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Solar Bears Week in Review: Home on the Range

Orlando finishes the regular season by securing home ice for the first round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs.

A Week With The Orlando Solar Bears Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The 2018-19 regular season for the Orlando Solar Bears is now complete. But, there’s still more hockey to be played. The Solar Bears ride into the postseason on a bit of a streak, picking up points in their last five games.

Roster Moves:

The transaction wire was quite busy for Orlando this week:

-Otto Somppi, he of the many highlight reel goals while in a Solar Bears uniform, was recalled to Syracuse on Tuesday.

-On Wednesday, Orlando signed forward Parker AuCoin to a standard contract. He comes to the Solar Bears by way of the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, where he scored 42 goals and added 42 assists in 68 games. He added a goal and two assists in six playoff games.

-Also on Wednesday, Zach Frye was recalled to San Jose.

-On Friday, Orlando picked up another WHLer, signing Portland defenseman Jared Freadrich to a standard contract. In 67 games for the Winter Hawks this past season, Freadrich had 15 goals and 33 assists. He served as the team’s assistant captain. He also appeared in five playoff games, with a goal and four assists.

Tuesday, 4/2: Orlando 2, Jacksonville 0

Orlando had their first opportunity to clinch second place in the South Division—and home ice for the first round of the playoffs—on Tuesday, as they hosted potential first round opponent Jacksonville.

Orlando got all the offense they needed in the first period. Troy Bourke gave the Solar Bears the early lead with his 11th goal of the season.

At the 13:15 mark of the first, Alexei Lipanov scored his first professional goal on a power play, doubling the Solar Bears lead.

Connor Ingram, making his 11th start for Orlando, took care of the rest. He stopped all 30 Jacksonville shots, marking his first ECHL shutout and seventh of the season overall. Chris LeBlanc assisted on both Solar Bears goals.

With the win, Orlando clinched second place in the South, and will begin the first round of the playoffs at home on Wednesday night.

3 Stars:

3. Tayler Thompson (ORL) No points, but a first period fight

2. Alexei Lipanov (ORL) 1 goal

1. Connor Ingram (ORL) 30 saves, SHO

Thursday, 4/4: Orlando 3, Atlanta 2 (OT)

With home ice locked down, all the Solar Bears had left to do was tune-up for the postseason. They also had the chance to possibly play spoiler, as their Thursday night visitors, the Gladiators, were tied with South Carolina for the final available playoff spot in the South.

Atlanta got off to a flying start in the first period, scoring twice on Ingram. On their first power play of the game, Nolan LaPorte picked up his 18th goal of the season for a 1-0 lead. Brett McKenzie doubled the Gladiators lead at the 15:11 mark with his 15th goal.

Orlando began to mount a comeback late in the second. With 1:44 remaining in the middle period, LeBlanc cut the lead in half with a power play goal, his 10th of the season.

Just over two minutes into the third, the Solar Bears tied the game up at 2 on a goal from Alexander Kuqali, his first since joining Orlando and second of the year overall.

The teams headed to overtime, where Orlando completed the comeback. With 27 seconds remaining in the extra frame, Colby McAuley scored the game winner, his 14th of the season, to extend the Solar Bears’ winning streak to four games.

Ingram recovered from a shaky start to pick up his 7th win since joining the Solar Bears, stopping 22 of 24 shots. LeBlanc and four other skaters had one assist each.

3 Stars:

3. Alexander Kuqali (ORL) 1 goal

2. Colby McAuley (ORL) 1 goal (GW OT)

1. Chris LeBlanc (ORL) 1 goal, 1 assist

Friday, 4/5: Florida 3, Orlando 2 (OT)

For the last time in the regular season, the Solar Bears headed south to Estero to take on the Everblades.

Orlando picked up a pair of goals in the first. Mathieu Foget scored his 21st of the year shorthanded at the 4:17 mark for a 1-0 lead. Mike Monfredo doubled the lead halfway through the period with his 8th of the season. Florida cut the lead in half with 2:41 remaining in the first on a power play goal from Alex Tonge, his fourth.

The Everblades tied the game early in the second on a goal by Blake Winiecki, his 25th of the season. After a quiet third period, it was on to overtime for the second straight night for Orlando. This time, it would be Florida rallying from the two-goal deficit—Michael Downing’s goal with less than two minutes remaining in overtime gave the Everblades the comeback win.

Clint Windsor got the start—and the hard luck loss—in net for Orlando, stopping 32 of 35 shots. Shaquille Merasty and Rob Mann had the lone assists on the night.

3 Stars:

3. Jeremy Helvig (FLA) 22 saves

2. Alex Tonge (FLA) 1 goal, 1 assist

1. Michael Downing (FLA) GWG

Sunday, 4/7: Orlando 5, Jacksonville 2

After a rare Saturday off, the Solar Bears and IceMen finished off their regular season slates in a Sunday afternoon matinee.

Before most of the Amway Center crowd was probably even in their seats, Jacksonville was on the board. Kris Newbury scored his 16th of the season 26 seconds into the contest for a 1-0 lead. Orlando tied the game up on their first power play of the afternoon, as Fitze scored his 13th.

The Solar Bears’ offense went off for four goals in the second. Fitze scored his second power play goal of the day at the 1:44 mark for a 2-1 lead. Then, in a span of 2:33, McAuley, Brodzinski, and Kuqali all scored for a 5-1 Orlando advantage. Jacksonville got back to within 5-2 on a Garet Hunt power play goal with 5:59 remaining, but could not get any closer, and the Solar Bears finished the regular season on a 5-game point streak (4-0-1-0).

Ingram got the win in net, stopping 30 of 32 shots, including this gem:

Narrator: Yes, it was.

Bourke and Lipanov each had two assists.

3 Stars:

3. Colby McAuley (ORL) 1 goal, 1 assist

2. Connor Ingram (ORL) 30 saves

1. Dylan Fitze (ORL) 2 goals

Kelly Cup Playoff Update:

With South Carolina clinching the final South playoff spot on Sunday night in the final league game of the regular season, the field of 16 has been set for the Kelly Cup Playoffs. The matchups:

North Division: 1-Newfoundland vs 4-Brampton, 2-Adirondack vs. 3-Manchester

South Division: 1-Florida vs. 4-Jacksonville, 2-Orlando vs 3-South Carolina

Central Division: 1-Cincinnati vs. 4-Kalamazoo, 2-Toledo vs. 3-Fort Wayne

Mountain Division: 1-Tulsa vs. 4-Kansas City, 2-Idaho vs. 3-Utah

First Round Playoff Schedule:

Game 1 – Wednesday, April 10 at Orlando

Game 2 – Friday, April 12 at Orlando

Game 3 – Wednesday, April 17 at South Carolina

Game 4 – Friday, April 19 at South Carolina

Game 5 – Saturday, April 20 at South Carolina*

Game 6 – Monday, April 22 at Orlando*

Game 7 – Wednesday, April 24 at Orlando*

*if necessary