We are just over a month into the 2020-21 ECHL regular season, and so far the Orlando Solar Bears have found themselves in the middle of the pack.
Despite special teams struggles—the team’s penalty kill is last among the 13 participating teams and the power play is less than 10 percent successful—Orlando sat just about .500 going into their first 3-in-3 weekend of the season.
Also, despite losing four regulars to the AHL, the team gained back an important member of the roster and picked up 3 out of 6 points.
-On Thursday, goaltender Garret Sparks returned to the Solar Bears after spending two weeks with Calgary’s training camp.
-Forward Nikita Pavlychev was added to the ECHL Commissioner’s Exempt List on Wednesday. To refresh your memory on what that list is, a player on this list is ineligible to play due to the league’s COVID/Return to Play Protocols. This does not necessarily mean the player has a positive test, but he could have had close contact with someone who did test positive, or may be showing symptoms and is waiting for a test result.
-Prior to Friday’s contest, goaltender Clint Windsor, defenseman Devante Stephens, and forwards Ryan Lohin and Peter Abbandonato were recalled to Syracuse, where the Crunch have started their training camp.
Around the League:
-The ECHL announced the addition of two new teams on Tuesday, as the cities of Coralville, Iowa, and Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, were awarded franchises, expanding the league to 28 teams.
ECHL approve two expansion teams for 2021-22— Mark (@MarkUkLeaf) January 17, 2021
Canada will have a third ECHL team.
Who will these new teams affiliate with?https://t.co/yq1q8tizWY
-On Friday, the next section of the schedule was released, extending the current slate to April 4th. The remainder of the schedule through June and the Kelly Cup Playoff format will be determined at a later date.
The league also announced the conference lineup, now that all teams are finalized for the season:
Eastern: Florida, Greenville, Indy, Jacksonville, Orlando, South Carolina, Wheeling
Western: Allen, Fort Wayne, Kansas City, Rapid City, Tulsa, Utah, Wichita
As a reminder, playoff seeding will be determined by a team’s winning percentage. So going into Friday’s action, here’s how everyone stacks up:
The following games were added to Orlando’s schedule:
Feb. 13 & 14 at Greenville
Feb. 17 & 19 at Florida
Feb. 20 vs. Florida
Feb. 26 vs. Jacksonville
Feb. 27 & 28 at Jacksonville
March 5-7 vs. Florida
March 9 vs. South Carolina
March 13 at Florida
March 17 & 19 at Jacksonville
March 20 vs. Jacksonville
March 21 at Jacksonville
March 26 vs. South Carolina
March 27 & 28 at South Carolina
April 1-3 vs. Florida
Sparks made his first appearance in net since December 19th as Orlando started a busy weekend up north in Jacksonville against the Icemen.
Almost time to drop the puck in Jacksonville - follow along using the links below!— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) January 16, 2021
via @FloHockey: https://t.co/Dh3maPbRuF
: https://t.co/fV1V8amhMz#BEARLIEVE pic.twitter.com/oQ0h8wYcsp
The teams exchanged goals in the opening period. Just 8 seconds after going on a power play, Nick Saracino connected for his fourth goal of the season for a 1-0 Icemen lead. Taylor Cammarata tied the game up at the 15:16 mark with his first of the year.
Pascal Aquin gave the hosts a 2-1 lead 7:51 into the second period. Orlando came back to tie the game with 11:21 to go in regulation as Tyler Bird picked up his second goal of the season.
Jerry D’Amigo gave the Solar Bears a 3-2 lead with 4:16 remaining in the third.
The Orlando lead lasted all of 21 seconds, as Jared VanWormer’s third of the season tied the game back up at 3. After a scoreless overtime, Orlando went to their first shootout of the season. Dylan Sadowy, making his Solar Bears debut, was first to shoot and scored on Jacksonville goaltender Eamon McAdam. Sparks stopped Saracino and Wacey Rabbit, while McAdam stopped Alan Lyszczarczyk. It was all up to Icemen defenseman Jeff Taylor to keep the shootout going and...Sparks stopped him, sealing a Solar Bears win.
Sparks finished with 32 saves on 35 shots in the win. Forward Tad Kozun assisted on all 3 Orlando regulation goals.
The Solar Bears kicked off a five-game homestand on Saturday, hosting the Everblades for the first of a two-game weekend set.
We'll take the ice with the same forward and defensive pairings as last night's win; @slackeylackey12 gets the start in net for us tonight!— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) January 16, 2021
via @flohockey: https://t.co/g5aLHtwARH
⚡️: @boltsradio#BEARLIEVE pic.twitter.com/8Wgc1JRr0G
Before the opening puck was even dropped, Florida’s Kyle Neuber—you may remember him as Windsor’s sparring opponent a couple of weeks back—played the role of pest, trying to start something against D’Amigo. And, well...you’ll see in the below photo.
Neuber’s antics aside, the first two minutes of the contest had quite a bit of action. Blake Winiecki scored his seventh just 1:06 after puck drop for a 1-0 Florida lead. 53 seconds later, Lyszczarczyk scored his first as a Solar Bear to tie the game at 1.
The Everblades took back the lead at the 10:56 mark of the second on a John McCarron goal, then added an insurance tally 3:35 later on a power play goal from Logan Roe. Orlando finally broke an extended power play goal drought just under three minutes later, as Sadowy scored his first since joining the roster to cut the Everblades lead to 3-2. Tommy Marchin then added a power play goal with 42 seconds remaining in the second for a 4-2 Florida advantage.
Solar Bears captain Chris LeBlanc added another power play goal at the 6:01 mark of the third to draw back to within a goal. However, the Everblades put the game away late, with a pair of goals from Luke Nogard and McCarron 2:32 apart for the final 6-3 score.
Rookie goaltender Michael Lackey had his work cut out for him in defeat, as he stopped 41 of 46 Everblade shots. Aaron Luchuk added two assists.
Less than 24 hours later, the two teams met again at the Amway Center, with the Solar Bears looking to rebound after defeat.
After a scoreless first, the Everblades got on the board first in the second. Just 14 seconds into their third power play of the day, Michael Huntebrinker connected for his seventh of the season for a 1-0 lead. Orlando tied the game late in the period, as Jake Coughler connected on a power play for his second of the year.
In a period that was already filled with many questionable calls by the referee—the teams combined for 20 penalty minutes for 9 separate infractions—it was only appropriate that it would end on a goal review as time expired. Fresh out of the penalty box, Logan Roe broke away and appeared to have scored on Sparks as the horn sounded, prompting a video review. Sure enough, the goal was ruled a good one, and the Everblades took a 2-1 lead into the final 20 minutes.
It didn’t take long for Orlando to tie the game up, as Sadowy scored a power play goal for the second straight day 1:53 into the third for a 2-2 contest. That tie only lasted for 49 seconds, as Florida regained a one-goal lead on a Jeff Malott tally. Orlando was not done yet, tying the game at 3 with 1:57 to go on regulation on a Lyszczarczyk power play goal.
It was on to overtime, where it took just 30 seconds to end it—McCarron’s 7th of the season gave Florida the win, and a 1-1-1 weekend record for Orlando.
Sparks finished with 31 saves on 35 shots. Sadowy and four Solar Bear skaters each added one assist.
This Week’s Schedule:
The Solar Bears will continue their homestand with a three-game set against Greenville on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday.