After winning 8 of their first 9 games on home ice, the Orlando Solar Bears hoped to bring that success on the road, as they began a six-game pre-Christmas road trip that will take them through five different states.
The first half of the trip started within the South Division, where for a brief moment the team had held on to first place. After this week—an 0-3 stretch where the team was outscored 15-4—it’s back to the middle of the pack.
Tuesday: With Maxime Legace returning to the lineup and rookie Amir Miftakhnov emerging as a solid AHL goaltender, the other rookie goaltender on the depth chart became the odd one out, as Hugo Alnefelt was reassigned to Orlando on Tuesday. He started the season as the #2 goaltender behind Lagace with the Crunch and posted a 2-3-1 mark with a 3.56 GAA and .864 save percentage before an injury sidelined him in early November, making way for Miftakhnov to take over in the crease. To make room on the roster, Zach Emond was recalled by San Jose.
Orlando’s first stop on their six-game road trip was in Greenville, as they took on the Swamp Rabbits for the first time this season.
#GoBolts prospect Hugo Alnefelt is between the pipes for us tonight in Greenville as he makes his ECHL debut.— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) December 8, 2021
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Greenville was first on the board with 45 seconds remaining in the first, taking a 1-0 lead off a Max Zimmer goal.
After a scoreless second, the teams combined for five goals in the final 20 minutes. Old friend Nikita Pavlychev gave the Swamp Rabbits a 2-0 lead 4:59 into the final frame. Ian Parker responded 24 seconds later with his sixth goal of the season to cut the lead in half. Zimmer then added his second of the evening at the 7:13 mark to put the Swamp Rabbits up 3-1. Steenn Pasichnuk again brought the Solar Bears back to within a goal with 10:34 remaining, scoring on a power play for his 4th of the season. The Swamp Rabbits finished off the Bears with a late goal by Liam Pecoraro into an empty net with 1:25 to go.
Alnefelt stopped 17 of 20 shots in his first ECHL start. Tristin Langan and Luke Boka had the lone assists.
Friday: After a brief visit with the Barracuda, Emond was returned to the Solar Bears, creating another three-headed monster in net.
The road trip headed to Georgia on Friday, as the Solar Bears paid a visit to the Gladiators. Alnefelt got the nod in net for the second straight game.
Same line combos and D-pairs as Wednesday, but we'll switch up the starters as we look to get back in the win column.— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) December 11, 2021
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This game was all Gladiators from the start.
Atlanta took a 1-0 lead 13:46 into the first on a goal by Michael Turner. Luke Nogard then doubled the hosts’ advantage at the 4:14 mark of the middle frame with his second of the season on the Gladiators’ second power play of the night.
At the 6:27 mark, Alnefelt exited the contest in favor of Brad Barone after he appeared to be laboring upon making a sprawling save a few minutes earlier.
Tyler Kobryn and Kameron Kielly added goals in a span of 2:19 late in the second for a 4-0 Atlanta lead.
Despite 39 shots on goal, Orlando was unable to generate any scoring against Atlanta goaltender Tyler Parks, who picked up his second shutout of the season. Alnefeft stopped 22 of 24 before leaving the game. Barone had 21 saves on 23 shots in relief.
Saturday: Orlando got a much needed boost to the lineup as leading scorer Aaron Luchuk was released from his PTO by Syracuse. He joined the Crunch on November 29th but did not dress after the team had several games wiped out due to opponents’ COVID issues.
Next stop, Jacksonville, as the Solar Bears hoped to salvage the week with a win over the Icemen. With Alnefelt’s status uncertain, Barone got the start with Emond backing up. The top line of Luchuk, Langan, and Luke Boka was also reunited.
It was Marvel Night in northern Florida, as the Icemen sported Iron Man jerseys. Being the opponent, Orlando wore Loki sweaters. Now, if you saw the first Avengers movie, you pretty much have an idea on how things will go.
However, it was more like this:
The Icemen dominated from the start, taking a 2-0 lead in the first off goals 50 seconds apart from Vladislav Mikhalchuk and Ara Nazarian.
Kyle Topping cut the Icemen lead in half 1:52 into the second with his first goal of the season. Jacksonville then increased their lead to 4-1 with a pair of goals 1:17 apart from Mikhalchuk and Ben Hawerchuk, causing Orlando to switch goaltenders for the second straight game, with Emond coming in relief of Barone. That didn’t stop the Icemen’s offense, as they went ahead 5-1 with 1:21 remaining in the second on a Joey Sides goal.
Mikhalchuk finished off the hat trick just 53 seconds into the third to extend the Icemen lead to 6-1. Langan cut the lead to four at the 6:26 mark with a shorthanded tally, his second of the season. Jacksonville finally finished off the offensive onslaught with 6:55 remaining in the contest, going up 7-2 on a Luke Lynch goal.
Barone stopped just 8 of 12 shots before exiting, while Emond stopped 13 of 16 in relief. Joseph Garreffa and Dmitry Semykin had the lone assists.
The second leg of the road trip begins on Friday, as Orlando heads to the Southwest, visiting Allen for a pair of games, then heading north to Oklahoma to visit Tulsa on Sunday afternoon.