When the Orlando Solar Bears last took the ice for a game that counted, they saw their 2020-21 season come to an end earlier than planned, dropping their final three contests culminating in a 4-3 loss at home on June 5.
Now, 140 days later, it’s time to turn the page and start anew.
Orlando kicked off the 2021-22 season on Saturday, and started their 10th season as an ECHL franchise with a win, despite having four regulars on recall to the AHL.
But First, Who’s In the Lineup?
Before the Solar Bears could take the ice, they first had to establish their Season Opening roster, announced on Thursday morning:
D—Braydon Barker, Michael Brodzinski, Chad Duchesne, Kevin Lohan, Luke McInnis, Cole Moberg
F—Tyler Bird, Nick Bligh, Luke Boka, Dylan Fitze, Joseph Garreffa, Krystof Hrabik, Jackson Keane, Tristin Langan, Aaron Luchuk, Jake McGrew, Ian Parker, Steenn Pasichnuk, Fabrizio Ricci, Kyle Topping
Orlando also announced the leadership team: Lohan will take over as team captain, while Luchuk, Langan, and Brodzinski will rotate as alternates.
Later in the day, the Solar Bears finally found a second goaltender, signing Brad Barone to a standard ECHL contract. The 30-year-old Massachusetts native has been a journeyman goaltender since leaving Boston College after the 2014-15 season, bouncing between multiple ECHL stops (Florida, Newfoundland, Norfolk, Atlanta, Greenville, Utah, Rapid City) and the SPHL. He spent part of last season in Rapid City, going 4-3-0 with a 3.53 GAA in 10 appearances for the Rush.
Just as things looked good for Saturday, Syracuse threw a curve ball on Friday morning:
The @TBLightning have assigned defenseman Cal Foote to the #SyrCrunch for conditioning.— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) October 22, 2021
We have also signed forwards Tyler Bird and Tristin Langan and defenseman Jesse Lees to PTOs and forward Jaydon Dureau to an ATO.https://t.co/imNGf65Uo5
Bird will be joining the Crunch for his second AHL stint, having appeared in 5 games in the 2019-20 season, picking up two assists. Langan has 9 games of AHL experience, all with San Jose in 2019-20, with one assist. They didn’t waste time making an impact, as both had assists on Jaydon Dureau’s first pro goal in Syracuse’s 5-3 loss in Rochester on Friday night.
Yes, Opening Night. There’s so much excitement and anticipation in the air. You know, like the first day of school?
Saturday also marked two other events: their opponent, Atlanta, was playing in their first official game since March 7, 2020. The Gladiators were the first ECHL team to opt-out of the 2020-21 season, one of the only South teams to do so.
It also marked the beginning of the 10th ECHL season for the Solar Bears, who returned to professional hockey in the 2012-13 season after an 11-year hiatus following their successful run as an IHL franchise in the mid to late 1990s. A six-year run as the former Atlanta Thrashers affiliate culminated in winning the final Turner Cup in 2001 before the league folded.
On to the action!
It took just 2:58 for the newly minted captain Lohan to get things started, as he put the Solar Bears up 1-0 with the first goal of the season.
Who else but the captain?!— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) October 23, 2021
Kevin Lohan gets us on the board and we're off and running! pic.twitter.com/bG3SKm0g8L
The Gladiators tied the game at 1 at the 13:51 mark of the first, as veteran Derek Nesbitt scored his first.
Orlando took the lead for good 4:44 into the middle frame, as defending ECHL scoring champion Luchuk picked up right where he left off, scoring on a 5 on 3 opportunity for a 2-1 lead.
SCORE! It's Aaron Luchuk with the 5-on-3 Janney Roofing power-play goal! pic.twitter.com/EC4zzTYylf— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) October 24, 2021
Hrabik added an insurance goal with 3:33 remaining in regulation, also on a power play, to seal the first victory of 2021-22 for the Solar Bears.
GOAL! Krystof Hrabik makes it 3-1! pic.twitter.com/LGXLkXBFiz— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) October 24, 2021
In his professional debut, Emond was outstanding, stopping 27 of 28 Gladiators shots for his first win, including this one:
Zach Émond keeping us ahead with stops like this! ♂️ pic.twitter.com/WYN7X7EpJZ— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) October 24, 2021
McGrew had assists on all three Orlando goals, while Luchuk and two others had one assist each.
Orlando will head north to Atlanta on Friday, then return home for a Halloween matchup against in-state rival Jacksonville.