Folks, we have made it to Opening Day in Central Florida. There is fresh ice in Orlando.
BEFORE.— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) December 11, 2020
We can’t wait for December 29th! pic.twitter.com/CLdnXsC6Fp
Nine months after the Orlando Solar Bears played their last regular season game, a 3-1 home win over South Carolina on March 11th, and the longest offseason in team history due to the pandemic and the uncertainties of whether it would be safe to hold a sporting event with fans again, they began the 2020-21 ECHL regular season on the road in Estero against the Florida Everblades.
For several Lightning/Crunch prospects, this was their first pro game. For one of those prospects, the night ended earlier than planned.
Read on to see who’s on the roster, a few dates for the calendar, and a few highlights from game 1 of 72!
As is the annual tradition, the Solar Bears announced a couple of schedule changes, and revealed the next 12 games beyond mid-January.
-Orlando and the Everblades have swapped home/away games for December 30th and January 2nd.
-The January 6th home game against South Carolina will be played at a later date.
On Monday, the ECHL released the second portion of the 2021 schedule, for games through February 11th. Orlando has the following 12 games scheduled:
-January 15th @ Jacksonville
-January 16th & 17th vs. Florida
-January 20th, 22nd & 23rd vs. Greenville
-January 27th @ Florida
-January 29th @ Greenville
-January 31st vs. South Carolina
-February 5th & 6th @ Florida
-February 11th @ Greenville
Season Opening Roster Revealed...
On Thursday, Orlando announced their season opening roster. A breakdown by the numbers:
-15 forwards, 10 defensemen, and 3 goaltenders make up the roster. With life the way it is right now, the league has temporarily allowed extra roster spots above the normal 21.
-Orlando has maxed out the 8 roster spots available for assignments by NHL/AHL affiliates.
And now please enjoy this five minute video to learn some fun facts about the team.
We may not have been able to have our Meet the Team event in person this season, but we still wanted you to get to know the guys before they hit the ice tomorrow!— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) December 11, 2020
Ladies & gentlemen...YOUR 2020-21 ORLANDO SOLAR BEARS! pic.twitter.com/df7YMA5zex
Something to note in this not-at-all normal season: the league has established a Commissioner’s Exempt List, for those ineligible to play due to COVID-19 protocols. Currently, the Solar Bears do not have anyone on this list.
On Monday, Orlando added a veteran with some AHL and ECHL experience to the roster.
We've signed veteran forward Ben Thomson in our latest @pizzahut Transaction Report: https://t.co/J5eSo70NBj— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) December 14, 2020
Thomson is a 2012 4th round draft selection by New Jersey who has spent a majority of his pro career in the AHL, with stops in Albany, Binghamton, San Diego, and last season in Bridgeport, where he had one assist in 5 games for the Sound Tigers. He also appeared in 23 games with Worcester, picking up 5 goals and 10 assists. He made his NHL debut with New Jersey in 2016-17, appearing in three games.
To make room on the roster, Orlando released forward Matt Alvaro.
Game 1, 12/12: Florida 4, Orlando 2
After a preseason sweep at the hands of the Everblades, the Solar Bears headed back to Estero on Saturday to kick off the 2020-21 season.
It's almost time for puck-drop in Estero!— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) December 13, 2020
Our lineup for tonight's game⬇️ #BEARLIEVE pic.twitter.com/KltYmm7nix
It didn’t take the hosts very long to get on the board against goaltender Clint Windsor. On the first shot of the game 26 seconds after puck drop, Cameron Hebig scored for a 1-0 Everblades lead. Florida doubled the lead at the 6:27 mark on Patrick Harper’s second goal of the season.
Orlando cut the lead in half with 2:01 remaining in the first as Ryan Lohin picked up his first of the season.
The first goal of the season for the Solar Bears belongs to @TBLightning prospect Ryan Lohin! #BEARLIEVE pic.twitter.com/GuPPxjQxja— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) December 13, 2020
Orlando found themselves at a disadvantage midway through the second period. Making his first North American appearance, defenseman Dmitry Semykin was assessed a match penalty for an illegal check to the head after an open ice hit on Florida’s Lukas Craggs, putting the Everblades on a 5 minute power play. Michael Huntebrinker capitalized 43 seconds into the man advantage, restoring the Everblades’ 2 goal lead. Orlando responded less than a minute later, as Semykin’s defense partner, Alexander Kuqali, scored shorthanded to cut the Florida lead to 3-2.
IT'S A SHORTY!— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) December 13, 2020
Alexander Kuqali answers with a shorthanded goal for the Solar Bear after the 'Blades scored on the power play!
Back to within one! pic.twitter.com/gxoxM2rmg3
The Everblades sealed their second win of the season on an empty netter by Joe Pendenza with 27 seconds remaining in regulation.
Windsor took the loss in net, stopping 29 of 32 shots. Lohin lead all Solar Bear skaters with a goal and an assist. Orlando went 0 for 4 on the power play and was outshot 33-22.
This Week’s Schedule...
Orlando stays on the road, heading north to West Virginia for a pair of games against Wheeling on Friday and Saturday.