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Solar Bears ECHL Update: Countdown to Opening Day

It begins for real on Saturday!

Fernando Medina/Orlando Solar Bears

For the first time in about nine months, the Orlando Solar Bears took to the ice and played an actual hockey game. Two, to be exact, as they played a pair of preseason contests against the Florida Everblades, tuning up for a regular season that no one thought would ever get here.

Granted, the team went 0-2, but it feels good to write about real game action again.

Preseason Results: Swept Away in Estero

The Solar Bears headed south on Friday and Saturday for a pair of preseason games against the Everblades.

Friday was an offensive affair, as the teams combined for five first period goals, four coming within the first 5 minutes of the contest. Orlando’s Adam Rockwood got the visitors on the board 73 seconds in, but the Everblades then scored three unanswered against Clint Windsor for a 3-1 lead. Jake Coughler cut the Florida lead to one late in the period.

Florida went ahead 4-2 midway through the second, but Nikita Pavlychev scored with 2:31 in the second to cut the lead to one. The Everblades jumped ahead 5-3 as the second period was coming to an end.

The Solar Bears got to within one on a Peter Abbandonato goal with 6:47 remaining in regulation, but could not get the equalizer and dropped the opener 5-4. Windsor stopped 20 of 25 shots in the first 40 minutes, then rookie Michael Lackey took over for the third and stopped all 10 shots faced, earning #3 star honors.

In the rematch on Saturday, the Everblades offense came up big in the second period en route to a 4-0 win. Florida scored all four goals in the middle stanza, with three coming against Garret Sparks in a span of 6:26. Meanwhile, Orlando could only manage 20 shots against Everblades goaltender Cam Johnson, who went the distance for the win. Sparks, making his first ECHL appearance since the 2015-16 season, stopped 20 of 23 shots in just over 30 minutes. Lackey took over midway through the second and finished with 6 saves on 7 shots.

More Help from the Lightning!

On Sunday, Tampa Bay assigned four more players to the Solar Bears.

Huntington returns to Orlando for his second pro season after splitting last season between the Solar Bears and Syracuse. He scored 3 goals and added 5 assists in 12 games for Orlando, while picking up 3 assists in 33 games for the Crunch. Lohin will also be starting his second pro season in Florida, after being limited to 15 ECHL games in 2019-20 due to an injury.

Green, a 2018 4th round pick by Tampa Bay, will be making his pro debut after signing an entry-level deal with the Lightning earlier this year. The defenseman spent last season with Cornell, appearing in 29 games with 7 goals and 9 assists.

Semykin, a 2018 3rd rounder, will be making his North American debut after spending the 2019-20 season with SKA-1946 of the MHL, posting 24 points in 44 games. Igor has a more in-depth scouting report in his Top 25 Under 25 Post from a few weeks ago:

Since being drafted by the Lightning, he has gained about ten pounds, which allowed him to stand out at the junior level in Russia. He’s not afraid of taking the puck to the offensive zone, going fully coast-to-coast, which he showed several times in the last season. Often he plays as an additional fourth forward, backing the offense from blue line or blasting slap shots towards the net. His size also allows him to play a very physical style.

To make room for the newcomers on the roster, Orlando released rookie forwards Kylar Hope and Stephen Johnson.

Monday saw two more forward additions to the roster.

Piccinich, who played his first professional season in Orlando in 2017-18, returns to the Solar Bears after splitting last season with Tulsa and San Antonio. He scored 12 goals and put up 42 assists in 59 games for the Oilers, and was scoreless in four games for the Rampage.

D’Amigo becomes the second Solar Bears acquisition in the last week to bring NHL experience to the table. A 2009 6th rounder of the Maple Leafs, he has played in 31 NHL games over two separate seasons, 22 with Toronto and 9 with Buffalo. After spending most of his North American career in the AHL with Toronto, Springfield and Rochester, he has played the last four seasons in Europe, appearing in 41 games for ERC Ingolstadt in Germany in 2019-20 and putting up 22 points (9 goals, 13 assists).

To make room, the Solar Bears released Rockwood and Erik Bradford.

With Wednesday the deadline for the participating ECHL teams to set their 23-man Opening Day rosters, expect more roster decisions to come.

Three More ECHL Teams Opt Out

Sadly, on Monday three more ECHL teams pulled the plug on their potential seasons.

Currently, the state of Michigan is not allowing any fans in arenas, while Idaho and Ohio are only allowing up to 10 and 300 fans, respectively.

That leaves Toledo and Fort Wayne as the last two markets to decide on whether to play or opt out. The league has set a start date of around mid-February instead of January 15th to give the teams more time to work out logistics around current virus restrictions.

With just one division operating in the Eastern Conference, and possibly just 2-4 teams in another division, could there be a temporary realignment? Once the smoke finally clears on who will be participating this season, it will be interesting to see how the ECHL will proceed.

This Week’s Schedule:

Finally, after months of waiting, the Solar Bears will play a game that counts, returning to Estero on Saturday to start their regular season against the Everblades.