It was not a good start to 2021 for the Orlando Solar Bears, who dropped their first two January games by a combined 10-1 goal margin.
However, thanks to reinforcements via the ECHL waiver wire and the Lightning, the team managed a split of their weekend slate against Florida and Jacksonville.
-On Tuesday, the Solar Bears claimed defenseman Mark Auk off waivers from Rapid City. The third-year pro had 5 assists in 5 games for the Rush this season before his release. He split the 2019-20 season between Rapid City and Toledo, with 11 points in 31 games. To make room on the roster, rookie defenseman Paul Meyer was released, having only appeared in two games.
-Prior to Friday’s game, Tampa Bay made its first cuts of training camp, reassigning Ryan Lohin and Devante Stephens to the Solar Bears.
-Sunday, the team announced the signing of forward Dylan Sadowy. The fifth-year pro spent last season with Kalamazoo while on an AHL contract with Utica, appearing in 29 games with 17 goals and 17 assists, and was named a 2020 ECHL Western Conference All-Star. He was dealt to Bridgeport in late January and was assigned to Worcester, but did not dress for the Railers. A former third round draft pick by San Jose, Sadowy has AHL experience with Grand Rapids and split his first three pro seasons between the Griffins and Toledo.
Around the ECHL:
On Tuesday, the last two ECHL teams to make a decision on whether to return to play this year made their intentions known.
The #ECHL has finalized its roster of teams for the 2020-21 Season.— ECHL (@ECHL) January 5, 2021
The @FWKomets will begin play in February, while the @ToledoWalleye have elected a Voluntary Suspension under the league's COVID-19 policy and will return to play in the 2021-22 Season.https://t.co/aYUYQSSnFY
Toledo has elected to opt out of the season due to current COVID-19 restrictions in Ohio. Fort Wayne has decided it’s game on in Indiana, and will start a 50-game schedule the weekend of February 12th. With the roster of teams finalized, look for more additions to the schedule to be released shortly.
The Solar Bears returned to the Amway Center ice on Friday night, looking to rebound from a blowout loss on Sunday afternoon against the Everblades, completing four games in a row against their intrastate rivals.
Tonight's projected lineup has Luke McInnis set to make his pro debut, while Alan Lyszczarczyk and Mark Auk will play their first games for Orlando!— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) January 8, 2021
via @FloHockey: https://t.co/Dh3maPbRuF
⚡️: @BoltsRadio #BEARLIEVE pic.twitter.com/1xi4iOlTpk
The home team got off to a fast start in the first 20 minutes, scoring three times against Florida goaltender Devin Cooley. Lohin scored his team leading fifth goal in his first game back from Lightning camp at the 6:01 mark for a 1-0 lead. Aaron Luchuk doubled the Orlando lead just under six minutes later with his second of the season. Peter Abbandonato joined the scoring party with his second of the year with 4:05 remaining in the period for a 3-0 lead.
Florida made things interesting early in the second period, scoring twice in a span of 1:56 to cut Orlando’s lead to one. Abbandonato picked up his second of the game with 8:35 remaining in the second to put the Solar Bears up 4-2. Michael Huntebrinker added a shorthanded goal early in the third to cut the lead back to one goal, but the Everblades could not get any closer, and Orlando snapped a two-game losing streak against Florida.
Clint Windsor picked up his third win of the season, stopping 27 of 30 shots, including this gem that earned him airtime on both ESPN and TSN:
Jerry D’Amigo and Auk, making his Orlando debut, added two assists each. Check out the highlights below:
For the first time since December 29th, the Solar Bears faced an opponent not called the Florida Everblades, heading north to Jacksonville to take on the Icemen.
Ben Thomson draws back into the lineup for tonight - puck is about to drop as we take on the Icemen!— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) January 9, 2021
via @FloHockey: https://t.co/Dh3maPbRuF
⚡️: @BoltsRadio#BEARLIEVE pic.twitter.com/tvgdvqLE71
Jacksonville got on the scoresheet late in the first period. Just five seconds after the Solar Bears were called for too many men on the ice, Joel Messner scored his first of the season for a 1-0 lead. The Icemen offense exploded for an additional three goals in the second against Windsor, despite being outshot 13-8 for the period. Brendan Warren’s first goal of the season at the 7:44 mark doubled the Jacksonville lead. Mike Szmatula and Pascal Aquin then scored 32 seconds apart for a 4-0 advantage, chasing Windsor from the net in favor of Michael Lackey.
Orlando managed to get one past Icemen goaltender Eamon McAdam with 2:41 remaining in the contest, as J.J. Piccinich scored his second of the season. Jacksonville was held to just two shots on goal for the final 20 minutes, but the Solar Bears were unable to generate any further offense. Before getting the hook, Windsor finished with 12 saves on 16 shots. Auk and Alexander Kuqali had the lone assists.
This Week’s Schedule:
It’s the first 3-in-3 weekend of the season for the Solar Bears.
On Friday, the team heads back north to Jacksonville for their second straight matchup against the Icemen. Orlando will then home to host the Everblades for a pair of games on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon.