This week had a little bit of everything for the Orlando Solar Bears as they continued their push towards a Kelly Cup playoff berth. There was a rally against the first place team in the South Division, an offensive explosion against one of the top goaltenders in the ECHL, and a lot of time spent in the penalty box.
All of that translated into a split week for the team.
News and Notes: Sosunov and Spencer Switch
It was a light transaction week for the Solar Bears, compared to the flurry of activity at last week’s trade deadline:
-On Thursday, defensemen Matthew Spencer and Oleg Sosunov swapped places for the third time in the last two months. Spencer returned to Syracuse, where he has one assist in 9 games. Sosunov returned to the Solar Bears, where he has a goal and four assists in 15 games.
-Also on Thursday, forward Brent Pedersen was released from his second PTO of the season with Manitoba and returned to the Solar Bears roster.
It was #1 vs. #2 in the South, as the Solar Bears played host to the Everblades. Connor Ingram got his fourth straight start in net for Orlando.
Everblades forward Shane Walsh opened the scoring at the 7:46 mark of the first period with his 10th of the season. Troy Bourke tied the game up just under three minutes later with his 9th goal of the season. The visitors took their one goal advantage back with a power play goal by Phillipe Hudon, his first of the year.
Second period saw a lot of offense, and a lot of penalties. Two separate fights broke out in the first 6:28 of the period. Then, in a span of 1:22, Everblades forward Nathan Perkovich single-handedly turned a 2-1 Florida lead into a 4-1 lead, with his 21st and 22nd goals of the season. The latter goal came on a power play, and it ended Ingram’s night early, as he was pulled in favor of Corbin Boes. The goalie switch and more of the rough stuff seemed to wake the Solar Bears up, as they stormed back for three goals in a 5:23 span. First, Tayler Thompson picked up his sixth of the season at the 14:15 mark to cut the Florida lead to two. Then, Otto Somppi worked his magic yet again, as another highlight reel goal brought Orlando to within 4-3.
Otto Somppi executes an unbelievable deflection between his own legs which helped the @OrlandoHockey in the team's three-goal second period. Heading into the second intermission, the @OrlandoHockey are tied 4-4 with the @FL_Everblades. pic.twitter.com/wyiF5wR83s— ECHL (@ECHL) March 14, 2019
Finally, the equalizer: Cody Donaghey scored his 13th of the season on a power play for a 4-4 tie after two periods.
It may have been a quiet third period offensively, but the penalties continued to pile up on both sides—after a combined 52 penalty minutes in the second, another 26 were handed out in the last 20 minutes of regulation. The game headed into overtime, where the Solar Bears managed to kill off a too many men penalty halfway through the extra frame. After 65 minutes wasn’t enough to settle things, it was on to the shootout. Boes gave up goals to Perkovich and Blake Winiecki, while Bourke was the only Solar Bear to connect, giving Florida the extra point.
Before being pulled in favor of Boes, Ingram stopped 16 of 20 shots and received the no-decision. Boes was a perfect 12 for 12 in 37+ minutes of work before faltering in the shootout. Somppi and Michael Brodzinski each had three-point games, Somppi adding two assists while Brodzinski had three helpers.
3. Otto Somppi (ORL) 1 goal, 2 assists
2. Nathan Perkovich (FLA) 2 goals
1. Blake Winiecki (FLA) GW SO goal
The Solar Bears welcomed one of the best teams in the Western Conference, the Idaho Steelheads, for the first of a three-game set on Saturday.
It was First Responders Appreciation Night at Amway Center, and the team wore specialty jerseys that were auctioned off postgame to fans.
Look at these beauties pic.twitter.com/UozsCkBqDK— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 16, 2019
Ingram got the nod for the fifth straight game, looking to rebound from a disastrous start on Wednesday night.
This game was all Orlando from the start, as they put on a scoring clinic against one of the best goalies in the ECHL, Tomas Sholl (who some of you may remember from his brief stint in Adirondack last season after Nick Riopel’s departure).
Trevor Olson got the Solar Bears on the board midway through the first period on a nice play with Chris LeBlanc, as you can see here:
Nearing the end of the first, Bourke and Mathieu Foget picked up goals 1:05 apart, giving Orlando a 3-0 lead after the first 20 minutes.
The offense didn’t stop for the Solar Bears in the second, as they scored three more times on Sholl. Colby McAuley picked up his 12th goal on a power play just 39 seconds into the middle period for a 4-0 lead. Somppi and Akim Aliu then picked up goals 20 seconds apart at the 6:32 mark for an insurmountable 6-0 lead.
Idaho broke up Ingram’s shutout bid late in the second period, as Steven McParland scored on a power play to make it 6-1. Elgin Pearce added his 14th goal of the year with 7:08 remaining for the final 6-2 margin.
Ingram rebounded nicely from Wednesday, stopping 28 of 30 shots. Bourke added three assists for a four-point night. Donaghey and Mitch Hults each added two assists.
3. Chris LeBlanc (ORL) 1 assist
2. Mitch Hults (ORL) 2 assists
1. Troy Bourke (ORL) 1 goal, 3 assists
Less than 24 hours later—and at a different venue in nearby Maitland thanks to a building conflict—the Solar Bears and Steelheads faced off in the middle game of their three-game set. Sholl and Ingram both got the start in their respective nets.
It may have been St. Patrick’s Day, but the luck of the Irish was definitely with Idaho in this one.
Henrik Samuelsson got the visitors on the board 4:33 into the contest with his fifth goal of the season. Will Merchant scored shorthanded midway through the first to double the Idaho lead. Donaghey got Orlando on the board with 6:26 remaining in the opening period with his 14th goal of the season.
Idaho extended their lead in the middle period with a pair of goals. Pearce scored the second shorthanded goal of the game for the Steelheads 5:49 into the second to restore a two-goal lead. McParland then added a power play goal late in the period for a 4-1 lead.
There may not have been any scoring in the third, but the period certainly had its share of entertainment. A combined 64 penalty minutes were handed out thanks to a late fight between Idaho’s Keegan Kanzig and Connor Chatham, and Orlando’s captain Mike Monfredo and Zach Frye, who already had a second period bout to his credit.
With the win, Idaho became the fourth ECHL squad to clinch a Kelly Cup playoff berth.
Ingram took the loss in his sixth consecutive start, stopping 26 of 30 shots. Since joining the Solar Bears, he is 3-2-0 with a 3.61 GAA and .893 save percentage.
Bourke and LeBlanc had the lone assists.
3. Henrik Samuelsson (IDA) 1 goal
2. Will Merchant (IDA) 1 goal, 1 assist
1. Tomas Sholl (IDA) 36 saves
The Solar Bears fell to the Steelheads today as Idaho has evened up the regular season series at one win apiece. We'll have a chance to bounce back on Tuesday back at the @AmwayCenter. Read up in our @AdventHealth Postgame Report: https://t.co/HtFDvSMCm1— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 18, 2019
Kelly Cup Playoffs Update:
After taking 3 out of 6 points this week, the Solar Bears remain in second place in the ECHL’s South Division, with a 34-22-4-1 mark and 73 points. First place is all but out of reach, as they trail the Everblades by 21 points with 11 games remaining. Third place Jacksonville is right on Orlando’s tail with 70 points. South Carolina and Atlanta are currently tied for fourth place with 64 points.
Three games are on tap for the Solar Bears this week.
On Tuesday, Orlando and Idaho finish up their three game set. Thursday, the Solar Bears wrap up the homestand by hosting Atlanta. The team returns to Estero on Saturday for another big matchup with first place Florida.