair and forward Logan Kittleson to the St. Cloud Norsemen for a tender contract and draft pick. Neither Sinclair nor Kittleson played in Monday’s game.

For both, it seemed to be a numbers game.

The defense has been packed with the additions of Seth Bergeron and Cam Gaudette, as well as the solid early play of Kevin Scott and Sean Kilcullen. That made one defenseman expendable and that happened to be Sinclair. The University of Maine commit played 50 games last years with seven assists and eight points. A hard-nose player who brought a physical aspect of the game, including a very lockdown mentality in the defensive zone. Sinclair came to Maryland from the Manitoba Junior League, playing for Opaskwayak Cree Nation Blizzard.

Kittleson was one of the returnees from last year up front, but with guys like Hunter McCoy and Daniel Colabufo making a solid first impression, he drew the short straw in this. With eight assists and 13 points last season in 44 games, the one big moment for Kittleson was his between the legs shot against Jamestown. Kittleson came to Maryland after three seasons with Burnsville High in Minnesota, where he was a captain in his last year.

On the upside, the addition of a tender contract will help the future of the Black Bears where they can sign a younger prospect and have his rights while he develops before he jumps up to the squad full-time. The draft pick is also a nice pick-up for restocking the cabinet for the Black Bears into next season. It also gives back those assets that the Black Bears gave up for Gaudette just before the season.

Both Sinclair and Kittleson played solid roles for the Black Bears last year and helped them getting into the playoff hunt before the season was cancelled. Hopefully this move will allow them the playing time they deserve and helps them excel into the college game when they depart from juniors. Best of luck to them in St. Cloud and moving forward in hockey.