Black Bears look to ride depth, balanced lineup to their first Robertson Cup
The Maryland Black Bears finished the regular season with the NAHL’s second-best record. Maryland now heads to the Robertson Cup championship for the first time in franchise history
The Robertson Cup Championship gets underway Friday at Fogerty Arena in Blaine, Minn. The event runs Friday through Tuesday and culminates with the Championship Game Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Minnesota and Oklahoma will play a best-of-three series this weekend while Austin and Maryland will do the same, with the two winners advancing to Tuesday's winner-take-all championship.
The Rink Live will preview all four teams competing in the event, continuing with Maryland.
Maryland Black Bears
Location: Odenton, Maryland.
Head coach: Clint Mylymok, 5th season
Division / Finish: East Division / 1st
Home arena: Piney Orchard Arena
Previous Robertson Cup Championship appearances: None
Last title: None
How they got here
Maryland finished the regular season with the NAHL’s second best record and has been one of the league’s most impressive teams all season.
The Black Bears went 8-1-0-1 to finish the regular season, swept Northeast in the first round of the playoffs and followed it up by knocking off Maine in four games.
Clint Mylymok’s squad has won six of its first seven playoff games and will look to keep it rolling against Austin starting Friday night.
“This group has been through a little bit of everything this season and honestly I think we’ve been really consistent all year,” Mylymok told The Rink Live. “The regular season is a grind and once you get through it the playoffs come quick and you have to be at the top of your game, and I think we’ve been able to do that and build some momentum heading into (this weekend).”
FOR THE FIRST TIME IN ORGANIZATION HISTORY ‼️ YOUR BLACK BEARS ARE THE EAST DIVISION CHAMPIONS 😆👏— Maryland Black Bears (@BlackBearsNAHL) May 14, 2023
What a 5th Anniversary season is has been for Black Bears Nation! But we're not done yet 💪😠
📷 @TheArtOfPicture @JonnyP99 | #MarylandBlackBears #NAHL pic.twitter.com/vmWBZ2MDQz
The Black Bears are making their first championship appearance in franchise history this weekend and have their eyes set on the Robertson Cup. The Black Bears, who are just in their fifth season, had only made the postseason once (2021) before this season.
Maryland ranked second in the league in nearly every statistical category and the Black Bears rode their hot start throughout the season, all the way to an East Division title. Maryland’s 215 goals and plus-75 goal differential both ranked second in the league and six different Black Bears had 40 or more points.
WE’RE GOING TO MINNESOTA 😆 !!!— Maryland Black Bears (@BlackBearsNAHL) May 14, 2023
One more piece to the puzzle, as we get that History Making 6th win of the NAHL Robertson Cup Playoffs! Your Black Bears are in the Final Four 🤩@CMylymok | #MarylandBlackBears pic.twitter.com/wFwKJPqGSy
It goes beyond just the offense though and Maryland brings one of the league’s most balanced lineups to Blaine.
“I really like the depth of this group and we really don’t have a top line. Because any given night it can be anyone that steps up and produces,” Mylymok said. “Our depth and leadership have both been really good all season and we’ve had the ability to win in a lot of different ways.
“Yes, your top guys have to be producing at this time of year, you’ve got to have some unsung heroes step up and your goalie has to be good. And I think we’ve gotten all three. But I think the depth has been the biggest strength with this group.”
Players to Watch
Branden Piku, F
The Lake State commit leads the league with 12 playoff points through seven games. Piku racked up 40 points (17-23-40) in 41 regular-season games but had just one point over his final six games.
However, Piku has been on fire since the playoffs started and is coming off a two-goal game in Maryland’s series-clinching win at Maine.
“He's a three-year kid and his game has evolved so much this season,” Mylymok said. "He's a talented kid and he's really added that element of grit to his game. He competes and he's not afraid to battle or stick his nose in there.
"He goes to the tough areas and he'll take a beating to score goals, but he plays hard hockey which is what you really need to do at this time of year."
BRANDEN PIKU AGAIN!! 🚨😤 He's been a force in this game and he regains the Black Bears four goal lead with 15:00 left in the third period!— Maryland Black Bears (@BlackBearsNAHL) May 13, 2023
Let's. Go.#MBBgameday | #RobertsonCup pic.twitter.com/XG1p6s5XR8
Gunnar VanDamme, D
While Piku leads the league in playoff points, VanDamme is tied for the playoff point lead among NAHL defensemen. VanDamme — who recently committed to UAA — has four goals and eight points from the back end. He’s also a plus-8 and has played in nearly every situation for the Black Bears.
VanDamme had just three goals during the regular season but added 25 assists and was also a plus-19.
“Gunnar has been very underrated and he's earned everything he's gotten this season,” Mylymok said. "He can skate for days, he's gritty and he's very talented. I think he got lost in the shuffle a little bit at times this year but that talent is really showing right now in the playoffs and he's getting rewarded.
"He's a quite kid but his game speaks for itself and he's been great for us."
Robertson Cup schedule
Fri. May 17, vs. Austin 7:30 p.m.
Sat. May 18, vs. Austin 7:30 p.m.
Sun. May 19, vs. Austin 6 p.m. *if necessary*