Yesterday, I mentioned the community the team built off the ice, especially when the product on the ice was going through some growing pains. Politicians and car salesmen may lie– but numbers never do. Second to last in wins, points, and goal differential. The goals-for and power play was 22nd in the league, the goals-against and penalty kill was last in the league. Defensive zone play was a little shaky with turnovers on breakout attempts, holding the puck too long, or not being able to adapt to a strong forecheck. The growing pains of a first year team.
It wasn’t for a lack of trying, however, as GM and head coach Clint Mylymok did what he could with a team that didn’t have previous experience playing alongside each other. Like most other expansion teams, there’s going to be hiccups when it comes to chemistry and the fact that they had 46 players play in a Black Bears uniform this season also stifles the chemistry of a team. Whether it be due to injury, trades, performances, or otherwise– with a roster in constant flux, hard to have a consistent performance with the shake-ups.
The team started to be built by acquiring Carter Wade and Luke Posner from the Kenai River Brown Bears before the NAHL Draft. In that draft, they went after a USHL player in Steven Agriogianis, though he would never suit up for the team. While Agriogianis didn’t play, plenty of players picked in that draft did don the red, yellow, and black. The likes of Patrick Choi, Luc Salem, Max Borst, Luke Mountain, Marek Wazny, and Thomas Jarman all got selected and played a big role in the first season. Of course, Choi and original captain Quinn Warmuth got traded to bring in Kyle Oleksiuk (EDIT: I wrongly put Christian Brune in the original. Thanks to Colin from the Black Bears for noticing my mistake), but Choi and Warmuth were big part of the first season the time they were there.
However, this was a team that looked solid for a first-year squad in the first few months. They were in a playoff spot for a decent amount of time and were in the hunt until about January, even after going 2-7-1 in November where they played the juggernaut of the Johnstown Tomahawks several times. Even in the last three months where the wins were few and far between– guys came out to play, the new additions were contributing in a big way, while the young players who will be the core for the future got a chance to acclimate themselves to the NAHL style of play.
Everyone played their role, though. I don’t think there were many guys who were passengers on the ride. Everyone had to adapt to the injuries. Hell, the last couple weekends, the team only had four natural defensemen in the line-up with Wazny going back to the point. Mountain turned it on late in the season with eight points (4g, 4a) in his last six games, 25 (6g, 19a) of Jonathan Young’s 36 points came in the 2019 calendar year (27 games). Borst became the go-to guy for the penalty with, racking up three short-handed goals which is tied for third in the entire NAHL. Lest we forget about Connor Pooley (6PPG, 7PPA) and Daylon Mannon’s (5PPG, 5PPA) power play prowess.
In net, it was a mixed bag to start, with projected starter Benjamin Beck being injured, leaving David Tomeo and Tyler Matthews to start the season. Of the two, Tomeo stood out in a big way, really keeping the Black Bears into some games they probably shouldn’t have been. Beck came back, but didn’t live up to expectation and Tomeo took back his spot in net. While his numbers didn’t show it (9-21-6, 1 SO, 3.60 GAA, .901SV%), Tomeo was an anchor in net and then slowly became a mentor to the likes of Andrew Takacs and Anthony Del Tufo later on in the season.
Speaking of Del Tufo, he was one of the many players that came from Team Maryland and the Mercer Chiefs pipeline and were given opportunities to see if they could make it on the NAHL level. Anthony Del Tufo became part of the tandem with Tomeo later in the season, while standing out amongst the Team Maryland alumni. Connor Redden, Mac Brice, Isaac Mbereko, and Jakub Hasek are others who moved across the dressing rooms from the Team Maryland camp to the Black Bears side; while Jude Kurtas impressed in his short tenure with the Black Bears after playing with the Mercer Chiefs 18U, while Maryland native George Vonakis came up from the EHL’s Philadelphia Jr. Flyers to secure a spot on the team.
Granted, the 16-37-5-2 record isn’t what they wanted and having to end their seasons early wasn’t probably in their plans either– but it probably also wasn’t unexpected for the inaugural club; the Vegas Golden Knights probably stole a lot of that good karma for first year clubs. Yet, it could have been worse and they were in it for a while. It’s a good building block for the years to come and if they can keep even 50% of this team for next season, they’ll be better off for it and continue to grow because of it.