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Solar Bears Fall Update: Counting Down to a Season?

The ECHL releases their key dates through the summer of 2021, and Orlando gets a preseason.

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

We are less than a month away from possible live professional hockey returning to select U.S. minor league markets, including the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears.

The league recently announced their 2020-21 transaction calendar and a brief preseason schedule for four of the teams who will be starting in December.

Mark Your Calendars...

Last week the ECHL announced some key dates as they begin the 2020-21 season, and a plan to look ahead to a hopefully normal season in 2021-22.

For the teams beginning in December, including Orlando, players can report to their respective training camps on Thanksgiving Day, November 26th, with on-ice sessions to begin the next day. Opening Day rosters are due to the league on December 9th, two days before the start of the regular season.

For the remainder of the league that decides to opt-in for the season (sources say November 30th is the deadline for those teams to make that decision), players can report to training camp on January 1st. Opening Day rosters for those teams are due on January 13th, two days before their portion of the regular season begins.

On January 10th, the December teams will need to reduce their active rosters from 21 to 20. The January teams will have to do the same on February 14th.

Normally, May in the ECHL means the Kelly Cup Playoffs are in the midst of the conference finals. However, this May will see the trade deadline instead, the actual date is TBD at this time. The last day of the regular season for all teams will be on June 6th.

Postseason rosters are due to the league on June 7th, with the playoffs starting 48 hours later.

Now, here’s where things get interesting. The ECHL tends to follow the same offseason schedule every summer, including the summer of 2020 despite the early finish of the 19-20 season in March. As of now, the summer of 2021 is following the same blueprint.

Teams’ protected lists are due to the league on July 1st, while all future considerations trades must be fulfilled by July 5th. Players can begin signing 2021-22 contracts on July 9th, exactly one month after the postseason is scheduled to begin. Now, this can mean one of two things: either the playoffs will be drastically reduced—the only thing we know now is how seedings will be determined with the different game schedules—or the offseason dates will eventually be pushed back.

North Division Opts Out of 2020-21

With the November 30th deadline fast approaching—and virus restrictions in many states returning—the number of ECHL teams who had planned to start in January was reduced by six on Wednesday afternoon.

The entire North Division—Adirondack, Brampton, Maine, Newfoundland, Reading, and Worcester—have opted out of the 2020-21 season. Much like their counterparts in the South, the North teams’ schedules are about 90 percent inter-divisional due to travel costs. With the US-Canadian border still shut down, Newfoundland and Brampton would be unable to travel, let alone host any opponents other than each other. With public gatherings in New York at a near minimum—private gatherings have recently been reduced to 10 or less—Adirondack’s home schedule would be impossible. Worcester’s home arena, the DCU Center, has recently become a field hospital for COVID patients in central and eastern Massachusetts.

This could be a devastating blow for those teams, and the communities they serve. For example, Adirondack is locally owned by the Civic Center Coalition, who also owns their home building, the Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls. Without the revenue this building generates—the Thunder are the main tenant, but the arena also hosts mid-level concerts, the annual high school basketball playoffs, and an annual rodeo in the fall—this could have a damaging effect on the future of the team and the city as a whole if the building is unable to reopen once life is allowed to return to some normalcy.

This leaves Cincinnati, Fort Wayne, Idaho, Kalamazoo, and Toledo as teams that plan to begin their seasons in January.

Solar Bears Preseason Schedule

On Thursday, the league announced a small preseason schedule for the first weekend of December for four South Division teams.

The Solar Bears and their friends to the south, the Florida Everblades, will be facing off in a pair of preseason games on December 4 and 5.

Of course, with this being 2020 and all, it’s possible these dates are subject to change.

Roster Update

As of this writing, there are currently 20 players signed to contracts:

F—Chris Leblanc, Johno May, Tad Kozun, Matt Alvaro, Kylar Hope, Jake Coughler, Tyler Bird, Adam Rockwood, Taylor Cammarata, Stephen Johnson, Alex Gilmour

D—Alexander Kuqali, Kevin Lohan, Tommy Panico, Paul Meyer, Rich Boyd, Michael Brodzinski, Luke McInnis, Patrick McNally

G—Michael Lackey

McNally, who has ECHL experience with Worcester and AHL time with San Jose, is the most recent signing, joining Orlando on Tuesday. The team also announced that veteran forward Peter MacArthur, who had signed with the team earlier in the offseason, was dealt to Adirondack for future considerations.