After battling for 72 games in the ECHL’s regular season, the postseason has arrived for the Orlando Solar Bears with 16 wins needed for the ultimate prize: the Kelly Cup.
Since joining the ECHL prior to the 2012-2013 season, the Solar Bears have made the postseason on five occasions, including this year. Only once have they made it past the first round—last season, when they swept the South Carolina Stingrays in the first round but bowed out to the Florida Everblades in round 2 in 5 games.
The same Stingrays are again the opponent for Orlando in the first round of this year’s playoffs looking to avenge last year’s sweep.
-On Tuesday, the Solar Bears released their official playoff roster:
FORWARDS: Troy Bourke, Dylan Fitze, Mathieu Foget, Mitch Hults, Chris LeBlanc, Alexei Lipanov, Colby McAuley, Brent Pedersen, Alex Schoenborn, Tayler Thompson.
DEFENSEMEN: Akim Aliu, Michael Brodzinski, Cody Donaghey, Zach Frye, Alexander Kuqali, Kevin Lohan, Mike Monfredo.
GOALTENDERS: Connor Ingram, Clint Windsor.
Additionally, the following players will be eligible once they are reassigned from the AHL: Olivier Archambault, Corbin Boes, Hunter Fejes, Ivan Kosorenkov, Otto Somppi, Oleg Sosunov, Matthew Spencer, Jonne Tammela, and Nolan Valleau.
-Bourke got some media time after practice on Tuesday:
“Talent-wise, this [team] is one of the best I’ve been on. And what helps us a lot is we’re tight-knit off the ice. Our chemistry in the room is next to none, and that’s gonna help us down the road.”— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 9, 2019
Troy Bourke takes questions following this morning’s practice: pic.twitter.com/HASBXnfDVl
-Captain Monfredo with his take on the series...and who on the Bears can’t grow a playoff beard. Hard-hitting coverage here:
What's Mike Monfredo's secret to growing a good playoff beard?— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 9, 2019
"Get a head start before anyone else can once you find out you're making playoffs."
The captain fields questions following this morning's practice. pic.twitter.com/BI3wjsJ7Tb
The postseason officially got underway on Wednesday night, as Orlando hosted South Carolina in Game 1 of their first round playoff series.
Warmups are underway!— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 10, 2019
Tonight’s Projected Lines:
Ingram in goal
: https://t.co/fV1V8amhMz or https://t.co/3bqW88lim4 pic.twitter.com/nJuRyB2tcD
A combined 28 shots were thrown at Ingram and Stingrays goaltender Parker Milner during the first twenty minutes of the contest, but all were denied. The goaltending duel continued through the second period until Mason Mitchell got the Stingrays on the board with 6:51 remaining in the period.
South Carolina never looked back after that, limiting the Solar Bears to just three third period shots and picking up a shorthanded empty netter late from Josh Gratton to take the 1-0 series lead.
Ingram took the hard luck loss finishing with 26 saves including this gem:
Milner stopped all 26 Orlando shots for the shutout victory. Special teams were not kind on either side as the Solar Bears and Stingrays combined to go 0 for 14 with the man advantage.
3. Parker Milner (SC) 26 save shutout
2. Connor Ingram (ORL) 26 saves
1. Mason Mitchell (SC) 1 goal
South Carolina's Parker Milner pitched a 26-save shutout performance as the Solar Bears fell in the opening game of the South Division Semifinals. Read up in our @adventhealth Postgame Report: https://t.co/uidPS9n9Km— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 11, 2019
Thursday: Bring in the Reinforcements!
Orlando received some help from Syracuse on Thursday as the Crunch reassigned Spencer and Tammela to the Solar Bears.
Two days later, Ingram and Milner matched up again in Game 2 as Orlando looked to tie the series up before heading north.
Tonight’s Projected Lines:— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 12, 2019
Ingram in goal
: https://t.co/fV1V8amhMz or https://t.co/3bqW88lim4 pic.twitter.com/nLe8TvqnNa
Much like the first period on Wednesday, the game began with a scoreless duel between Ingram and Milner. Then came the second period,when the Solar Bears’ offense finally came out of hibernation. Thompson got Orlando on the board at the 2:42 mark of the middle frame with the first Solar Bears postseason goal. Hults followed that with two goals in a span of 10:09, the second on a power play, as Orlando jumped out to a 3-0 lead after forty minutes.
South Carolina rallied in the third. Grant Besse scored his first of the postseason at the 7:33 mark to break up Ingram’s shutout bid. The Stingrays made it a one-goal game with 7:15 remaining in regulation on a power play goal by Tad Kozun. Despite being outshot 11-4 and the Stingrays rally in the last 20 minutes, Orlando was able to hang on for the win and head north to South Carolina with a 1-1 series.
Ingram stopped 25 of 27 South Carolina shots. Fitze added two assists.
3. Connor Ingram (ORL) 25 saves
2. Tayler Thompson (ORL) 1 goal
1. Mitch Hults (ORL) 2 goals
Around the Kelly Cup Playoffs:
So how are the other playoff matchups faring so far? Here’s an update:
South: Florida leads Jacksonville 2-0.
North: Newfoundland leads Brampton 2-0; Manchester leads Adirondack 2-0.
Central: Cincinnati and Kalamazoo are tied at 1; Toledo leads Fort Wayne 2-0.
Mountain: Idaho and Utah are tied at 1; Kansas City and Tulsa are tied at 1.
The series shifts to North Charleston for the next three games: Game 3 on Wednesday, Game 4 on Friday, and Game 5 on Saturday.