The Maryland Black Bears had their regular-season tune-up over the weekend against United States Hockey League (USHL) affiliate, the Youngstown Phantoms, and North American Hockey League (NAHL) East Division Rival, the New Jersey Titans. There is one certainty that was established over the weekend. The 2019-2020 Maryland Black Bears have vastly improved from their Inaugural Season. They are bigger, faster, stronger, and display a vast amount of potential as they go into their second season in the NAHL.
The first preseason game was the official USHL/NAHL Affiliate Showdown against the Youngstown Phantoms. The matchup featured a strong local flavor with Maryland Black Bears Goalie, Andrew Takacs, and Youngstown Phantoms Goalie, Dominic Basse facing off against each other in net. Takacs was born and raised in Dunkirk, Maryland and Basse is from Alexandria, Virginia. The two top hockey prospects are former Team Maryland teammates. Takacs and Basse have also competed in the historic rivalry between high school powerhouses Gonzaga College High School and Dematha Catholic High School in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference. Takacs attended Dematha, while Basse attended Gonzaga.
The Black Bears did not back down or seem phased to be playing against a USHL hockey franchise. The USHL is arguably one of the best Junior Hockey leagues in the world and the matchup represented a great opportunity for the Black Bears to show the progression they have made over the offseason. Black Bears Forward Ethan Heidepriem set the tempo with an unassisted goal in the first period. The only goal scored in the first period.
The Phantoms finally responded with a goal of their own in the second period. Phantoms Forward Yusaku Ando scored with assists from Caden Lewansowki. The Black Bears came back with a goal of their own shortly after. Black Bears Forward, Emil Gabrielson, one of the four Swedish players on this year’s roster, broke the 1-1 tie with assists from Aidan McDowell and Phillip Ekberg. After two periods in the books, the Black Bears took a 2-1 lead into the final period.
The final period began with a Phantom onslaught. Three straight unanswered goals were put on the board during the offensive surge.
Tempers boiled in the third period after a controversial hit from Black Bears Forward and former Phantom, Jonathan Young. Young was tackled to the ice by a Phantom player and then all chaos ensued. Black Bears Forward, Luke Mountain immediately came to his teammate’s defense and sent a message with a formal battle against Hunter Brackett.
After handling the initial blows, the Black Bears bounced back with two goals to tie the game up at 4-4. Black Bears Forward Wilmer Skoog, a top NAHL prospect and the most recent trade acquisition from the Minot Minotauros, was responsible for both goals with assists from Ethan Heidepriem and Jack Hillman.
The game came down to the wire, but the Phantoms eventually edged the Black Bears with a Bradley Marek goal to put them over the top for the 5-4 win. Great sportsmanship was shown after the game as both teams shook hands, took photographs, and displayed a great level of respect for one another.
The second and final preseason game was a mini-season preview of the NAHL East Division. The New Jersey Titans have become the biggest division rival for the Maryland Black Bears. Safe to say the teams did not get along last year and it is expected that this rivalry will expand during their second round of matchups during the new NAHL season.
The game started with a New Jersey Titans goal from Forward Alex D’Angelo with an assist from Brad Zona. After only a few minutes, Finn McLain, a 2019 Black Bear tender, found the back of the net for an unassisted equalizer. The first period ended with a New Jersey Titan goal from Shane Haviland, which was assisted by Tyler Nielsen to put them ahead 2-1.
The second period was all Titans. No goals were scored by the Black Bears and no momentum could be found. The Titans increased their lead to 3-1 after a goal from Cam Gendron that was assisted by Spencer McHardy and Kyler Head. Gendron’s goal was the only strike of the period.
A third-period comeback attempt was led by Black Bears veteran Forward Logan Kons on a brilliant goal with assists from Jude Kurtas and Jonathan Young. The comeback attempt was thwarted by the Titans after a Zachary Diamont goal with an assist from Matthew Iasenza. The Diamont goal cemented a Titans victory with a final score of 4-2.
The Inaugural Season for the Maryland Black Bears was a complete rollercoaster ride with many highs and lows. The 2019-2020 Black Bears roster will consist of many new faces with a small mix of veterans coming back to the squad. Maryland Black Bear Forwards Luke Mountain and Jonathan Young will be heavily relied upon to provide veteran leadership as the new season starts this weekend. The ‘big fyra’ led by Wilmer Skoog, Hampus Rydqvist, Emil Gabrielson, and Philip Ekberg will need to play up to their potential for this team to succeed. Local products Andrew Takacs (G), Finn McLain (F), and Reid Leibold (F) represent the boost of hockey in the DMV region. Bryden Sinclair, the first current Black Bear player to commit to a Division I hockey program (University of Maine), will lead a bolstered blue line.
The Maryland Black Bears Regular Season Home Opener is this Friday, September 13th, at 7:00 PM in the Piney Orchard Ice Arena. The Home Opener kicks off a two-game series against the New Jersey Titans. The second game will be played on Saturday at 7:45 PM. There are many unknown variables about the Black Bears this year; however, there is no doubt that this will be an exciting season for the 2019-2020 Black Bears.