Welcome the Defending the Den Podcast

Coming this 2022-23 season, PodcastMonsters.com and Chesapeake Hockey Week will welcome the Defending The Den Podcast. This latest podcast will follow the Maryland Black Bears and the ins-and-outs of their season.

While it used to be a big part of the Chesapeake Hockey Week, I felt it was time for a change. The Black Bears took up half of the Chesapeake Hockey Week in content, so in order to give Black Bears fans their big fix of news and reviews; as well as respecting the content of other Maryland teams in the Chesapeake Hockey Week– why not divide it up??

The Chesapeake Hockey Week will continue to bring people the latest in Maryland-based hockey and Maryland-born athletes, but it will now allow more time to focus on those areas rather than have it feel rushed.

Publish day for Defending the Den is tentative set for Wednesdays with the first show on Wednesday September 7th to preview the upcoming Black Bears’ season. A new Twitter has come up as well, @DefendingDenMBB– which will house most of the information and in-game notes moving forward. Written reviews will still be on ClutchAndCrabHockey.com.

Coaching Changes, Captains, and Camp– Oh My!!

Partially out of hibernation, the Maryland Black Bears made plenty of noise this week as they opened their main camp. Some coaching changes and naming of the 2022-23 captain were revealed as things get started back up at The Den at Piney Orchard.

First, the Black Bears announced Kim Weiss has been boosted up to Associate Head Coach alongside Head Coach Clint Mylymok. Weiss joined the Black Bears as an assistant coach last season and made an immediate impact on the players with the skill set she brought over from her time with the Washington Pride teams as a coach and her time playing with Trinity College.

Photo Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction

“Kim has been a great fit for the Maryland Black Bears, and we are excited to promote her to Associate Head Coach this season. She is a tireless worker, and an extremely talented coach,” said Mylymok in the Black Bears release. “The most important aspect is that she has the players’ trust and does a great job helping them develop as people just as much as she develops them as players.”

While Weiss is moving up, last year’s other assistant is moving on– as Dylan Schoen has left the team to take on a coaching role at Bemidji State University. The Ellicott City native comes off his first year as an assistant and second year as coach in the NAHL– previously being the goaltending coach in Amarillo.

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/ FOHS Media Faction

“Just as it is with the players, Maryland prides itself on developing their coaches and helping push them to the next level. Dylan was a great addition to our staff last year, and made it fun coming to the office,” mentioned Mylymok in a release. “He was great with the players, is very knowledgeable, and more importantly, Bemidji is getting a really good person involved with their program. We wish Dylan all the best in his next endeavor.”

No word on when a new assistant coach will be named.

To round out the news ahead of camp, Brad McNeil was named the captain for the 2022-23 season. The Royal Oak, Michigan native will be the sixth captain in team history and is coming off a solid campaign which saw him register 29 points and show off his intangibles in playing every situation that was thrown at him. McNeil will be coming back for his third season with Maryland.

“I’ve learned so much from the previous leaders that I’ve had the opportunity to play with in my time here. I look forward to coming back for a third season and playing in front of our great fans,” McNeil said in a the team release.

“Brad McNeil epitomizes what leadership is. He does whatever is asked of him; always puts his teammates first; represents our program with class, on and off the ice; and is an extremely hard working individual,” coach Mylymok stated. “This kid could play in any era of hockey and have success. We are fortunate to have him in Maryland.”

And that’s just ahead of the first day of main camp. Plenty of time left to see the camp for yourself, with the Futures Game and All-Star Game being played on Sunday. It’s all free of charge to attend, just check out MarylandBlackBears.com for more information on exact ice times.

Ottawa Picks Two Maryland-Born Talents in NHL Draft

The 2022 NHL Draft has come and gone and the Ottawa Senators should be the talk of the Old Line State, as they chose two Maryland products during the draft. Stephen Halliday (Glenwood) and Cameron O’Neill (Odenton) were both selected on day two of the Draft after both had very impactful seasons in 2021-22.

Photo via NeutralZone.net

First to go was Halliday, who went in the 4th round (104th overall), is coming off a stellar campaign that saw him net 35 goals and 95 points in the USHL. With that scoring, Halliday was able to eclipse the Dubuque Fighting Saints all-time assists and points record with 123 assists and 181 points in 160 games with the Saints. Born in Glenwood, MD; Halliday plied his craft in the Greater Toronto Area as a youth player before heading to the USHL. He’ll be heading to the Ohio State University next season.

“Halliday is an older kid coming out of the USHL and he’ll go to Ohio State next year,” Ottawa assistant GM Trent Mann mentioned to the media. “If you look at the numbers, he’s a high offensive kid. He’s a bigger kid, as well. He’s the type of kid we’ve kept an eye on and we like where he’s at right now.”

Photo via NeutralZone.net

O’Neill went the next round at 143rd overall after a big season at Mount St. Charles Academy. The former Spalding High School and Team Maryland forward put up 66 goals and 145 pints in 18U play, while also netting a goal and assist in his four games with the Tri-City Storm of the USHL. A UMass-Amherst commit, O’Neill will most likely make the jump to the USHL for a full season there in 2022-23.

“He’s a kid with offensive upside and players the game hard, as well,” Mann said of O’Neill. “This is a kid who’s going to take a little time, but we’re comfortable with that with where we’re at, so we can afford to wait a little longer on him.”

Hopefully, the Senators enjoy a little Old Bay with the influx of Maryland talent coming into their organization.

NAHL Releases 2022-23 Schedule

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/ FOHS Media Faction

The NAHL followed through on their promist, releasing the 2022-23 season schedule on Tuesday– less the NAHL Showcase games. Twenty-eight games at home, twenty-eight on the road, four in Blaine– it makes for a nice hype in the off-season.

It’s pretty basic, as the Black Bears will play their East Division foes constant, but there’s some highlights

-The Black Bears will start at home for their fifth straight year and for the fourth out of five seasons, it’ll be against the New Jersey Titans– the defending Robertson Cup champions. While both teams will have new looks; the rivalry will be a good jumping off points for both squads.

-Once they get back from the NAHL Showcase, Maryland will travel to their newest locale; Hollydell, New Jersey to take on the “Philadelphia” Rebels. This is the team that eneded their season last year, so vengence early on could be on their mind.

-Maryland will play two Tuesday night games in Hollydell against the Rebels in November and February. They’ll host the Johnstown Tomahawks for two three-game home set in October and March. The winter break spans between December 18th and January 5th.

The hype is real and ready to go. Now time to plan out your travel for this season. The full schedule is here and you can filter for Maryland by hitting CTRL+F and type in Maryland.

New and Familiar Faces For Black Bears at 2022 NAHL Draft

The 2022 NAHL Draft took place on Wednesday and the Maryland Black Bears decided that they could pick up some familiar faces along the way this year. After a flurry of tender signings in the past few weeks, the Black Bears were left with eight picks this year to fill out their protected list. 

Originally slated for the 16th spot, Maryland traded with the Maine Nordiques to get to the 7th spot where they picked their first familiar face– Brayden Stannard. After two seasons at the USHL level, Stannard was picked by the Black Bears in hopes to get him back into the fold in Maryland. In 2019-20, Stannad picked up All-East Rookie honors and NAHL 2nd Team Rookie honors with 13 goals and 22 assists. The Nebraska-Omaha commit didn’t seem to get the breaks during his time in the USHL, only managing 13 assists over 63 games. 

Waiting until the third round, Maryland selected Mitch Kohner from Estevan of the SJHL. Kohner brings a brunt of major junior experience, playing in the WHL with the Prince George Cougars and Spokane Chiefs. In 17 games with Estevan, Kohner had 11 assists and 14 points. Staying in the Canadian Junior “A” ranks, Gunnar VanDamme was the next pick for Maryland at 89th overall. The defenseman from Pittsford, NY recorded six goals and 24 points from the blue line in the OJHL

Another familiar face was picked at number 132 with Kareem El-Bashir getting the call from the team. El-Bashir played in two games for the Black Bears this season, while also putting on a clinic with Team Maryland’s 18U AAA team with 24 goals and 57 points in 42 games. El-Bashir also netted 10 goals in 10 games with John Champe/Light Ridge High in Northern Virginia, while also getting an NCDC call with the Connecticut Jr. Rangers. 

Going to the goaltending aspect, as Jack Wieneke was picked 161st overall. Wieneke played eight games for Fox Motors HC. Wieneke also had some NAHL game time with one game each for the Jamestown Rebels and Aberdeen Wings. In 2020-21, Wieneke had a 19-2-0 record for Maple Grove High School, helping them to a semifinal appearance in the Class AA Minnesota State Championships. 

Offense was next for Maryland, as Christian Catalano was selected from the Toronto Jr. Canadiens of the OJHL. In his first season in the OJHL, Catalano netted 34 goals and 73 points in just 52 games, while netting 14 points in 13 games to help the Jr. Canadiens win the OJHL title. 

Digging to the USHL well again, Maryland took Connor Welsh at pick 219, who played for Sioux City and Omaha this past year. Welsh had a stellar youth resume before turning to the junior ranks, but a change of pace in Maryland could help get him back on track going forward. 

Wrapping things up at pick 248, Logan Kroyman gets the last pick from the Black Bears from the Rochester Grizzlies. While he had some time with Kenai River this season, Kroyman helped Rochester to the NA3HL title with five goals in nine games from the point. With Maryland being notable for their defense, Kroyman will help with depth and some offensive contributions as well. 

The Black Bears have a history of players who play after they get drafted, regardless of where they’ve been selected. Stannard knows that well, as he was a seventh round pick in 2019 and was a top contributor for the team that season. Last year alone, Maryland had five of their seven picks in the 2021 Draft play considerable time for the squad this past year.

Black Bears Deal Aden Bruich to El Paso

On Saturday, the Black Bears announced they had traded three-year Black Bear and former 1st Round pick Aden Bruich to the El Paso Rhinos for a tender and player development fee. Bruich leaves the Black Bears with 22 goals and 44 points over 126 games played. With the Black Bears, Bruich ranked 3rd in all-time goals, tied for 2nd in game-winning goals (4), 2nd in games played, and 1st in power play goals (7).

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/ FOHS Media Faction

Drafted 3rd overall in 2019, Bruich’s size and skill helped him make the roster in his 17-year-old season. A true definition of a power forward, Bruich is a menace driving to the net, along the boards, and pretty much anywhere on the ice. Able to play in any spot, Bruich will definitely boost an El Paso squad coming off their first season in the NAHL where they finished 8th in the South Division.

In getting a tender and developmental fees, it gives Maryland a little flexibility with their roster in picking up another player as we head towards the NAHL Draft on June 15th. The Black Bears have announced four of their tenders at the tail-end of the season and into the off-season: Ervie Terwilliger, Riley Ruh, Nickita Moiseev, and Kaleb Tiessen.

Bruich was a pillar for the Black Bears in his time. While he did get hampered with some injuries, the impact he made on the ice was noticeable. Off the ice, a personable player who made time for everyone who asked and was a leader for the other players to follow.

Five Black Bears, Five Marylanders Picked in USHL Draft

Another USHL has come and gone, as both Phases of the Draft were completed Monday and Tuesday. Per the USHL: Phase I Draft consists of 10 rounds of “Futures” age players, who will be under-17 players for the next season. For the 2022 Draft, this is 2006 birth year players. Phase II of the Draft is open to players of all ages who are eligible to play junior hockey and are not currently on one of the protected USHL rosters. The Phase II Draft continues until all Member Clubs have filled their roster to a total of 45 players, including those who were previously on the Club’s affiliate list. In the Draft, five members of the Maryland Black Bears and four other Marylanders were selected in the draft.

Starting with the Black Bears, Luca Di Pasquo didn’t need to wait long for his name to be called. Di Pasquo was picked by the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders 6th overall in the Phase II portion. Di Pasquo had a stellar season with a 16-11-5 record, 2.31 GAA and .924 save percentage, while also playing for the Green Bay Gamblers in a spot-start and getting his first USHL win. In the fifth round, Luke Van Why was selected by the Des Moines Buccaneers after his solid season leading team defensive scoring with 30 points and picking up Defenseman of the Month honors in September.

The veteran Black Bears were next, with Kevin Scott getting selected by the Fargo Force in the seventh round. Scott’s physical presence complimented his booming shot, resulting in seven goals from the point. Then two more Black Bears shuffled up to Youngstown, with Branden Piku getting selected in the eighth round and Sean Kilcullen (Kensington) in the 12th round for the top affiliate Phantoms. Piku lead Maryland in goals with 18 and was second in points, while Kilcullen put together a quietly good season with 20 assists on the year.

Maryland players were well represented, in addition to Kilcullen, starting with John McNelis (Potomac) going in Phase I in the third round to the Sioux Falls Stampede. McNelis played for the Little Caesars 16UAAA team, racking up 10 goals and 17 points in 12 games.

In Phase II, Jack Spicer (Rockville) went in the seventh round to the Waterloo Black Hawks. With the Mount St. Charles 18UAAA team, Spicer went 26-4-4 with a 2.51 GAA and .918 save percentage, while also getting a call-up to the NAHL with the Lone Star Brahmas, winning both his starts at the end of the year. Evan Orloff (Bethesda) was the next Old Line Stater to get picked, as he went in the 12th round to the Muskegon Lumberjacks. Playing with the Maine Nordiques, Orloff has 13 assists and 18 points in his rookie campaign in the NAHL. Finally, Will Lawrence (Bethesda) was selected in the 19th round by the Green Bay Gamblers. Lawrence was a teammate of Spicer, potting 34 goals and 57 points with Mount St. Charles’ 18UAAA squad.

These selections show a great display of hard work and how far hockey in Maryland has come in the last few years, as talent from the area is getting recognized higher and higher up the tier list of hockey. While this doesn’t automatically give these players a spot, it gives them a boost to know they are doing the right things to make it further into their hockey careers.

Maryland Black Bears 2021-22 Season in Review: My Three Wishes for 2022-23

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/ FOHS Media Faction

As is tradition closing out the season, I’m going to put out my three wishes for next season. There’s not much rhyme or reason to it, just three things I’d like to see going forward with this team in trying to make them a permanent contender for the playoffs. Again, this is based on speculation and no insider information to go off on.

1. Finding a New Netminder: With Michael Morelli graduating junior hockey and Luca Di Pasquo leaving for Michigan State with one year of eligibility left, the Black Bears now looked to see who the next star in net will be. The Black Bears finished 9th in the NAHL in goals-against (176, 2.93 GA per game) and have gotten better each year for goals-against per game in each of their four seasons. Defense does play a strong part, but so does solid goaltending. It will be interesting to see who is brought in to follow the last two seasons of superb goaltending for the Black Bears and how far that can lead them moving forward.

2. Toning Down the Penalties: The Black Bears were second in the NAHL in times shorthanded with 239 (3.98 times shorthanded per game), six back of the Austin Bruins. The next closest East Division team was in eighth with the New Jersey Titans at 226. Maryland also gave up the seventh most power play goals in the league with 47. While the penalty kill was good to start, you could see they were getting tired by the stretch run, as they gave up 14 power play goals in the last 15 games of the season. Granted, some calls are more legit than others, but if you give a reason to make the officials call it– they will. Some discipline next season will go a long way in having more 5-on-5 time and not burning out your PK.

3. Keep Churning Out Commits: Over the course of the season, the Black Bears had 10 NCAA commitments announced and probably a couple more from players as the season ends. Those numbers are huge when it comes to getting prospects into the loop and wanting players to be a part of this team– because they’ll have a better chance to get seen by top college programs. While the increase in commits shouldn’t be a surprise given that head coach and GM Clint Mylymok has been able to get a lot of his Black Bears seen, but the fact it bumped from two in the first season to 10 (maybe more) in the fourth season speaks to the development from the coaches and the work the players have done to get the grades in the classroom and possess the skill on the ice to get notices going further.

For now, that’s a wrap on the 2021-22 Maryland Black Bears season. Now, the team gears up for the 2022 NAHL Draft happening some time in late June, early July. Thank you all for listening and reading. Stay tuned for news and notes as they happen in the off-season.

Maryland Black Bears 2021-22 Season in Review: Fare Thee Well, Overagers

It happens every year, but never gets all that easy. The overagers in junior hockey will now move onto their next part of life in college. For the Black Bears, to have five of seven overage players get commitments this season shows they know the right cogs to bring in to get these players noticed. Especially with three of the seven being part of last year’s team– the Black Bears lose another batch of outstanding people and players; but were honored to have them on the squad for the time they did. 

CONOR COLE: After coming onto the squad last season, Cole was a leader on and off the ice. Late in the season in 2020-21, he got an alternate captaincy and was a solid piece in the playoff run the Black Bears had last season. It garnered him attention in the Top Prospects Tournament at the end of the year, which was a jumping off point for him this season. Being named captain at the beginning of the season, Cole led by example for the team, chipping in wherever called upon and proving he deserved to have the “C” on his chest. His play got noticed by schools, as well, with Alaska-Anchorage winning his talents for the next four seasons. With Alaska-Anchorage rebuilding their team, expect Cole to play a big role for the first year back and beyond for the Seawolves’ squad.

AIDAN MCDOWELL: A three-year Black Bears and coming out of the Mercer Chiefs program, McDowell was a heart-and-soul player for the Black Bears, putting in the work every day in order to get and keep his spot in the line-up. Being able to get through injury adversity and a deep defensive group, McDowell took the next step this season with a well-rounded game on both sides of the puck, culminating in a commitment to Stevenson University starting this fall. You can tell how much McDowell means to the team when he finally got his first goal of the season late in the year and his teammate mobbed him not only for the go-ahead marker, but for the excitement of his hard work paying off. 

MICHAEL MORELLI: Coming into camp two years ago, Morelli dug and clawed and earned every minute of ice time he got. With a work ethic second to none, Morelli helped the Black Bears get to their first playoff berth, as well as securing the series-clinching win over Johnstown. Coming back for a second season, Morelli continued to dig deeper while he opened and closed the season with shutouts– leaving the Black Bears with the franchise lead of four shutouts. With a commitment to Michigan Tech, you can bet his work ethic will only increase as he moves onto the D1 ranks. 

JACOB BROCKMAN: Scoring the first goal of the 2021-22 season for Maryland, Brockman showed off his versatility throughout the season. After two seasons in the BCHL, the El Segundo, California native got back stateside and showed off all aspects of his game from a goal-scorer to a set-up man, as well as being a key contributor to the power play with eight points throughout the season. While his future college is yet to be determined, Brockman will fit in any way necessary for the success of his team and himself. 

MATTHEW DAVIES: Closing out the season with the last goal for the Black Bears, Davies play is a well-balanced attack. Not afraid to jump up in the rush and create offense, Davies also played a solid in his own zone, making sure that he wasn’t caught too far into the offensive zone and missing an assignment on defense. After coming to the NAHL via the Omaha AAA youth program and some stops in the NCDC, Davies’ right-handed shot from the point and vision of the ice should help him out with his next step in hockey. 

LAKER ALDRIDGE: Coming to the Black Bears after the NAHL Showcase, Aldridge carved out a knack for scoring the opening goals for the Black Bears and creating the momentum needed for the squad. Not only that, but Aldridge was able to adjust and adapt to whatever role he was called to do– whether it be being the aggressor and dropping the mitts or if it meant playing a shutdown role late in a period to protect a lead. The different styles he showed impressed Michigan State and allowed him to commit to the Spartans with teammate Luca Di Pasquo and former Black Bear Dylan Wegner. 

TYLER YOUNG: This year’s first round pick in the NAHL Draft came later into the first half of the season, but his impact on the ice and ability to turn a game around showed that he was worth the wait. With great speed, hands, and vision, Young had the ability to take over a game and score in bunches. The son of a former NHLer, Young knew what it takes to advance in hockey and will continue on with Merrimack College next season.

(All Photos: Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction)

Maryland Black Bears 2021-22 Season in Review: Just Short

After the season that the Maryland Black Bears had in 2020-21, the squad from this season had a hard act to follow. With eight players returning from last season and two others who had affiliate time in, they knew what it took to get back to that pinnacle and beyond. While they were able to surpass last season in terms of success in the regular season, they were unable to get into the playoffs in a gritty East Division. While the building blocks were there, there is also plenty of room to improve to get back into the second season.

In September, the Black Bears had a split month, splitting both series they played against New Jersey and Maine, while also going 2-2-0 in the NAHL Showcase. However, you were able to see the players stepping up offensively, returnees Michael Morelli starting the season with a shutout and Branden Piku potted three goals and five assists in the month, while newcomers Ryan Bottrill (2g, 8a) and Luke Van Why (3g, 7a) also showed off their stellar play in the first month. The Black Bears really started to shine in October, going 8-1-1, even with the start of the month consisting of two road games in two different locales in New Jersey and Johnstown. They were able to sweep three weekends and started to make a statement in the East Division, battling for the top spot with New Jersey for the first few months of the season. Luca Di Pasquo was shining in net, winning goaltender of the month for October with a perfect 4-0-0 record for the month with a 1.23 GAA and .959 save percentage in his four games that month. 

For November and December, things started to turn for Maryland. With the exception for the December series against Danbury, where Maryland swept the Jr. Hat Tricks; it was split city for the other five series in that time span before the winter break. That included two losses in extra time, which would become a factor for this team as the season went along. In that six series stretch, the Black Bears had four-or-more goals six games out of 12, with them giving up four-or-more six games as well. 

Right after the new year happened, the biggest change and only trade for the Black Bears happened with Philip Törnqvist being moved to Wichita Falls for Jack Blanchett, as Törnqvist left the Black Bears as the all-time team leader for goals by a defenseman with 14. Yet, the splits kept occurring after the new, with the next five weekends being splits– but it also included a weekday New Jersey game that had the Black Bears up 5-1 but dropping it 6-5. In those five splits, four of the five losses came in extra time

As mid-February and the stretch to the playoffs hit, so did a speed bump for the Black Bears. Starting February 18th until the end of the season, Maryland went 5-10-4 and dropped from the second spot to a fight for their lives. It wasn’t without controversy, as there was a goal in Johnstown where Di Pasquo was ran into, but the goal counted; then an overtime goal by Conor Cole in Maine that got called back, leading to a shootout loss in that affair and a lot of bad tastes in the mouth of the team following that. Despite a win in the last regular season game, the help the Black Bears needed didn’t come and they ended with one of the most statistically successful seasons, but no Robertson Cup playoff run to show for it. 

That notwithstanding, on the development side of things; the Black Bears did a tremendous job not only in moving players on with college commitments, but also bringing younger players into the fold to evaluate them moving forward. For the commitment side, the Black Bears were able to get 10 players during the season to get commitments for NCAA hockey as they go forward in their career. Conversely, the Black Bears brought in six players under the affiliate tag, with Leo Schwartz and Adam Schankula catching on for the second half of the season in a regular role, as well as getting a tender from Ervie Terwilliger. On top of that, countless players from the local 16U and 18U teams to get a taste of the NAHL style of coaching and play. One thing that the team can proclaim is the idea of progression throughout their system to advance to the next level. 

With 12 games that ended in the Black Bears not getting an extra point in overtime or shootout coupled with five other one-goal games that were lost in regulation; there will be plenty of questions about what could have been, how it got to that point, and what can be done to prevent it in the future. Unfortunately, there’s plenty of time to answer those questions as the preparation for 2022-23 begins sooner than expected for the Black Bears.

(All Photos: Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction)