After finishing off a successful road swing, the Orlando Solar Bears came home for a pair of games over the Christmas holiday, hoping to continue their run despite having a depleted roster.
Sadly, the numbers game would catch up to them, as more players were added to the protocols list, leaving the team scrambling to fill the roster, and a result Orlando dropped both games.
Read on for the week that was...
Monday: The trend of bringing back alumni continues, as forward Hunter Fejes was signed to a standard contract, marking his fourth season with the Solar Bears. He last appeared in an Orlando uniform during the 2019-20 season, where he had 4 goals and 6 assists in 15 games before heading overseas. He started the 2021-22 season in Austria, where he had 6 goals and 7 assists in 23 games for Znojmo Orli HC.
Tuesday: Orlando announced two more signings prior to puck drop:
-First came the return of defenseman Nolan Valleau to Orlando for his fourth stint with the team. He spent all of last season with the Solar Bears, where he had 4 goals and 15 assists in 45 games.
Along with Valleau, the team also signed forward Owen Robinson to his first pro contract. The Ontario native had appeared in 6 games for the University of Toronto, with 2 goals and 2 assists in 6 games. Prior to university, Robinson spent two seasons in the OHL with Sudbury.
Orlando returned to the Amway Center on Tuesday and was ready to deck the halls with their special holiday jerseys against the Gladiators.
Feels good to finally be back home in front of our fans Zach Émond gets the start for us tonight in goal!— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) December 21, 2021
https://t.co/gs4DpdrRcl via @flohockey
https://t.co/fV1V8amhMz | https://t.co/ov8kK3hE0p
JERSEY AUCTION: https://t.co/7KsXSKtnIj pic.twitter.com/acDFE18ua1
It didn’t take long for the fur to start flying, as Luke Boka scored on a power play 2:10 into the game for a 1-0 lead. Time to toss those Teddy Bears!
Once all 8,728 bears were collected from the ice—a new team record—Atlanta took over the game, scoring the next four unanswered. Mike Pelech scored twice in a span of 5:24 to put the Gladiators ahead 2-1. Elijah Vilio added his third of the season with 4:44 remaining in the opening period for a 3-1 lead.
Atlanta extended their lead to three at the 4:35 mark of the second on a Derek Nesbitt goal. However, Orlando was not about to go away quietly, cutting the lead to 4-2 40 seconds later on Kyle Topping’s 2nd goal of the season.
What a tree-mendous goal! pic.twitter.com/qmIttYt87m— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) December 22, 2021
Aaron Luchuk made it a one-goal contest with 4:37 to go in the second on his 12th goal of the season.
Check out Luchuk's goal pic.twitter.com/s3dFdhLnVS— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) December 22, 2021
Atlanta added insurance late in the third on an empty net goal by Luke Nogard with 36 seconds to go in regulation.
This marked the first loss all season for the Solar Bears when they scored the first goal of the game, breaking an 11-game streak.
Zachary Emond stopped 35 of 39 shots in the loss. Luchuk added two assists.
Wednesday: The goaltending situation continued to be in flux for Orlando, as the team acquired Kai Edmonds from Tulsa for future considerations. He had appeared in 3 games for the Oilers, going 1-2-0 with a 3.06 GAA and .900 save percentage. The team also added Emond and Rich Boyd to the Commissioner’s Exempt List, making it 9 players in protocols.
Sunday: As the season resumed after Christmas break, Orlando picked up another goaltender, signing rookie Thomas Sigouin. He comes to Florida by way of the OUAA’s Concordia University, where in 8 games the Quebec native went 4-4-0 with a 3.12 GAA and .913 save percentage. The team also received some mixed news regarding the exempt list: forwards Tristin Langan and Canon Pieper were removed from the list, only to be replaced by Chad Duchesne and Topping.
Additionally, Joseph Garreffa was recalled by San Jose, who once again is having roster issues due to COVID protocols.
After a few days off for the holiday, Orlando got back to work on Sunday hosting Florida for the first time all season.
Kai Edmonds makes his Solar Bears debut in net, while Canon Pieper and Tristin Langan have been activated from the Commissioner's Exempt List!— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) December 26, 2021
https://t.co/gs4DpdafNL via @flohockey
https://t.co/fV1V8a4GnZ | https://t.co/ov8kK302BP | @boltsradio
The Everblades took over the contest in the first, scoring three times on Edmonds, who was making his Solar Bears debut. Nathan Perkovich put Florida ahead 1-0 1:59 into the contest with his 4th goal of the season. Jake McLaughlin doubled the lead at the 8:11 mark with his second goal. On a late power play, Robert Carpenter put Florida ahead 3-0 with 38 seconds remaining in the period.
After a scoreless second, Florida quickly extended their lead in the third, as a Kyle Neuber goal 33 seconds in made it 4-0. John McCarron made it 5-0 at the 9:34 mark, ending Edmonds’ night and Sigouin was in for his professional debut in relief.
Meanwhile, despite 3 power plays and outshooting Florida 25-23, the Solar Bears were unable to generate any scoring on Everblades goaltender and Predators prospect Tomas Vomacka, who picked up his first professional shutout. Edwards stopped 17 of 22 before leaving, while Sigouin only faced one shot in 10:26 of work.
Monday 12/27: More good news on the protocols front for Orlando, as goaltender Brad Barone was activated from the exempt list. To make room, Edmonds was released.
Three games are on tap for Orlando as the calendar turns to 2022.
The Solar Bears will head to Estero on Wednesday to visit the Everblades, then return home to finish off the 2021 portion of the schedule with a 12 noon start on New Year's Eve against South Carolina. The team will then kick off 2022 with a trip north to Greenville to take on the Swamp Rabbits.