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Solar Bears Week in Review: Retooling on The Rock

A new look roster and a surprise addition in goal helps Orlando take 2 out of 3 in Newfoundland.

In a 5 week span, Connor Ingram went from AHL All-Star to ECHL goaltender.
Tracey Lake

After a strong showing against first place Florida last week, the Orlando Solar Bears headed up north for a three game weekend series against another first place team, the ECHL North Division-leading Newfoundland Growlers. With a new-look roster, and an AHL All-Star in goal, the Solar Bears shook off a disappointing start to take two out of three games and hold on to second place in the ECHL’s South Division.

Roster Shakeup at the Trade Deadline

There were quite a few transactions this week that shook up the Solar Bears roster:

-The biggest—and most surprising—move was the reassignment of goaltender Connor Ingram from Syracuse to Orlando on Wednesday, with Martin Ouellette staying on the Crunch roster to back up Eddie Pasquale. It is still unclear as to why this move was made, especially considering Ingram’s accomplishments to date this season. He is currently leading the AHL in shutouts with six, is tied for second in the league in GAA and save percentage, and was named an AHL All-Star in January.

-Thursday was the ECHL’s trade deadline, and the Solar Bears were busy, executing a three-team trade with Rapid City and Fort Wayne. Orlando acquired forward Taylor Crunk from Fort Wayne as future considerations from a late October deal with the Komets, then Crunk and defenseman Myles McGurty were then sent to Rapid City for forward Shaquille Merasty. Merasty had 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in 51 games for the Rush.

-In a separate trade, Orlando acquired the ECHL rights to forward Ivan Kosorenkov, who is currently on AHL recall with San Jose, from Worcester as future considerations from a November deal with the Railers.

-Forward Colby McAuley returned to Orlando after a four game stint with the Barracuda.

-On Friday, forward Brent Pedersen signed his second PTO with Manitoba.

In non-roster news, forward Trevor Olson was named the Inglasco ECHL Player of the Week for the week of February 25th-March 3rd. In the 3 game set against Florida, the rookie scored two goals and assisted on four others. He began this week on an eight-game point streak.

Friday, 3/8: Newfoundland 5, Orlando 1

The first of the three-game series began early Friday evening in St. John’s. Ingram got the nod in his first Solar Bears start, and his first ECHL appearance since November 12, 2017.

The Solar Bears got off to a good start in the opening period. Mathieu Foget picked up his team leading 17th goal of the season 6:32 into the contest for a 1-0 advantage. Newfoundland responded midway through the period, tying the game at 1 on a power play goal by Scott Pooley.

The Growlers took over the game in the second. In a span of 41 seconds, Marcus Power (on a power play) and Brady Ferguson each picked up goals for a 3-1 Newfoundland lead.

Pooley added a second power play goal at the 10:36 mark of the third to put the game out of reach. Ferguson added his second goal of the game as time was running out.

It was not the best of debuts for Ingram, as he finished with 37 saves on 42 shots. Mitch Hults and Chris LeBlanc had the lone assists.

3 Stars:

3. Brady Ferguson (NFLD) 2 goals

2. Ryan Moore (NFLD) 3 assists

1. Scott Pooley (NFLD) 2 goals, 1 assist

Saturday, 3/9: Orlando 4, Newfoundland 2

24 hours later, the Solar Bears and Growlers met again for game two of the three-game series.

Much like the night before, the Solar Bears got off to a good start in the opening period. Before most fans were settled in their seats, McAuley scored his 8th of the season-and first since returning from the AHL-for a 1-0 lead 32 seconds into the game.

The Growlers responded early in the second, tying the game at 1 on a goal by Derian Plouffe. This time, Orlando did not let the hosts take over. McAuley scored his second of the game at the 8:50 mark of the second for a 2-1 lead. Olson then added a power play goal just under five minutes later for a two-goal advantage for Orlando.

Newfoundland cut the deficit to one at the 14:08 mark of the third on the first goal of the season for Garrett Johnston. McAuley then finished off the hat trick just under two minutes later for the final 4-2 score, evening the series at one game apiece.

Ingram rebounded nicely from Friday, stopping 25 of 27 shots for his first Orlando win. Troy Bourke added three assists, while Hults added two helpers.

3 Stars:

3. Brady Ferguson (NFLD) 1 assist

2. Mitch Hults (ORL) 2 assists

1. Colby McAuley (ORL) 3 goals

Sunday, 3/10: Orlando 4, Newfoundland 3 (SO)

For the rubber match on Sunday afternoon, Ingram again got the nod in net, playing a full 3 in 3 weekend.

The team exchanged goals in the first 20 minutes of the contest. Josh Kestner got the Growlers on the board first at the 6:49 mark with his 17th goal of the season. McAuley matched that with his fourth goal in two games with 8 seconds remaining in the opening period.

Orlando’s special teams carried the second period with a pair of goals. Zach Frye scored his fourth of the season on the Solar Bears’ second power play of the day to give the visitors the lead. On the next man advantage, Bourke cashed in with his 8th of the season for a two-goal cushion after 40 minutes.

Third period was all Newfoundland, as they outshot Orlando by an astounding 19-2 margin, and rallied to tie the game late. With 4:39 left in regulation, Ferguson cut the Solar Bears lead to 3-2 with his 22nd goal of the season. 89 seconds later, with the Growlers on a power play, Kestner scored his second of the game to tie it at 3.

After neither side could get the game winner in overtime, it was off to a shootout. After a scoreless first round, Ferguson and Hults each connected in round 2. Pooley and Otto Somppi both scored in round 3, extending the contest. Newfoundland’s Giorgio Estephan was stopped by Ingram in round 4, but Bourke was able to score, giving Orlando the extra point and two out of three wins for the weekend set.

Ingram finished with 40 saves on 43 shots in 65 minutes, then stopped 2 of 4 in the shootout round. Bourke added two assists.

3 Stars:

3. Connor Ingram (ORL) 40 saves

2. Troy Bourke (ORL) 1 goal, 2 assists, GW SO goal

1. Josh Kestner (NFLD) 2 goals, 1 assist

Kelly Cup Playoff Update:

After taking four of a possible six points, the Solar Bears remain in second place in the South Division with a record of 33-21-4-0 and 70 points. They sit 19 points behind first place Florida, who became the second ECHL squad this week to clinch a playoff berth (Cincinnati was the first earlier this week). Orlando has a two point lead over third place Jacksonville. South Carolina sits in fourth place with 61 points, four points ahead of fifth place Atlanta.

This Week:

Orlando returns to the Amway Center this week with three games on tap to begin a five-game homestand.

Wednesday, it’s another battle of #1 vs. #2, as the Everblades come in for a visit. The Solar Bears then get a visitor from the Western Conference, as Idaho comes in for a three-game set beginning on Saturday. The two teams then head to the RDV Sportsplex in nearby Maitland on Sunday afternoon.