Another Division I Commitment Adds To Success Culture for Black Bears

Photo: Jon Pitzono/FOHS Media Faction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trio of New Signees for Black Bears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo via New Jersey Titans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UCHC Reach Decision on 2020-21 Season

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

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

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

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

Black Bears Weekend Takeaways: December 11th at Johnstown

Photo by Jon Pitonzo/FOHS Media Faction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.