ODENTON, Md. (WMAR) – There’s a new game in town.
A level of junior hockey you can’t find anywhere else around.
“I don’t think kids and people in Maryland really understand what they have here now and there’s a direct pathway to the next level. So, kids who want to play college, or maybe look at playing pro, you’re going to get scouted,” said Maryland Black Bears head coach and general manager Clint Mylymok.
“It’s definitely a fast-paced league and you’re playing against men here,” said Black Bears defenseman Quinn Warmuth.
The Maryland Black Bears are the newest team in the North American Hockey League.
“I’m really excited,” said Warmuth. “I think you get a unique opportunity with an expansion team. Just kind of getting to start your own traditions.”
The 24-team NAHL is the second-best junior league in the country, just below the United States Hockey League.
The NAHL had over 300 NCAA commits last year.
Nine of their players were selected in the most recent NHL Draft.
Players range in age from 16-20 years old and come from all over the United States, Canada and even Europe. They live with local billet families who offer them room and board.
“I want to play hockey in the highest level possible. The goal, of course, NHL,” said Black Bears defenseman Lukas Ljungblom, who is from Sweden.
The goal of the Black Bears is to make it easier for local hockey players to achieve elite on-ice success while staying home.
“For years and years the only option, if you wanted to try and play at the next level, which is college, you had to move away. You had to go to boarding school. You had to go billet with somebody in Michigan or Massachusetts or Minnesota,” said Black Bears owner Murry Gunty. “The purpose of this team is to support our local clubs. So, if you want to go play college hockey and you want to stay at home you now have a place to do it.”
The Black Bears play their first exhibition game on Saturday in Jamestown, N.Y. Their first regular season game in team history comes on September 14, at Piney Orchard Ice Arena, against the New Jersey Titans.