Three weeks remain in the ECHL’s regular season, and this week the Orlando Solar Bears began their final 10-game stretch, inching closer to getting their spot in the Kelly Cup playoffs.
While the team recovered from a blowout against one of the best teams in the West on Tuesday to take two important wins against division foes later in the week, the saga of Connor Ingram and his status within the Lightning organization took another turn.
Two members of the Orlando defense corps were summoned to the AHL:
-Oleg Sosunov returned to Syracuse after a five-day stint with the Solar Bears.
-Akim Aliu joined the Tucson Roadrunners on a PTO, marking his first appearance at the AHL level since the 2016-17 season, when he appeared in 13 games for Cleveland.
The homestand continued on Tuesday night, as the Steelheads and the Solar Bears played the rubber game of their three game set. Corbin Boes got the start in net, giving Ingram a night off for the first time since arriving in Orlando.
On Orlando’s first power play opportunity of the game, Mathieu Foget scored his 19th goal of the season for a 1-0 lead 3:25 into the contest. Things went downhill for the Bears rather quickly after that, as Idaho scored the next five unanswered. Connor Chatham tied the game at 1 less than two minutes later with his first goal of the year. Elgin Pearce and Nolan Gluchowski (on a power play) then had goals 56 seconds apart midway through the first for a 3-1 Steelheads lead.
Spencer Naas continued the Idaho onslaught in the second, scoring his 14th 1:41 into the period for a 4-1 lead. Ingram’s night off ended earlier than planned, as he came into the game to relieve Boes after that goal. Idaho greeted him with another goal at the 12:30, as Steven McParland scored his 24th on a power play for a 5-1 lead. Jackson Playfair did cut the Steelheads lead to 5-2 with his 5th of the season.
Idaho was not done with the offense in the third, picking up another pair of goals. Will Merchant extended the lead back to four with 4:08 remaining in the game. Finally, for good measure, Naas added his second of the game with less than two minutes remaining.
Boes finished with 11 saves in just under 12 minutes of work. Ingram stopped 24 of 27 shots in relief, including this:
Foget and three others added one helper each. In the familiarity breeds contempt category, the teams combined for 76 penalty minutes.
3. Connor Chatham (IDH) 1 goal, 1 assist
2. Steven McParland (IDH) 1 goal, 3 assists
1. Tomas Sholl (IDH) 38 saves
Orlando wrapped up their five-game homestand on Thursday night, welcoming division rival Atlanta. Clint Windsor was activated from reserve and got the start.
Tonight’s Projected Lines:— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 21, 2019
Windsor in goal
: https://t.co/fV1V8amhMz or https://t.co/3bqW88lim4 pic.twitter.com/ebcjti7bpB
Orlando got off to a great start in the opening period with a pair of goals. Colby McAuley got the Solar Bears on the board 12:17 into the game with his 13th goal of the season. Otto Somppi doubled the lead a little over four minutes later with his now weekly highlight reel score.
The Solar Bear offense continued to dominate in the second. Brent Pedersen scored his 11th goal of the season at the 2:46 mark for a 3-0 lead. Chris LeBlanc made it a 4-0 Orlando lead five minutes later with a short-handed goal, his 7th of the season, chasing Gladiators starter Sean Bonar from the net in favor of Michael Bitzer. Atlanta broke up Windsor’s shutout bid late in the period on a Nolan LaPorte goal, but Cody Donaghey responded with a shorthanded goal with 15 seconds remaining in the period for the final 5-1 score.
Windsor, in his first appearance since March 1st, won his fourth straight decision with Orlando, stopping 36 of 37 shots.
Clint Winsor does not retreat!— ECHL (@ECHL) March 22, 2019
The @OrlandoHockey netminder has a sprawling stop to refute an attempt from @atlgladiators
The Solar Bears lead the Glads 5-1 with under two minutes to play in the contest pic.twitter.com/7l59QhsjcY
Foget and Troy Bourke each had two assists.
3. Cody Donaghey (ORL) 1 goal, 1 assist
2. Chris LeBlanc (ORL) 1 goal, 1 assist
1. Clint Windsor (ORL) 36 saves
As the Goaltender Turns...
The Lightning’s goaltending depth chart took a hit on Wednesday night, when Martin Ouellette suffered a leg injury early in Syracuse’s 4-2 loss to Charlotte. The logical move was recalling Ingram to the Crunch, which was announced on Friday.
Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois had a meeting with the AHL All-Star goaltender upon arriving in Syracuse to discuss the current state of affairs. It was obvious that meeting did not go well, because on Saturday Ingram was on his way back to central Florida. It appears Ingram will remain with the Solar Bears for the duration of Orlando’s season, as the Crunch went on to sign Atte Tolvanen on Saturday afternoon.
Ingram’s return to Orlando was not the only big headline of the day for the Solar Bears, as they headed back to Estero to face the Everblades.
It would take some help from fellow South Division mate Greenville, who were facing the Stingrays at home, but the Solar Bears had their first opportunity to clinch their invite to the Kelly Cup playoffs.
Windsor got his second straight start in net for Orlando.
Projected Lines:— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 23, 2019
Windsor in goal
: https://t.co/fV1V8amhMz or https://t.co/3bqW88lim4 pic.twitter.com/COjM3SPr7T
The teams exchanged goals in the first period. Michael Brodzinski scored his 8th goal of the season to give Orlando the early advantage. Everblades forward Grant Arnold responded with his second of the season for a 1-1 tie.
The seesaw battle continued in the second period. Pedersen scored his 12th goal at the 2:40 mark to restore the one-goal lead for the Solar Bears. Tommy Thompson then scored on a power play midway through the period to re-tie the game. Just under 90 seconds later, Dylan Fitze scored on a power play to put Orlando up 3-2 after 40 minutes of play.
Florida came back again to tie the game at 3 on a Nathan Perkovich power play goal with 16:52 to go in regulation. The two teams remained deadlocked through the remainder of regulation and overtime. In the shootout round, Brodzinski was denied, but Somppi and Bourke connected on their attempts. Windsor allowed a goal to Perkovich in the first round, but denied Blake Winiecki and Sam Warning to give Orlando the extra point.
Windsor finished with 33 saves in 65 minutes of work. Somppi added two assists.
3. Patrick McCarron (FLA) 2 assists
2. Logan Roe (FLA) 2 assists
1. Troy Bourke (ORL) GW SO goal
Unfortunately for the Solar Bears, the playoff berth celebration had to be put on hold: South Carolina defeated Greenville 7-2, keeping their magic number at 2.
Kelly Cup Playoff Update:
After taking 4 of 6 points, Orlando remains in second place in the South Division with a record of 36-23-4-1 and 77 points. Florida officially clinched the division title after the Solar Bears were defeated by Idaho on Tuesday. Orlando leads third place Jacksonville by five points, and fourth place South Carolina by seven. If the Solar Bears win on Wednesday in Atlanta, they will punch their playoff ticket.
It’s a packed next to last week of the regular season for Orlando, as they begin a four game road trip. As mentioned earlier, the team heads north to Atlanta on Wednesday. Then it’s a weekend in South Carolina: Greenville on Friday and Sunday, North Charleston (home of the Stingrays) on Saturday.