After a ten-day break for the holidays, the Orlando Solar Bears got back to work with a four-game slate against their fellow Sunshine State rivals.
This week was a roller coaster as the calendar turned from 2020 to 2021. After finishing 2020 on a winning streak, the team started 2021 looking for offense and defense, after several top scorers were summoned to the parent club for training camp.
Post Holiday Moves:
-On Sunday, the Solar Bears signed forward Scott Conway to a standard contract. He split the 2019-20 season, his first as a professional, between Atlanta and Providence. In 39 games for the Gladiators he scored 17 goals and added 16 assists, and an additional 5 points (3 goals, 2 assists) in 13 games for the Bruins. Prior to going pro, he played three seasons at Providence College, and also spent one season with Penn State. Fun fact: Conway was born in Basingstoke, England, and had 3 points in 3 games for Great Britain in the 2022 Olympic qualifiers in February.
-After winning his first ECHL start in nearly five years prior to the holiday break, goaltender Garret Sparks was loaned to Calgary to take part in Flames training camp on a PTO.
For the first time since March 11th—on what would become the last day of the 2019-2020 season—the Solar Bears were back on home ice, playing host to the Icemen. Conway made his debut and Clint Windsor got the nod between the pipes.
Jacksonville took a 1-0 lead midway through the first on a power play goal by forward Jared VanWormer. J.J. Piccinich responded at the 12:01 mark with his first goal of the season to tie it up at 1.
Tyler Bird gave Orlando a 2-1 lead with 7:25 remaining in the second with his first of the season.
That pass from Patrick McNally, and that finish from Bird pic.twitter.com/a2hFtbdG2i— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) December 30, 2020
The Icemen tied the game up at 2 6:53 into the third on Ara Nazarian’s third goal of the season. For the second straight game, the Solar Bears went into overtime—and again Orlando got the win. Tristin Langan’s first of the year with 1:11 remaining in the extra frame gave the Solar Bears their third straight victory.
SOLAR BEARS WIN!!! Tristin Langan caps it in OT with a 3-2 victory! pic.twitter.com/mw8STZ0d5Y— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) December 30, 2020
Windsor stopped 33 of 35 Jacksonville shots for his second win of the season. Patrick McNally added two assists. Orlando extended their home winning streak against Jacksonville to 18 games, dating back to the 2017-18 season when the Icemen joined the ECHL.
Twenty-four hours later, the Solar Bears were back at the Amway Center, closing out the brief 2020 portion of their schedule with the first of four straight against the Everblades. With Sparks off to the NHL, rookie Michael Lackey was activated and made his professional debut in net.
Are you ready for night two of back-to-back home games!? Here is your opening lineup against the Florida Everblades!— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) December 30, 2020
⚡️: @BoltsRadio#BEARLIEVE pic.twitter.com/V4LmiJY5yx
It took just 43 seconds for Orlando to fall behind, as a Blake Winiecki goal put the visitors up 1-0. Myles Powell doubled the Florida lead at the 12:50 mark with his second of the season.
Orlando then put up four unanswered goals against Everblades goalie Cam Johnson, the reigning ECHL Goaltender of the Week. Ryan Lohin cut the Florida lead to 2-1 with 3:33 remaining in the first with his 3rd of the season.
Langan scored his second goal in as many games 1:49 into the second period to tie the game at 2. Jimmy Huntington added his 2nd goal at the 7:40 mark for a 3-2 Orlando advantage. Just under 5 minutes later, Aaron Luchuk’s first goal of the year gave the Solar Bears a 2-goal lead.
Aaron Luchuk with a LASER for his first of the season! pic.twitter.com/Jdj01TAYga— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) December 31, 2020
Levko Koper cut the Orlando lead to 4-3 with 1:39 to go in the second, but the Solar Bears quickly regained their two-goal edge 21 seconds into the third on a shorthanded goal by Chris Leblanc. Nikita Pavlychev joined the scoring party with his first pro goal on a power play just over 4 minutes later for a 6-3 lead. Michael Huntebrinker brought the Everblades back to within two with his third goal at the 7:43 mark, but Lohin scored his second into an empty net late to seal Orlando’s fourth straight win.
After a rough first minute, Lackey recovered to pick up his first professional win, stopping 32 of 36 shots. Peter Abbandonato added two assists.
The 4-1 start marked the best start in Orlando ECHL history.
More highlights can be found here, including Dmitry Semykin’s first pro fight:
Off to Training Camp...and Fun with Roster Maneuvering
On New Year’s Eve, five Solar Bears—Lohin, Huntington, Semykin, Alex Green, and Devante Stephens—were summoned west on I-4 to join the Lightning in training camp, which got underway on Sunday. This group represents three of Orlando’s top 5 scorers, including Lohin, who currently leads all skaters with 4 goals and 6 points. With Syracuse opting in for a 2021 AHL season, these recalls may not be temporary.
Additionally, the three current Solar Bears on AHL contracts—Windsor, Abbandonato, and Pavlychev—were added to the ECHL’s NHL/AHL Active List. What does that mean? All three remain on the active roster and can still play. This essentially is a paper transaction that opens up additional roster spots for those on an entry level or AHL deal that do not count against a team’s cap.
On Saturday, another forward was added to the roster, as Orlando signed Alan Lyszczarczyk to a standard contract. He comes to the Solar Bears after a successful rookie season with Fort Wayne, where he posted 19 goals and 27 assists in 57 games, tied for fifth among first-year skaters. He started this season in Poland, putting up 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) in 23 games for Podhale Nowy Targ.
With a reduced roster, the Solar Bears headed south to start off 2021 in Estero to start a home-and-home weekend set against the Everblades.
Tonight’s lines: Defenseman Paul Meyer makes his pro debut tonight, while defenseman Rich Boyd makes his season debut and forward Scott Conway will wear No. 32— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) January 2, 2021
⚡️: @BoltsRadio #BEARLIEVE pic.twitter.com/DwQwospCg2
Unlike Wednesday, this one was all Florida from the start. Koper picked up his second goal of the season 14:18 into the contest for a 1-0 lead. On their third power play of the game, Huntebrinker doubled the Everblades lead at the 8:35 mark with his fourth. Powell made it a 3-0 lead with 3:34 to go in the second.
Windsor entered the game in the third in relief to try to spark the Solar Bears, and stopped all 14 shots he faced. However, the Solar Bears’ offense was unable to get anything past Johnson, who recovered from giving up 6 goals on Wednesday night in Orlando to picking up his second shutout in 5 starts, stopping all 31 shots. Lackey had 18 saves on 21 shots over the first 40 minutes before being pulled.
The loss ended Orlando’s four-game winning streak.
A busy week for the Solar Bears came to an end on Sunday afternoon, as they returned to the Amway Center to host the Everblades for the second time in 5 days.
Solar Bears captain Chris LeBlanc returns to the lineup today, and forward Jake Coughler gets set to make his season debut!— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) January 3, 2021
⚡️: @BoltsRadio pic.twitter.com/A9K8rxUXkf
The best way to describe the first period for Orlando? Ugly.
It all started to unravel midway through the opening period. Cody Sol put the Everblades on the board at the 9:30 mark with his first goal of the season. Then the fun really began at the 11:55 mark, as Jake Coughler was assessed a double minor for high sticking Florida goaltender Devin Cooley, who was forced to leave the game as a result, putting Johnson back in the net. Fifty-one seconds into the extended penalty kill, the Solar Bears were called for too many men, creating a 5 on 3 for Florida...and they took advantage. Twenty-two seconds into the 5 on 3 Huntebrinker connected for a 2-0 Everblades lead. Just over a minute later, Powell also connected to put Florida up 3-0. Winiecki joined the party with a goal 39 seconds later for a 4-0 lead.
So if you’re keeping score at home, that’s 3 power play goals for the Everblades in a span of 1:45. But to make up for it here’s Windsor making a nice play early on.
No goals were scored in the second, but things got chippy late after a hit by Ben Thomson caused a disagreement between Sol and Matthew Spencer, spelling the end of the afternoon for both Thomson and Sol. Thomson would end up with a one-game suspension as a result of the hit, and will miss Friday’s contest.
That incident was the undercard for what was to come in the third. Winiecki scored his second of the day at the 6:48 mark for a 5-0 Everblades lead. Forty seconds later, an incident broke out by the player benches after Winiecki retaliated against Orlando forward Tad Kozun after a hit along the boards. Just as that was broken up, Neuber went after Windsor and the Solar Bears goaltender was glad to oblige. Both combatants were shown their respective exits for continuing the altercation, forcing Orlando to put Lackey in. Thirty-nine seconds later, McCarron picked up a shorthanded goal for a 6-0 Florida lead.
Finally, Orlando’s offense showed signs of life later in the period, as Coughler scored his first of the season to cut the lead to 6-1, the Solar Bears’ first goal in a span of 112:05. Tommy Marchin then kicked the extra point...I mean, put Florida up 7-1 with 1:22 remaining to seal Orlando’s second straight loss after a promising 4-1 start.
Before exiting stage right, Windsor had 18 saves on 23 shots, while Lackey stopped 5 of 7. Both teams combined for 92 penalty minutes, with Florida going 3 for 6 on the power play.
(Author’s note: just skip ahead to the 1:16 mark of the video.)
This Week’s Schedule:
After a busy holiday week, the Solar Bears have just two games for the first full week of 2021. On Friday, the team returns home for the last of four straight against Florida. Saturday, they head north to Jacksonville to take on the Icemen.