ODENTON, Md. — The Maryland Black Bears have emerged from playoff hibernation.
"It means the world. That’s why we play," said Black Bears Head Coach & General Manager Clint Mylymok. "We’re in the fight of our hockey lives right now, as they say, and it’s a one take-all game."
The junior hockey team is competing in its first playoff series in the three-year existence of the organization. They are on the verge of upsetting one of the North American Hockey League’s best teams.
"If you gave us one game in the beginning of the year and say we got a piece of Johnstown and that pushes us to the next round, I’d say we’d all take it," said Black Bears forward Garrett Szydlowski.
The Black Bears play in the NAHL, which is the best junior hockey league in the area and second best in the country. The team is made up of players from around the nation and Europe, ages 16-20. Many go on to earn scholarships to play in college. Over the last five years 30 NAHL players have been drafted by NHL teams, according to the NAHL.
The Black Bears are currently the fourth seed in the Robertson Cup Playoffs' East Division. They face a decisive game five in best-of-five series Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. at top seed Johnstown in the East Division Semifinals.
"You can’t half do it. It’s got to be all in, everyone," said Mylymok.
"We just can’t overthink anything, really," said Black Bears captain Luke Mountain. "Just play our game. We’re a confident group, regardless of their seed or anything like that. So, I think we think we know we have it."
The Black Bears had a chance to clinch the series on Thursday at home but fell short 4-2.
This on-ice adversity is only the latest obstacle the Black Bears have to face this season. Off the ice it’s been a wild ride. Their normal home rink is Piney Orchard Ice Arena in Odenton. Because of COVID restrictions in Anne Arundel County they had to start the season playing out of Ice World in Harford County. Like many teams throughout their league they dealt with COVID in the dressing room. There were a couple of outbreaks during the season affecting coaches and players.
"It was crazy, stressful, all that stuff," said Mountain. "Now we’re back at Piney and we have full fans and it’s how it was the first two years, just so much fun. Our fans are the best."
One more win and they’ll see those fans again in round two.
If the Black Bears are victorious on Saturday night they’ll move on to play either the Maine Nordiques or New Jersey Titans in the Division Finals. That would be another best-of-five series beginning next week.