Believe it or not, we have reached the end of the first quarter of the 2020-21 ECHL season. So far, the Orlando Solar Bears have found themselves in the middle of the pack in a temporary Eastern Conference setup.
This week, with a rookie goaltender taking the reins in net, the team took on South Division rival Greenville in a three-game set in South Carolina, continuing their seven-game road trip.
Read on to see how the Solar Bears rebounded from a disastrous start to take 2 out of 3 games...and mark your calendars through the end of June!
-For the second time this season, goaltender Garret Sparks is headed to the AHL, after the Solar Bears loaned him to Stockton on Wednesday. To replace him on the roster, Orlando acquired Taran Kozun from Rapid City for the ever popular future considerations.
The younger brother of Orlando forward Tad Kozun, Taran is in his second professional season after playing three years for the University of Saskatchewan. He has picked up a few frequent flier miles in 2020-21, making one appearance each for Rapid City, Kansas City, and Indy, going a combined 1-0-1. He also made an appearance with Pensacola in the SPHL, picking up an overtime loss. Prior to enrolling in university, he appeared in 9 games for Utah in the 2015-16 season, with a 4-3-0 mark in those appearances.
- Orlando picked up forward Luc Brown off waivers from Greenville. Brown is in his first pro season after spending 2019-20 with Alaska-Anchorage as a transfer from Union College. He had 2 goals and 1 assist in 7 games with the Swamp Rabbits before his release.
Also on Wednesday, the ECHL announced the remaining 2020-21 schedule, from early April through the end of the regular season on June 5th. Orlando’s remaining dates are below:
7 & 8 vs. Greenville (rescheduled from 1/20 & 1/22)
10 & 11 at Greenville
14 at South Carolina
15 at Jacksonville
16 at South Carolina
18 vs. Greenville (rescheduled from 1/23)
23, 24, & 25 at Indy
28 at Jacksonville
30 vs. South Carolina
1 & 2 vs. South Carolina
7 & 8 vs. Greenville
14 & 15 vs. Florida
18 at Jacksonville
19 at South Carolina
21 & 22 vs. South Carolina
23, 27, 28 & 29 vs. Florida
1 at Jacksonville
3 vs. South Carolina
4 at Jacksonville
5 vs. Florida
Other than more matchups against their Sunshine State rivals, the Solar Bears will finally venture out of the South with a visit to Indiana in late April. As noted, the league also rescheduled the three postponed games with Greenville from late January.
The road trip headed north to South Carolina on Thursday, as the Solar Bears and Swamp Rabbits kicked off a three-game set.
Almost time to drop the puck — get tonight's line combos and D-pairings here!— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) February 11, 2021
via @flohockey: https://t.co/g5aLHtwARH
: https://t.co/fV1V8amhMz / https://t.co/ov8kK3hE0p#BEARLIEVE | #ORLatGVL pic.twitter.com/QDOqxGolNA
This game was all Greenville from the beginning.
Matt Bradley kicked off the scoring 2:34 into the contest with his fifth goal of the season for a 1-0 Swamp Rabbits lead. Shawn Cameron doubled the lead at the 9:44 mark with his first. Devante Stephens got the Solar Bears on the board with 3:54 remaining in the period with his second goal of the year.
The Swamp Rabbits continued the offense in the second against Solar Bears goaltender Michael Lackey. Karch Bachman’s 4th of the season at the 1:47 mark restored Greenville’s two-goal lead. Patrick Bajkov then added his third goal with 2:26 to go in the second for a 4-1 Swamp Rabbit lead.
Mark Auk cut the Greenville lead to two with his second of the season at the 6:37 mark of the third. However, the flood gates would open before Orlando was done celebrating that goal. Nineteen seconds after Auk’s score, Bradley scored his second of the night for a 5-2 lead, and Kozun was then summoned from the bullpen to make his Orlando debut. The change in net did little to slow down Greenville’s offensive onslaught. Max Zimmer and Joey Haddad (just four seconds into a power play) scored 1:59 apart to extend the Swamp Rabbit lead to 7-2. Finally, for good measure, Bradley completed the hat trick with 1:41 remaining for the final 8-2 margin.
The six-goal loss matched Orlando’s worst defeat on the season. Lackey stopped 24 of 29 shots before receiving the hook, while Kozun had 3 saves on 6 shots. Auk also had the lone assist.
After 48 hours to reflect on what they did (or didn’t do), the Solar Bears looked to redeem themselves with a different lineup in game two on Saturday.
Rolling with 10 forwards and seven defensemen tonight as @allann_11, @matt_spencer27 and @Luke_McInnis_98 return to the lineup!— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) February 13, 2021
via @flohockey: https://t.co/g5aLHtwARH
: https://t.co/fV1V8amhMz / https://t.co/ov8kK3hE0p#BEARLIEVE | #ORLatGVL pic.twitter.com/NVcxB9D6pO
As the saying goes, how the turns have tabled.
Orlando picked up the only goal they would need in the first 20 minutes of the contest. Nolan Valleau scored his first goal since returning to the Solar Bears with 3:38 remaining in the opening frame for a 1-0 advantage.
Johno May doubled the Orlando lead at the 5:46 mark of the second with his second goal of the season. Jake Coughler made it 3-0 Solar Bears at the 10:09 mark with a rare power play goal, his fifth of the year. That goal knocked out Greenville starting goaltender Ryan Bednard, who dominated on Thursday, in favor of John Lethemon. Just like Orlando’s goalie change on Thursday, it did little to slow down the offense, as Alexander Kuqali added his second goal of the year with 4:04 remaining in the second for a 4-0 lead.
Frustrations on the Greenville side began to mount, as two separate fights broke out 38 seconds apart late in the period.
Orlando continued the offense in the third. Stephens picked up his second goal in as many games with 8:37 remaining for a 5-0 lead.
After not even making it to the end of Thursday’s game, Lackey rebounded quite nicely, stopping all 19 shots en route to his first professional shutout. Tristin Langan lead all Solar Bear skaters with three assists, while J.J. Piccinich added two helpers.
Less than 24 hours later, the Solar Bears and Swamp Rabbits closed out the three-game series in a Valentines Day matinee.
Lohan and Spencer out; Prapavessis in for the Solar Bears this afternoon!— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) February 14, 2021
Let's get to work!
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⚡️: @boltsradio#BEARLIEVE | #ORLatGVL pic.twitter.com/56b2ssaQoU
Similar to Saturday, the Solar Bears were first on the board in the opening frame. Tyler Bird picked up his 4th goal of the season at the 12:03 mark for a 1-0 lead.
Nikita Pavlychev doubled the Orlando lead to 2-0 1:36 into the middle frame with his second goal of the season.
The Solar Bears thought they had a 3-0 lead at the 12:45 mark while on their second power play, but the potential Luchuk goal was disallowed. Less than 3 minutes later, Jake Coughler scored a goal that did count, his 6th of the season, for a three-goal lead.
Greenville broke up a second shutout attempt for Lackey midway through the third, cutting the lead to 3-1 on a Bajkov goal. However, Orlando would seal the win with 1:22 remaining, as Luchuk scored into an empty net.
Despite having a personal shutout streak of 109:40 broken up, Lackey was again outstanding in net, stopping 38 of 39 shots. Six different Orlando skaters each had an assist.
We Valentine's Day wins — celebrate with the ones you love by watching highlights! pic.twitter.com/Dp5BGBeLRn— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) February 15, 2021
With Syracuse losing two forwards to Tampa Bay’s taxi squad—and with a recent injury to Daniel Walcott—Pavlychev was recalled by the Crunch on Monday. Additionally, with the return of goaltender Spencer Martin from the taxi squad, Clint Windsor was sent back to the Solar Bears after backing up Samuel Montembeault for Syracuse’s first three games of the season.
This Week’s Schedule:
The road trip heads back south to Estero, where Orlando and Florida will meet for a pair of games on Wednesday and Friday. The Solar Bears and Everblades will then meet at the Amway Center on Saturday.