Maryland Black Bears 2020-21 Season in Review: My Three Wishes for 2021-22

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction

With the Black Bears wrapping up the 2020-21 season, it’s time to look ahead to what’s next. A foundation season is only as meaningful as the seasons that come after that and how it shapes the team and players going forward. So, here’s my personal three wishes heading into next season. Disclaimer, I have ZERO clout when it comes to the decision makings, this isn’t what I think is going to happen, it’s what I wish would happen.

1. Keeping the Home-Grown Pipeline Going: There were a lot of players who played this season that are a part of the Black Bear Sports Group pipeline of talent. Quinn Kennedy, Miles Gunty, Dimitry Kebreau, Jesse Horacek, and Rory Gresham came up through the Team Maryland pipeline. Being able to give them a chance and let them show off is a great look to the future, especially with plenty of spots up for grabs this coming season. Currently, Sean Kilcullen has become an everyday player after being in that pipeline. Add in the mix Jude Kurtas and Aidan McDowell after they came up through the Mercer Chiefs, the growth from within is strong and the talent is definitely available in that pipeline.

2. Returnees Help That Younger Pipeline: The Black Bears had 11 full-time returnees at the start of the season from the 2019-20 season. Even with some trades, Maryland used that older core to help the incoming players transition with what the game-plan from the previous season. A chunk of players will be gone due to aging out or heading to college next season, which is great for their advancement and shows how prepared they are for the next step. That said, to be able to keep some players who know the system could help ease the transition for the incoming players and keep the success going off of this season.

3. Go from Underdog to Favorite: With the Black Bears upsetting the top-seed in the division, the Black Bears left their mark in showing they belong in the hunt of the East Division elite. If not for a 12-game slump, they could have gotten a higher seed– but they showed that they weren’t out of place. It’ll be a little tougher next season with another team in the division as Jamestown returns, but the mindset now shouldn’t be about making the playoffs, it’s about getting the higher seed. Each year is going to be about taking that next season. Going from an expansion team, to a contender, to an underdog– the natural progression is to become a favorite from this point forward. With the make-up of the coaching staff and possible returnees– that shouldn’t be a problem for this squad.

And that’ll do it for the 2020-21 season. The NAHL Draft is July 14th, which should mark the basis for the next season. It was a fun ride this year, now it’s a time to build off this foundation.

Maryland Black Bears 2020-21 Season in Review: Fare Thee Well, Overagers

It’s one of the more difficult posts to write on the year in junior hockey, it’s the players who won’t be with the team next year due to them being over the junior age of eligibility. For some of these players, they’ve been with the squad only a year, maybe less; for one, since day one. So, let’s remember these players moving on next season.

LUKE MOUNTAIN: A day one Black Bear, Mountain was picked in the 12th Round of the 2018 NAHL Draft and has been the team ever since. He created one of the bigger moments in the Black Bears’ first year by scoring in overtime with 2.3 seconds left in the home finale over the New Jersey Titans. Mountain’s workman-like game provided all-around coverage for the Black Bears, active in any kind of situation that was needed out of him. An alternate captain in 2019-20 and then the fourth team captain in history this past season, Mountain continues the line of heart-and-soul players to wear the “C” for Maryland. Mountain made the NAHL East Division All-Rookie Team in 2018-19 and was a three-time East Division Star of the Week over his three seasons. As he leave Maryland, Mountain holds the regular season franchise records for games played (152), points (82), goals (44), assists (38), and game-winning goals (7). Mountain is headed to the University of Vermont to continue his career.

CAM GAUDETTE: Maryland made a big move in acquiring Gaudette in the off-season from the Northeast Generals, but it proved to be a great move in gaining added leadership and veteran presence on the team. Gaudette played both sides of the puck well, being a shutdown defenseman when needed, chipping in offensively, as well as adding a physical part to the game when called upon. Gaudette helped anchor the Maryland defense and helped the team post a 2.94 goals-against-per-game average, lowest in team history. In November of 2020, Gaudette took home NAHL Defenseman of the Month honors. Northeastern University is Gaudette’s next stop, the school his brother Adam attended, as well.

HUNTER MCCOY: Coming from the BCHL, McCoy helped play an key role in the Black Bears offense, while also providing timely plays in his own zone to help keep shots away from the net. With a quick shot and ability to get into the proper scoring areas, McCoy set a single-season Black Bears’ record with four game-winning goals while also being tied for second all-time in that category. McCoy also provided on the penalty kill, scoring three shorthaded goals, placing him second in the single-season and all-time record books for Maryland. This season, McCoy also garnered two East Division Star of the Week honors. After some time thinking, McCoy was recruited by the United States Army West Point for his next chapter in life and hockey.

JOSH NIXON: A late-comer to the party, Nixon made an impact almost immediately thanks to his smooth skating and stick-handling abilities. A product of the OJHL and USHL, Nixon’s vision of the ice allowed him to make time and space for himself when it looked like none was available. He really turned it on late into the season, as well as the playoffs where he lead the team in scoring with four goals and eight points. The next chapter for Nixon will be at Lake Superior State, as he will be an offensive asset for a team that is continuing to improve in the NCAA ranks.

BRIAN SMITH: Coming over after some time with Odessa this year and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last year, Smith only saw nine games of regular season action and two games of playoffs. Even with the limited playing time, the character of Smith to be there when called upon is an admirable trait that will serve him well down the line in life and in hockey. Smith was part of a deep defensive squad and helped the team keep the goals-per-game under three this season. Smith will attend Bethel University next season, playing along side former Black Bear Luke Posner.

All photos by Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction

Maryland Black Bears 2020-21 Season in Review: Historic

For the Maryland Black Bears this year, much like others in the NAHL, there were plenty of hurdles to actually get the season rolling and completed. They started their season at their sister rink north of Baltimore, they had pauses and postponements for one reason or another, and then dealing with a big slide during the season. Yet, at the end of the day, the 2020-21 Maryland Black Bears team was their best yet, securing a winning record, a playoff spot, and their first playoff series victory. Despite falling short in the East Divison Final, the foundation of success has been laid for this organization.

The start was a little rocky, as the Black Bears couldn’t play at their home rink in Piney Orchard due to local regulation when it came to what were deemed high-risk contact sports in Anne Arundel County. Luckily, the Black Bears had a home in their sister rink in Abingdon, Maryland that they could play in, so the operation shifted there, but without the use of the locker rooms; meaning players had to dress outside before coming into the rink and had to stay on the bench between periods. Notwithstanding, they had a place to play– which is more than some teams could say.

Despite dropping their first game of the season in overtime, the Black Bears went 12-6-5 by Groundhog Day, sweeping New Jersey, Johnstown, and Northeast in that run. It was also the first time Maryland saw the top of divisional standings that deep into the season. The IceWorld era ended after the February 8th and 9th games, but it started as big slide with Maryland dropping their next 12 games with five of those games being one-goal affairs. Even a return to The Den at Piney Orchard couldn’t cure the losing woes. After going through that and the playoff picture being more cluttered, the team knew they had to dig deep and not let the great start to the season end with a floundering second half of the season.

Splitting two series with Danbury and Northeast after, the Black Bears got back to their early season success. They reeled off a franchise record seven-game winning streak, which included their first two shutouts of the season and their first two wins at the War Memorial in Johnstown. Also around that time, it was announced that the East Division would have their playoffs settled by points percentage due some teams playing more than the 54 games that was the minimum requirement for the season. With that, the Black Bears were in the driver’s seat for the last playoff spot, but still had to scoreboard watch and then garner points against Northeast and Danbury, whom they were fending off.

Maryland went 3-0-1 against Northeast down the stretch and split against Danbury, which was enough for them to clinch the final spot in the East Division ahead of the least weekend, thanks to some help from elsewhere. In that, the Black Bears also secured their first over-.500 season in franchise history being four games over the .500 mark, as well as holding their lowest goal-against total for the franchise.

For their playoff draw, they had to go against the biggest thorn in their sides, the Johnstown Tomahawks. While Maryland had played Johnstown close this season (10 of the 14 games were decided by one goal), the overall success wasn’t the best with a 7-21-7 record against Johnstown all-time in the regular season. Undaunted after a 5-3 Game One loss, the Black Bears came back for three goals int he first period of Game Two that carried them to a 6-4 victory for their first playoff win in franchise history. Coming back to The Den, Maryland took Game Three, overcoming a two-goal deficit to win 3-2; but they weren’t so lucky in Game Four, as another two-goal deficit couldn’t be overcome, sending the series to a decisive Game Five. Midway through the third period of Game Five, Maryland was down by one goal, but two goals in 37 seconds coupled with the stalwart defensive performance lifted the team into the second round in a big upset in the East Division.

Riding high, the Black Bears looked to use their emotional win to carry them into representing the East Division at the Robertson Cup Finals, but had to face off against a tough Maine Nordiques team; whom they had difficulty against in limited match-ups this season. While they did show offensive bursts, Maine’s suffocating defense limited the Black Bears to only three goals in the series, while putting up 12 of their own; winning the East Division in a sweep with all games ending 4-1.

It did not end the way the team wanted to, with hopes of the Robertson Cup being theirs. At the end of the day, given all the trials and tribulations– the Black Bears did more than some people may have expected to. On top of that, they brought in a good mix of experience and bringing in talented youngsters and affiliated players to look at what the future could hold for this team in the future.

Some might argue that using the term “historic” so much when talking about the accomplishments of the season could be overkill for a fourth place team, but in these instances, it’s definitely not. They made plenty of history for their franchise, they put benchmarks out there for future teams to strive for, and they set the culture for this organization moving onward.

All Photos by Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction

Black Bears Season Ends With 4-1 Loss

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction

In the end, it just was not to be for the Maryland Black Bears. Thursday proved to be the final game of the Black Bears season, as they dropped Game 3 to the Maine Nordiques by the familiar score of 4-1 and drop the series three games to none.

Game 3 started big for Maryland, as off the hop you could tell that they knew what was at stake. Plenty of chances to start off the game and maintained possession in the Maine zone gave a pick-me-up to this team, who needed to find a way to win. However, 4:47 into the frame, Maine got on the board first as Stefan Owens got the puck out of the corner to Isaiah Fox, who got it to Andrew Noel and put it past Hannes Kollen. Maryland played undeterred from that, as they tried to keep the pressure going, which finally paid off. Chances in front of Tyriq Outen kept happening until Hunter McCoy was able to slide one past the 6’3 goalie to even the score in the first.

The second period saw Maine start to pace the Black Bears offensively, have more zone time and be able to get more chances on Kollen. Maine eventually got the lead back off a face-off win that got back to Matt Connor, who shot through a screen to give the Nordiques the 2-1 lead. After a late, borderline high hit by Kevin Scott, Maryland went to the penalty kill and almost tied the game up with Reid Leibold getting a semi-breakaway, but the puck would not cooperate and rolled off his stick. Tensions got higher, as Cam Gaudette and Caden Pattison got into a physical and philosophical discussion towards the end of the frame.

With possibly 20 minutes left in their season, the Black Bears started to press in the third. A couple of chances either got deflected on the pass or shot or the puck took an odd hop away from the intended receiver and went into the corner. Maine went up 3-1 when Maryland’s defense pinched a little too much and Jack Strauss took a 2-on-1 for himself and beat Kollen. The Black Bears still tried to push the play and the attack, but Maine’s shutdown defense was able to withstand the pressure and convert on a rebound in front as Pattison put the dagger into the season for Maryland with the 4-1 final.

For Maine, their ability to play the shutdown role in the playoffs have earned them a chance at the Robertson Cup next weekend and all the best to them in that.

For the Black Bears, it ends the most successful and promising season in the team’s history. With all the ups and downs this team had to deal with from sickness to injuries to regulations in their home county– they were able to make it a winning season, a playoff season, and get to the East Final. Heck of a job by this team and everyone who surrounded it, for doing their part to make sure this season was played smart, safe, and successful

Next week, the annual three-part season in review to review the season, bid a farewell to the graduating players, and my three wishes for next year.

Black Bears on Brink of Elimination After Being Swept in Maine

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction

Following a pair of 4-1 losses to the Maine Nordiques this weekend, the Maryland Black Bears are fighting for their playoff lives in an attempt to win the East Division. While four of those goals from Maine were with an empty net, the Black Bears couldn’t find a way to break through offensively for more than a goal a game.

In Game 1, most of the action happened in first period. After a boarding minor to Jack Hillman, the Nordiques used the power play to its almost full time before converting with James Philpott finding the puck on the right face-off circle from a deflected shot to shoot it past Hannes Kollen for the first goal of the game. Maryland tried to get back the goal, but Maine would go up by two goals with Luke Antonacci scoring almost from the same location; going over the blocker of Kollen to make it 2-0. It was the third time in the last four games the Black Bears had gone to a 2-0 hole. Josh Nixon was able to get the Black Bears on the board with a goal from the slot thanks to the forecheck from the Black Bears.

Maryland got off to a quick start, trying to push for the equalizer. Despite the push, they were not able to break through Tyriq Outen in net during the second period. Kollen was able to get a lot of action, stopping three straight breakways in the frame, keeping Maryland in the game for the moment. The Black Bears got off to a quick start in the third period, as well, but were unable to get the equalizer before Maine was able to get two empty net goals to seal the Game 1 victory for the Nordiques.

Knowing they needed a win to not go down two games to none, the Black Bears needed to hunker down for Game 2 of the series. While they tried to push the pace a bit, the first period was a bit of a neutral zone battle. Not many top chances coming from Maryland, as Maine kept the Black Bears to the outside. In the second frame, the Nordiques dealt with some penalty troubles, but thanks to their ability to limit Maryland’s advances to the middle; no goals were tallied.

After Maine’s second penalty of the period, they found their first goal after Stefan Owens found Isaiah Fox streaking to the net and Fox put it to his backhand to beat Michael Morelli to open the scoring. Maryland went back on the power play not long after that and pepper Outen with shots, but the 6’3 Tampa native was equal to the task. With 5:01 left in the period, Patrick Schmiedlin put on what looked to be a harmless wrister, but it found an opening and went past Morelli for another 2-0 lead for Maine.

The third period got a little more physical as Maryland knew they needed to take some risk and make some plays, while Maine countered with some big hits and plays of their own. Almost seven minutes into the frame, Nixon and Maine’s Caden Pattinson got into it behind the Nordiques net and continued jaw-jacking in the penalty boxes, leading to ten-minute misconducts on top of their two minutes for roughing. Maryland continued to push, try to break into the Nordiques’ fortress, including a Luke Mountain breakaway and Hillman ringing a shot off the post. The Black Bears broke through with three minutes remaining from a Brad McNeil tip from a Philip Törnqvist shot to cut the lead to one. However, Maryland couldn’t find the equalizer and gave up two empty net goals to drop Game 2 by the same score as Game 1; 4-1.

The only task now for Maryland is to win every game. These games could have went either way and Maine did a great job keeping Maryland to the outside and not allowing many second chance opportunities. When Maryland was pressing Maine on the forecheck, they were able to create a bit of havoc on in the offensive zone and turn it into quality chances. Trying to break through on the power play is something that’ll be needed, as the Black Bears went 0-for-6 with the extra man this weekend. Getting traffic in front will be another thing to do, as Outen was able to see the majority of the shots thrown at him.

But it’s time for some home cooking. It’s time to have the crowd behind you and take it a game at a time, a period at a time, a shift at a time. They aren’t going to win three games in a single night, so time to break it down bit-by-bit and then let the pucks fall where they may. The series isn’t over until one team wins three games in the series– and I’m not great at math, but I don’t think Maine has reached that point just yet.

Black Bears Welcome Three Through Supplemental Draft

Ahead of the start of the Division Finals, the Maryland Black Bears and the rest of the NAHL took part in the Supplemental Draft. Every team got three selections and it was made up of players under 21 years old as of December 31st, 2021, who weren’t on an NAHL team or played less than 10 games for a team and didn’t accept a tender contract.

Graphic via Maryland Black Bears

For their first pick at #18, the Black Bears took Joona Haarti from Kiekko-Espoo U20 in Finland. The Helsinki defenseman played only nine games this season with two goals and five points, but has grown through the Blues system. In 2018-19, Haarti was the captain of the Blues U18 squad, posting 10 goals and 31 points in 37 games. His first year in U20 saw him struggle a bit with only six points in 41 games, but he seemed to get back on pace this year before the season was halted.

Graphic via Maryland Black Bears

At pick 42, Carter Primo Self was picked from the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints and is scheduled to attend Miami University this fall. After an impressive AAA career with Fox Motors and the Selects Academy, Self went to the BCHL, netting 12 goals and 37 points in 52 games for Cowichan Valley before returning stateside this season with Dubuque, where he had eight goals and 12 points on the year.

Graphic via Maryland Black Bears

The final pick at 46, Maryland chose Zane Demsey, also from Dubuque, and a Michigan State commit. Demsey is no stranger to the NAHL, as he split the 2019-20 season with the Chippewa Steel and Minnesota Wilderness. This past season, he was in the USHL with Waterloo to start before moving to Dubuque in the early part of the season. A more stay-at-home defensive type, Demsey only had three goals and six points in 41 games.

Only introduced last season, the Supplemental Draft allows teams more flexibility when it comes to bringing players to camp and evaluating them in the process. Of the picks last season, Matthew Shanklin made the Black Bears roster and was named alternate captain before having his season cut short due to injury.

Plenty of Maryland Talent Selected in 2021 USHL Draft

The USHL Draft has come and gone for another year. Those unfamiliar with the draft, it’s split up in two Phases. The first Phase is for U-17 players only– so in this instance, players with a 2005 birth year. Phase II is open to anyone who still has junior eligibility and is not protected by another USHL team. This is where you see a lot of the NAHL players being taken– including many Maryland Black Bears.

Of course, much like other drafts, this doesn’t automatically give you a spot in the USHL, but it’s a nice helper in order to get to that dream. Plenty of talent from Maryland and the mid-Atlantic have gone through this draft and this year added to that.

During Phase I on Wednesday, the first Marylander to go was Daniel Johnson to the Youngstown Phantoms in the fifth round. The Edgewood native has been all over the map, playing with Hershey Jr. Bears in pee-wee, up to the Canadian International Hockey Academy in Ontario, then over to the Chicago Young Americans this season, where he compiled 22 goals and 51 points in 60 games.

Next down the line was Maddox Tulacro, who went in the sixth round to the Des Moines Buccaneers. Tulacro played for the Mount St. Charles Academy 15U team, recording 11 assists and 12 points in 29 games. The defenseman from Bethesda joined Mount St. Charles after two years with Team Maryland in their AAA program from pee-wees through their 14U squad.

On Thursday, Phase II happened and a pair of Team Maryland 15U players went to the Youngstown Phantoms in the 18th and 19th round, with Luke Rubin going first and Jacques Oliver following that. Rubin, a Fulton native, racked up 10 goals in 14 games this season, while putting 43 goals over 59 games the last three season for Team Maryland across their programs. Oliver came to Team Maryland form the Washington Little Caps and was able to get 13 points in only 14 games in the AYHL this season. Youngstown owner Murry Gunty– who owns the Black Bears– has seen first-hand the skill of players from the DMV and believes in building a hockey culture in the mid-Atlantic. Selections like these help players along, while also showing other players in the area that by putting in the work, they could get a chance to reach their hockey goals.

Other Marylanders who were selected in Phase II include another one of the O’Neill boys, Cameron. The younger brother to Colin and Jason was picked by Tri-City in the eighth rough. O’Neill had his talent shine through while attending Mount St. Charles Academy and play for their 16U team. The Odenton native netted 24 goals and 57 points in only 23 games for the power house academy. O’Neill’s teammate and Rockville native Jack Spicer was picked in the 19th round by Des Moines after a 9-2-2 season with a 2.00 GAA and .926 save percentage.

On the Black Bears side of things, five total players were selected, an increase from last season’s three selections. It started when Bryan Huggins was picked by the Fargo Force in the seventh round, two rounds before Michael Morelli was picked up by the Dubuque Fighting Saints. The Omaha Lancers took Tanner Rowe in the 12th round, while Garrett Szydlowski got picked up by the Tri-City Storm. Last, but not least, Dylan Finlay went in the 13th round to the Sioux City Musketeers.

It was another small step into creating Maryland as a viable destination for teams to pick players, as well as showing how far the hockey programs in Maryland have come in the past decade to be able to churn out as much talent as they have in the last couple seasons. Add that to the rising stock of the NAHL team and players getting exposure in that side of things– the future is bright for the Old Line State.

Maryland Black Bears 2021 East Division Final Preview

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction

The two newest teams in the NAHL East Division will face off for the divisional title starting this week. With Maryland taking out Johnstown and Maine defeating New Jersey, the Black Bears and Nordiques are heading for a collision course for the right to play in Blaine, Minnesota for the Robertson Cup.

These teams played only six times this season, all within a six week span. Maryland came out of it with a 2-2-2 record, but have a 6-3-2 record overall with the Nordiques. These teams haven’t played since February, so some things may have changed– including the location of Maryland’s home. The last series between these two teams in February shuttered down the IceWorld era for the Black Bears this season.

For the Black Bears, both Hunter McCoy and Luke Mountain have six points on the season, including Mountain’s hat trick on January 22nd. We will have to see if Aidan McDowell gets cleared to play, because he had a goal and three assists against Maine, while Cam Gaudette has a goal and two assists this year. One of the interesting notes is two of the more dynamic players for the Black Bears in the last season– Josh Nixon and Tanner Rowe– each only posted a goal a piece against Maine in their sets. In net, Michael Morelli and Hannes Kollen split starts, both accounting for a win.

On the Maine side, the Black Bears gave their top scorers fits this season. Stefen Owens only had a goal and an assist in six games, while Isaiah Fox had two goals and an assist in the series. However, that also means the Black Bears will need to be wary of the other Nordiques. In the 14 goals that Maine scored against Maryland, only Fox and Luke Antonacci scored multiple times throughout the series.

It’ll be another tightly contested match-up for the Black Bears, but if they want to get to Blaine and into the hunt for the Robbie– they’ll need to channel what made them successful against Maine this year, while also taking what they learned from the Johnstown series and using that to their advantage to adjust and adapt.

Black Bears Advance After Comeback Win

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/ FOHS Media Faction

Odenton, Maryland can now be called Upset City.

Saturday night, the Maryland Black Bears overcame three deficits against the Johnstown Tomahawks and used two goals in 37 seconds to take the deciding Game Five, upset the top-seed in the division, and win their first playoff series in franchise history. Maryland will now face the winner of the New Jersey/Maine series, which will be decided Sunday night.

The first period was a sandwich period for Maryland, as Johnstown dictated the pace at the start of the frame, but Michael Morelli kept the sheet clean that the start. The Black Bears in the middle of the frame started to put their own pressure on the Johnstown net, with a couple opportunities on Sam Evola, but nothing to show for it. Johnstown then took over towards the end of the frame before they finally struck thanks to a Will Margel goal with 1:39 remaining in the first. Johnstown scored the first goal in four of the five games of this series.

Maryland tried to garner some momentum, but the forecheck of Johnstown stymied any movement that the Black Bears tried to make. Maryland finally got on the board due to some quick passing from everyone. Puck gets dumped into Morelli, to shoveled it over to Sean Kilcullen, who saw a line change for Johnstown was happened– so he quickly passed it to the far blue line were Tanner Rowe was waiting, gained the zone, and hit Daniel Colabufo with a cross-ice pass for Colabufo to put it near-side on Evola to tie the game. Maryland tried to build off the goal, moving the puck more and getting more offensive zone time, but Johnstown would regain the lead after Reed Stark scored on a breakaway by getting behind the defense after being taken down in the zone and slowly getting back into the play, looking for an outlet pass.

Johnstown took the lead into the third for the fourth time in this series, but Maryland had comeback before and knew they needed a big period to keep their season going. Cue the duo of Colabufo and Rowe, who hooked up again in the middle of the frame with Branden Piku finding Rowe, who cut between the Johnstown defense before finding Colabufo to put it blocker side on Evola again to make it two apiece. Not many penalties were called in this game, but the two called in the shift effected the rest of the game going forward. Jack Hillman got called on a holding call, which put the deadly Johnstown power play to work. Following a scramble off a Margel shot, John Gelatt scored to put Johnstown ahead. Less than 90 seconds later, Johnstown got called for a hooking, putting Maryland on their second power play. They didn’t wait long, as right off the face off win by Rowe, Dylan Finlay ripped home a wrist from the top of the circle to tie the game once again.

Knowing they couldn’t get down again, the Black Bears quickly went to work. Following a Johnstown shot that went over the net, the puck went to the top of the zone were Grady Friedman picked up the puck and looked over to the Johnstown goal. Streaking down the right side, Friedman drove to the net with Jude Kurtas in-stride with him down the left side, Friedman passed it across right in front of the crease, where Kurtas put home the go-ahead goal 37 seconds after Finlay’s equalizer to put Maryland up 4-3.

With 6:32 remaining, the Maryland defense clamped down on Johnstown’s offensive push and played a steady game in their zone by blocking shots, kept the puck to the outside, while Morelli make key stops to hold off the Tomahawks and take the win, moving to the East Final.

For the Black Bears, to move on in the playoffs is fantastic, but to do it against a team who has historically gotten the better of them is all the more sweeter. Now, the focus is going to be on either Maine or New Jersey, two teams who the Black Bears have played evenly against this season. The Black Bears were 2-2-2 against Maine and 7-6-1 against New Jersey on the year and will have to travel to their rink first to start the series.

However, that’ll wait until next time. Time to celebrate this victory for now and then focus on what’s next on Tuesday.

Split at Home Forces Black Bears to Game Five

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/ FOHS Media Faction

For the first time in franchise history, the Black Bears played in front of their home fans at The Den in Piney Orchard. While it was a typical tight affair with the Johnstown Tomahawks, the Black Bears won on Wednesday, but couldn’t close it out Thursday– forcing into a winner-takes-all game on Saturday night in Johnstown.

To start off their home side of the playoff series, the Black Bears got off to a quick start. Two chances early by Tanner Rowe and Reid Leibold, showing off their speed to get around the Johnstown defense, but couldn’t cash in on those attempts. Johnstown struck for the first two goals, one at the halfway mark of the first period and then on the power play just past halfway in the second.

Maryland struck back, as Hunter McCoy rifled one home from the top of the circles late in the frame to start the comeback for Maryland. It took only 70 seconds in the third for the Black Bears to tie it up on a Josh Nixon goal from a rebound on the side of the net, then with 3:07 remaining, Brad McNeil put one top shelf for the eventual game winner and capping the three unanswered goals for Maryland.

Thursday’s game had another quick feel for Maryland, despite not being able to score. However, discipline and maybe a little over-excitement got to the Black Bears with two consecutive too-many-men penalties, but luckily– they wee able to hold off the Johnstown power play in those instances. After a scoreless first, Johnstown got a goal quick off the rebound under 90 seconds into the second, while they plugged away at the net for their second goal near the midway point to make it 2-0 by the end of the second frame.

Maryland looked for the comeback once again, as Nixon again lit the lamp on the power play with a shot through traffic from the point. Maryland looked for the equalizer, but couldn’t get the bounces they needed before Johnstown regained their two-goal lead. With the goalie pulled, Dylan Finlay scored with a minute remaining to give the Black Bears some life– but try as they might; Johnstown put it into the empty net with a second left and the series is tied with the last game coming on Saturday.

It’s hard to say that the Black Bears got off to slow starts. In both games, they had plenty of early chances. They used their speed to get to the outside and be able to cut the corner and head to the net, but the biggest thing was the inability to get a lot of traffic in front of Sam Evola. Game Four also had Johnstown up heavy on the shot-counter with 49 shots to Maryland’s 28. Johnstown adjust quickly from Game Three to get into passing lanes and take away a lot of time and space for the Black Bears anywhere on the ice.

For the Black Bears to take Saturday’s game, they’ll need to cash in on those chances early; not unlike how they managed to get to a quick lead in Game Two. There’s no need to complicate the game plan when you know what will work against this team. The issue is being able to get out in front and play with the lead rather than having to rely on last-chance heroics all the time. Also, limiting the amount of puck-handling in the defensive zone would help, as the Black Bears had issues with getting it out of their zone, leading to some prime chances by Johnstown.

The stage is set for what will be a conclusion to a heck of a series not only in the playoffs, but for the entire season between these two teams. There shouldn’t be an expectation of less between them on Saturday, as the winner will move onto the East Division Finals.