One thing that separates the ECHL from both the AHL and the NHL? The scheduling.
While the AHL has taken steps over recent years to reduce the number of games teams play per week in favor of practice and travel time, the ECHL seems to do the exact opposite, clustering team schedules and travel due to cost restraints. The Orlando Solar Bears were feeling that this week, as they played four games in five days for the third time this season, with all four games on the road against South Division opponents.
With the help of their regular goaltender returning from Syracuse, and a newly acquired forward, the team picked up 5 out of a possible 8 points and held on to fourth place in the division as the league’s All-Star Break begins.
The roster received a little shakeup on Tuesday with a pair of transactions:
-Goaltender Zachary Fucale returned from Syracuse after appearing in one game for the Crunch, a 3-2 loss in Laval on January 4th. To make room, rookie Chase Perry, who appeared in two games in relief, was released. He will return to the SPHL’s Pensacola Ice Flyers.
-In a three-way trade of forwards with Maine and Idaho, Orlando sent Colby McAuley to Idaho and received Taylor Cammarata from the Mariners. In 23 games with Maine, Cammarata had 6 goals and 16 assists.
The road trip moved into Georgia on Wednesday, as the Solar Bears and Gladiators met for the first of two.
The game started off innocently enough. In this corner, 6’9” Oleg Sosunov. And in this corner, 6’4” Anthony Collins. Keep it clean, gentlemen.
The fight seemed to spark the Orlando offense, as they rattled off five unanswered goals, four of those in the first period. With Blake Kessel serving a slashing call, Jake Coughler picked up a shorthanded goal to put the Solar Bears on the board at the 6:06 mark. Just over three minutes later, captain Chris LeBlanc doubled the lead with his 11th of the season. Orlando then made it 3-0 just seven seconds into their first power play of the evening, as Tristin Langan scored his 11th. Kevin Lohan finished off the first period scoring with 4:03 remaining, picking up his first of the year for a 4-0 lead. The fourth goal chased Atlanta starter Chris Nell in favor of rookie Ben Halford.
New goalie, same results for Orlando in the second. Trevor Olson made it 5-0 at the 2:42 mark with his 8th goal of the season. The Gladiators broke up the shutout with a 5-on-3 power play goal by Thomas Frazee just over three minutes later to cut the lead to four. Eric Neiley then added his 13th at the 8:24 mark for a 5-2 Orlando lead. Peter Abbandonato then scored his second with the Solar Bears with 6:14 remaining in the period for a 6-2 advantage.
Atlanta tried to get back into the game midway through the third, cutting the Orlando lead to 6-3 on a Scott Conway goal. Olson then scored his 9th seconds later to seal the win for the Solar Bears.
Clint Windsor got the win in net, stopping 22 of 25 shots. Olson finished with a four-point night (2 goals, 2 assists), Langan and Abbandonato each finished with a goal and two assists, and Cody Donaghey added three assists. Cammarata made his Orlando debut and contributed an assist.
To the locker room for postgame reaction!
3. Jake Coughler (ORL) 1 goal, 1 assist
2. Tristin Langan (ORL) 1 goal, 2 assists
1. Trevor Olson (ORL) 2 goals, 2 assists
48 hours later, the team met up again for a rematch.
Unlike on Wednesday, it was the Gladiators getting off to a good start. Tommy Marchin opened the scoring for Atlanta with 5:48 to go in the first period with his 13th of the season. On Orlando’s second penalty kill of the night in the second, the Gladiators took a 2-0 lead on a power play goal by Samuel Asselin. Johno May cut the Atlanta lead in half at the 7:51 mark with his 11th of the season. With 4:48 to go in the period, Cammarata tied the game up with his first Solar Bears goal and 7th overall. Coughler then gave the visitors the lead as the period was ending with his 6th.
Atlanta made a comeback early in the third to take the lead back. Derek Nesbitt tied the game at 3 at the 2:44 mark with his 7th. Asselin then added his second of the night just over two and a half minutes later for a 4-3 Gladiators lead. Orlando was not done just yet, however—Kessel re-tied the game at 4 with 6:28 remaining in regulation with a power play goal, his third.
The game went into overtime, but it didn’t last very long. Asselin completed the hat trick just 68 seconds into the extra frame to give the Gladiators the victory.
Fucale made his first Orlando start since December 21st and took the overtime loss, stopping 31 of 36 shots. Abbandonato added two assists.
3. Derek Nesbitt (ATL) 1 goal
2. Blake Kessel (ORL) 1 goal
1. Samuel Asselin (ATL) hat trick, 1 assist
Next stop on the South Division tour? Jacksonville, where the Solar Bears looked to extend a six-game winning streak this season against the IceMen.
After a scoreless first, the hosts got on the board in the second. Pierre-Luc Mercier, who was in Orlando’s training camp and appeared in one game for the Solar Bears earlier in the season, scored his 10th goal shorthanded for a 1-0 Jacksonville lead with 6 minutes to go in the middle frame.
The IceMen doubled their lead 53 seconds into the third on a Alexis D’Aoust goal. Cammarata cut the lead in half 11 seconds later with his second goal of the weekend. That was the only offense Orlando could muster, and the IceMen sealed it with an empty net goal by Emerson Clark with 36 seconds remaining, breaking the Solar Bears’ win streak against Jacksonville.
Windsor took the hard luck loss, stopping 21 of 23 shots. LeBlanc had the lone assist.
3. Pierre-Luc Mercier (JAC) 1 goal, 1 assist
2. Adam Carlson (JAC) 31 saves
1. Alexis D’Aoust (JAC) 1 goal
A busy week came to an end on Sunday afternoon in North Charleston, as Orlando took on first place South Carolina in their last game prior to the All-Star Break.
The visitors were first on the board in the opening period, as May picked up his 12th of the season at the 12:55 mark. After a scoreless second, it took the Stingrays just 13 seconds into the third to tie the game, as Dan DeSalvo scored on a power play to make it 1-1.
Olson would come through in the clutch in the closing minutes of regulation. Off a Stingrays turnover, he picked up his 10th of the season with 1:58 remaining to put Orlando up 2-1. The Stingrays pulled goaltender Logan Thompson late in an attempt to tie, but the Solar Bears shut them down, and in turn broke a season long four-game losing streak in North Charleston.
Fucale outdueled the ECHL’s #1 goaltender in Thompson, finishing with 26 saves. Olson also contributed an assist on May’s goal.
3. Logan Thompson (SC) 28 saves
2. Johno May (ORL) 1 goal
1. Zachary Fucale (ORL) 26 saves
While defenseman Michael Brodzinski heads to Kansas to represent Orlando in the ECHL All-Star Classic on Wednesday, the rest of the team gets a few days to rest.
The team gets right back to work on Thursday, as the Solar Bears look to avenge Saturday’s loss to Jacksonville, this time on home ice. Saturday, Greenville comes in for a 12 noon matinee matchup.