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ECHL Solar Bears Update: Open for Business

Training camp has begun in central Florida!

Vegas Golden Knights v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

While Lightning fans wait for an NHL start date—and Syracuse fans hold on to the hope of a February start to the AHL season—the other team in the Tampa organization got back to work on Monday.

Along with twelve other teams, the Orlando Solar Bears have started their training camp for the 2020-21 season.

On Sunday, the team announced their camp roster, consisting of 24 players:

Forwards (16): Matt Alvaro, Tyler Bird, Taylor Cammarata, Jake Coughler, Isaiah Crawford, Alexander Gilmour, Kylar Hope, Stephen Johnson, Tad Kozun, Tristin Langan, Chris LeBlanc, Aaron Luchuk, Johno May, J.M. Piotrowski, Adam Rockwood, Ethan Skinner.

Defensemen (7): Rich Boyd, Alexander Kuqali, Kevin Lohan, Luke McInnis, Patrick McNally, Paul Meyer, Tommy Panico

Goaltenders (1): Michael Lackey

Crawford, Piotrowski, and Skinner are in camp as tryouts.

The first roster moves of the season came on Sunday, as Langan was signed to a standard ECHL contract. The 21-year-old forward lead all Orlando rookies in scoring with 37 points (13 G, 24 A), and posted a team record +25 in 45 games. He also appeared in nine games with AHL San Jose, picking up one assist.

Additionally, defenseman Michael Brodzinski was placed under team suspension, a move that allows Orlando to retain his ECHL playing rights, after he did not report to camp.

On Monday, the team announced four player assignments from Syracuse: goaltender Clint Windsor, defenseman Devante Stephens, and forwards Peter Abbandonato and Nikita Pavlychev. Windsor, who had been signed to an AHL contract by the Crunch just as the pandemic shut everything down in March, will be returning to Orlando for his third season with the Solar Bears. Last season, after a log jam at the goaltender position put him out of a job after training camp, he was re-signed by the Solar Bears in November and posted a 15-12-2 record with a 2.45 GAA and .927 save percentage.

Abbandonato will be starting his second pro season in Orlando after splitting his rookie campaign between the Solar Bears and Syracuse. Stephens began last season in Cincinnati, appearing in three games for the Cyclones, then was dealt by Buffalo to the Lightning in late November for Matthew Spencer. He was assigned to Syracuse and spent the remainder of the season with the Crunch, notching six assists in 38 appearances. Pavlychev will be making his professional debut with the Solar Bears after finishing a four-year career at Penn State, then signing an AHL deal with the Crunch.

As for the first day of camp itself, well let’s just say new forward Aaron Luchuk made quite the first impression?

Day 2 on Tuesday started with a former Solar Bears goaltender returning to where he got started.

Yes folks you read that right...free agent goaltender Garret Sparks has signed an ECHL deal to return to central Florida.

Sparks spent the first three full seasons of his pro career splitting time between Orlando, who was the Maple Leafs ECHL affiliate at the time, and the Marlies, amassing a 26-13-3 record in 47 appearances for the Solar Bears from 2013-16. In the 2017-18 season, he lead Toronto to their lone Calder Cup, winning an AHL-leading 31 games and was awarded the Bastien Memorial Award for top goaltender. He spent most of last season in Chicago with the Wolves, going 8-14-4 with a 2.75 GAA and .908 save percentage, and also made one appearance with Vegas.

So if you’re keeping score at home, that means there are now three goalies on the camp roster.

Meanwhile during day 2 of practice...cleanup on aisle 5!

After three days of practices, the team will hold an intrasquad scrimmage on Thursday, then head south to Estero for two weekend preseason games against the Everblades, as they prepare to start the first portion regular season on December 12th. The schedule beyond January 15th has yet to be determined, as five other ECHL teams—Cincinnati, Fort Wayne, Kalamazoo, Toledo, and Idaho—need to decide whether to play or opt out.