There are five weeks left in the ECHL’s regular season. With another 3-in-3 weekend, the Orlando Solar Bears looked to continue their home success and stay in position in the ECHL’s South Division playoff race. However, this weekend did not go as planned, as the Solar Bears dropped both divisional games. But, in between, an emotional win on home ice that meant more than just hockey was celebrated.
It was a very busy week on the transaction wire.
-Prior to Sunday’s contest, the team signed forward Anthony McVeigh to a standard contract. McVeigh has spent most of the season with the SPHL’s Knoxville Ice Bears, where in 43 games he has 15 goals and 20 assists. The second-year forward also appeared in two games for Newfoundland, going scoreless. He was released back to Knoxville on Saturday after two appearances.
-On Tuesday, Tristin Langan received his second call up in a month to San Jose. In his first stint—his AHL debut—Langan appeared in four games and was scoreless.
-Wednesday saw another forward join the team as J.M. Piotrowski was signed to a contract. The Texas native joins the Solar Bears by way of the SPHL’s Birmingham Bulls, where he has 6 goals and 8 assists in 41 games.
-Goaltender Mike Condon, who had appeared in 4 games for Orlando without recording a win, was loaned by the Lightning to Charlotte on Wednesday. To take Condon’s place on the roster, Jeff Smith was acquired from Utah for the ever popular future considerations. Smith appeared in 6 games for the Grizzlies, going 3-3-0 with a 3.28 GAA and .871 save percentage.
-Prior to Friday’s game, forward Alexey Lipanov was reassigned to Orlando by Syracuse. Lipanov appeared in four games for the Crunch during his recall, going scoreless.
-Also on Friday, forward Guillaume Gauthier was signed to a standard contract. The 24-year-old native of Quebec recently completed a four-year college career with McGill University, where in his final season he had 10 goals and 6 assists in 23 games.
-On Saturday, another free agent forward was brought in, as Bryson Cianfrone was signed to a contract. The Ontario native just completed four years with St. Francis Xavier University, where in his senior season he appeared in 29 games, setting career highs with 15 goals and 21 assists.
-Also on Saturday, Orlando received forward Jimmy Huntington from Syracuse. In his latest Crunch stint, he appeared in 11 games, going scoreless.
The weekend began in Georgia, as the Solar Bears paid another visit to the Gladiators.
How best to describe the first 20 minutes of this one for the Solar Bears: Ugly. The Gladiators completely dominated the first period with five unanswered goals. Eric Neiley kicked off the scoring at the 5:53 mark with his 20th goal of the season. Joel Messner followed up with his 8th 2:02 later to double the lead. Avery Peterson then scored his 14th 1:59 after that for a 3-0 lead, knocking Clint Windsor out of the game in favor of the newly acquired Smith. Peterson welcomed him to the Solar Bears by scoring his second goal in 1:12 on a power play for a 4-0 Atlanta lead. Finally, Samuel Asselin’s 26th goal with 42 seconds to go in the period made it 5-0.
Atlanta wasn’t quite done with the offense in the second, as a Tommy Marchin goal with 1:40 remaining in the period gave the Gladiators a touchdown—well, a 6-0 lead. Orlando managed to break up Chris Nell’s shutout bid late in the third, as Taylor Cammarata scored with 35 seconds left in the game for the final 6-1 margin.
Windsor stopped just 5 of 8 shots in under 10 minutes of work before exiting. Smith finished with 18 saves on 21 shots in 50 minutes. Alexander Kuqali had the lone assist.
3. Samuel Asselin (ATL) 1 goal, 2 assists
2. Chris Nell (ATL) 35 saves
1. Avery Peterson (ATL) 2 goals, 1 assist
It was a very special night in Florida, as the Solar Bears held their annual OSB Fights Cancer game against the defending Kelly Cup Champion Growlers.
The team wore special black, pink, and gray jerseys.
In a special pregame ceremony, Kuqali’s mother, Marcia Kuraba, a very recent cancer survivor, participated in a ceremonial puck drop. Who’s chopping onions around here?
ICYMI: We are honored to have had Marcia Karuba, mother of Solar Bears defenseman Alexander Kuqali, participate in our pre-game puck drop on Hockey Fights Cancer Night presented by XYMOPrint, and are thrilled to announce she is now in remission! #OSBFightsCancer pic.twitter.com/f9Vo1ccfAr— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 1, 2020
Back to game action, where the teams exchanged goals in the opening period. Chris Leblanc got the hosts on the board 5:05 into the game with his 13th of the season. Justin Brazeau tied the game at 1 with 8:09 remaining in the first.
The Solar Bears took over the contest in the second with a pair of goals. In a span of 2:10, Cammarata (14th) and Michael Brodzinski (8th) gave Orlando a 3-1 lead. Late in the third, Johno May scored his 17th of the season on a power play, followed by Danny Hanlon scoring his first ECHL goal, in a span of 1:19 for the final 5-1 margin. The win extended the team’s home win streak to five, and moved the Solar Bears back into third place in the South.
Windsor rebounded nicely from a disastrous Friday start, stopping 35 of 36 shots for the win. Trevor Olson added two assists.
But in the end, the night belonged to Kuqali and his family.
"Like ‘Draps’ said, there's a lot of things bigger than the game, but you've always been there for me and I can't thank you enough."— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 1, 2020
All the feels in the locker room after last night's emotional win. #OSBFightsCancer
Video thanks to our partners at @JewettOrtho pic.twitter.com/OOXIYSsm88
3. Trevor Olson (ORL) 2 assists
2. Clint Windsor (ORL) 35 saves
1. Chris LeBlanc (ORL) 1 goal, 1 assist
Less than 24 hours later, Orlando started the month of the March by hosting the Everblades, who became the second ECHL team to clinch a Kelly Cup playoff berth the night before.
After a scoreless first, Florida took a 1-0 lead 47 seconds into the second on a goal by Michael Huntebrinker. Despite only managing five shots on Smith in the third, the Everblades scored twice. Joe Pendenza scored his 13th of the season at the 8:28 mark to double the Florida lead. Hunter Garlent then added an empty netter with less than a minute remaining to seal it. Orlando put up 40 shots on goal, but none of them made it past Everblades goaltender Ken Appleby, who picked up his third shutout of the season.
Smith finished with 21 saves in his first Solar Bears start. The loss, combined with a Greenville win, knocked Orlando back into fourth place in the South.
3. Hunter Garlent (FLA) 1 goal, 1 assist
2. Michael Huntebrinker (FLA) 1 goal
1. Ken Appleby (FLA) 40 saves, SHO
Three more games on tap this week, as the regular season continues to dwindle.
The homestand continues against Atlanta on Tuesday and Greenville on Wednesday, two huge games that could affect Orlando’s place in the division standings. The Solar Bears then head back to Atlanta on Friday before getting a rare weekend off.
Also of note: while the AHL’s trade deadline is this afternoon, the ECHL recall/reassignment deadline is Wednesday at 11:59 PM. The ECHL trade deadline is Thursday at 3 PM. Could more roster changes be coming? We shall see.