It’s been quite the first month of the season for the Orlando Solar Bears.
With a bit of roster turnover thanks to injuries and COVID protocols on their respective AHL partners, Orlando has still found a way to keep pace in the ECHL’s South Division.
After a bit of an easy start to the season, the team had a very busy week this week, with 5 games in a 6-day stretch. Orlando managed to win 3 of 5, but there were quite a few anomalies in the results, such as two games without a single power play, and even one period where no shots were registered.
Get yourself another cup of coffee or beverage of choice, find a comfortable seat, and read on for the marathon that was this week!
Tuesday: To replace Alex Dubeau on the roster, the Solar Bears acquired goaltender Stefanos Lekkas from Fort Wayne for future considerations. Lekkas, an Illinois native, had appeared in one game for the Komets this season, a 4-2 win over Cincinnati on November 5th. He split last season between Fort Wayne and Rochester, going 7-2-2 in 11 appearances for the Komets with a 2.15 GAA, and went 1-5-1 in 7 games for the Amerks.
Additionally, the team added to a depleted forward corps, signing J.M. Piotrowski to a standard contract. This will be the Texas native’s second go-round with the Solar Bears, having appeared in 3 games in the 2019-20 season with no points. This season, he has appeared in 5 games for Peoria in the SPHL, putting up two assists.
A hectic week began on home ice on Tuesday, as the Solar Bears hosted the Icemen.
Good to be back home – the puck drops in just a few moments for meeting No. 2 of the season against the Icemen!— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) November 9, 2021
https://t.co/gs4DpdafNL via @flohockey
Orlando got off to a good start in the opening 20 minutes, picking up a pair of goals against Jacksonville goaltender Charles Williams. Nick Bligh scored his second of the season at the 8:02 mark to put the Bears on the board.
Making his 2021-22 Solar Bears season debut, Tyler Bird wasted no time in making an impact, scoring his first goal of the season 1:31 later to double the Orlando lead.
The Icemen cut the lead to 2-1 with 2:36 remaining in the first on a goal by Christopher Brown.
Orlando took a 3-1 lead late in the second period on Fabrizio Ricci’s first goal of the season.
That goal was a breeze for Fabrizio Ricci pic.twitter.com/w92Fo8AjYp— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) November 10, 2021
Jacksonville would get to within 3-2 after a Ryan Roth goal just 10 seconds after Ricci’s score, but they were unable to get any closer. With the win, Orlando improved to 3-0 at the Amway Center this season.
Brad Barone picked up his first Solar Bears win, stopping 26 of 28 shots. Six different skaters added assists. Only three penalties were called the entire game—all Orlando infractions.
Wednesday: Syracuse reassigned forward Alexey Lipanov, who had only made one appearance for the Crunch this season, to the Solar Bears. A former third-round draft choice by the Lightning in 2017, the Russia native will be starting his third stint with the Solar Bears. He last appeared in Orlando during the 2019-20 season, playing in 37 games with 9 goals and 7 assists, while going scoreless in four games for the Crunch. He spent last season back home in the VHL with Dynamo Krasnogorsk, picking up 15 points (7 goals, 8 assists) in 33 games.
Orlando hit the road 24 hours later, heading south to Estero for their first matchup with the Everblades.
After a scoreless first, Orlando took the lead midway through the second. Ian Parker scored his second goal of the season at the 11:51 mark to put the visitors on the board.
Ian Parker parks himself in front of the 'Blades net and gives us the 1-0 lead! pic.twitter.com/On8pgjb9fb— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) November 11, 2021
The Everblades made a comeback in the first half of the third period against Barone, making his second straight start. On Florida’s third power play, Robert Carpenter scored his third at the 5:23 mark to tie the game at 1. Levko Koper put Florida ahead 2-1 with 8:20 remaining in regulation with his third. However, Orlando had a comeback of their own up their sleeves. With 2:16 remaining in the contest, Bird connected on a power play for his second goal in as many days to tie the game at 2. With the clock winding down, Aaron Luchuk came through in the clutch, scoring the game-winner with 15.6 seconds to go for the Solar Bears’ first road win of the season.
The win also marked a personal milestone for Orlando head coach Drake Berehowsky.
Barone had a night between the pipes, stopping a career-high 42 shots, including 20 saves in the third period alone.
Luke McInnis added two assists, while Bird and two others had one helper each.
Thursday: With players coming down from Syracuse, Piotrowski was released from his contract after just one appearance, and will return to the SPHL.
Friday: The defense received a much needed boost, with two returnees from the AHL:
-San Jose reassigned rookie Montana Onyebuchi to Orlando. He did not make an appearance for the Barracuda after returning to California on November 1st.
-The Captain is back! Syracuse released Kevin Lohan from his PTO agreement. He made just one appearance for the Crunch during his stay up north.
The road trip headed north on Friday, as the Solar Bears paid a visit to the Icemen. It was another Bones Day in the net as Barone got the nod for the third straight game.
After a scoreless first period, Jacksonville completely dominated in the second. Christopher Brown put the Icemen on the board 3:01 into the period with a shorthanded goal, his third of the season. Sean Giles doubled the lead at the 9:03 mark with his first tally of the year. Meanwhile, Orlando managed to get...nothing against Icemen goaltender Williams, putting up a goose egg for shots for the period. It was the first time in team history Orlando was shut out of shots in a period.
The Solar Bears did finally find their shot in the third, outshooting Jacksonville 10-6. Luchuk picked up a power play goal with 8 minutes remaining in regulation to cut the lead in half. However, Brown added the exclamation point at the end, scoring into the empty net with 36 seconds to go to seal it.
Barone stopped 26 of 28 shots in the loss.
Lekkas made his debut in the net as the Solar Bears and Stingrays met for the first time this season.
Goaltender @S_Lekkas gets his first start with the Solar Bears tonight in North Charleston!— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) November 13, 2021
https://t.co/gs4DpdrRcl via @flohockey
South Carolina got off to a hot start in the opening 20 minutes, putting up 3 goals against Lekkas. On the Stingrays’ first power play, Justin Florek connected for his third of the season for a 1-0 lead at the 4:31 mark. Just over a minute later, Jordan Subban doubled the lead with his third. Florek added his second of the game with 1:55 remaining for a 3-0 advantage.
Orlando rallied in the middle frame with a pair of goals, all off the stick of Bird. He scored twice in a span of 3:32 to cut the Stingrays’ lead to 3-2. Unfortunately, that was all the offense the team could muster, and Connor Moore added an empty netter with 1:03 to go to seal Orlando’s second straight loss.
After a shaky first, Lekkas settled down and finished with 27 saves on 30 shots. Luchuk extended his point streak to 9 with an assist. Orlando did not get a power play chance for the second time this week, with the Stingrays’ only penalty in the second a matching minor.
To finish out a very busy week, Barone was back in the net, as Orlando looked to rebound from Saturday’s efforts.
It's a day...Brad Barone gets the start in net for the Solar Bears to close out the weekend — we're LIVE – tune in!— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) November 14, 2021
https://t.co/gs4DpdrRcl via @flohockey
https://t.co/fV1V8amhMz | https://t.co/ov8kK3hE0p | @BoltsRadio
Unlike the night before, it was a back and forth first period. On South Carolina’s first power play, Alex Brink scored his first of the season at the 5:11 mark for a 1-0 lead. Luchuk responded 1;19 later with his 8th goal of the season, extending his point streak to 10 games and tying the game at 1.
Orlando took its first lead of the day at the 11:03 mark as Steenn Pasichnuk scored his second goal of the season.
Impressive hand-eye coordination from Steenn Pasichnuk for his second of the season! pic.twitter.com/dj7oZrkkWg— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) November 14, 2021
South Carolina tied the game at 2 with 5:08 to go in the first on a goal by Carter Cowlthorp.
The Solar Bears took a 3-2 lead midway through the second on Canon Pieper’s second goal of the season.
Solar Bears re-take the lead, as Canon Pieper banks his second of the season! pic.twitter.com/SWKSd9kMGK— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) November 14, 2021
Orlando put the game away with a 3 goal third period. Bird scored his third goal in two games just 12 seconds into the period for a 4-2 lead. Pieper added his second of the afternoon at the 4:07 mark for a three-goal advantage. South Carolina cut the lead to 5-3 with 5:09 remaining on a Victor Hadfield goal, but Michael Brodzinski put the nail in the coffin with an empty netter with 38 seconds remaining for Orlando’s third win of the week.
Barone stopped 33 of 36 shots for the win. Brodzinski and Ricci added two assists.
A much lighter schedule for Orlando this week, with just two games: they will finish the road trip in Estero on Wednesday, then return home on Saturday to host Maine.