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Solar Bears Weekly Check-In: Stuck in the Swamp

A new first line emerges, but it’s not enough to prevent an Everblade three-game sweep.

Fernando Medina

There’s an old saying: Familiarity breeds contempt.

What about when you play an opponent 13 times in your first 23 games, which in normal times would be a full season series?

That’s life in Orlando during a pandemic hockey season.

This week, the Orlando Solar Bears once again faced a familiar opponent in intrastate rival Florida, who boasted the second best record among the 14 active ECHL teams going into a three-game series this week. Although the Solar Bears ended up on the short end of the series, dropping all three games, a new top line may have emerged.

Read on for how this new line produced all of the team’s offense this week and for some league updates for next season...

Roster Moves:

-With goaltender Clint Windsor returning from Syracuse, Orlando released goaltender Taran Kozun, who made a relief appearance against Greenville last Thursday.

-Also on Thursday, the team picked up forward Fabrizio Ricci. Ricci is entering his third pro season and second in North America. He spent 2019-20 with Wichita, with 12 goals and 21 assists in 58 games.

League Updates:

On Thursday, the ECHL announced the following after the Board of Governors’ midseason meeting:

-A player that had originally signed with one of the 12 teams that opted out this season, then signed with another team, will have their playing rights transferred back to their original team’s Protected List. If a player was given a qualifying offer by a team that didn’t play, and did not accept that offer, they will be considered as a free agent. For example, Orlando forward Zack Andrusiak had originally signed with Idaho in September. When the Steelheads opted out of the 2020-21 season, Andrusiak was declared a free agent, and was then able to sign with the Solar Bears. When this season ends, his ECHL rights will go back to Idaho.

-The league’s 2021-22 season will begin on Friday, October 22nd, and end on Sunday, April 17th.

-All AHL/NHL contracted players must appear in at least 5 games by May 16th in order to qualify for their teams’ Kelly Cup Playoff roster. Thanks to a late start for the AHL season, those Tampa Bay/Syracuse prospects that have since left for the Crunch, including Jimmy Huntington, Peter Abbandonato, Alex Green, and Nikita Pavlychev, would be eligible.

-Sadly, the ECHL has lost a member of the North Division, as the Brampton Beast announced that they would be ceasing operations, effective immediately.

The Beast were currently affiliated with the Ottawa and Belleville Senators, but once upon a time they were affiliated with Tampa Bay and Syracuse during the 2013-14 season, while a first-year member of the CHL. They, along with six other CHL squads, joined the ECHL to begin the 2014-15 campaign.

-Orlando will gain the services of forward Jerry D’Amigo for next week, after the Colorado Eagles released him from his PTO on Sunday. He appeared in three games in his return to the AHL, going scoreless.

Game #21, Wednesday 2/17: Florida 3, Orlando 2

A three-game set between the Solar Bears and Everblades kicked off in Estero on Wednesday.

The teams exchanged goals in the opening period. Tristin Langan scored his 4th of the season at the 6:41 mark for a 1-0 Orlando lead. Stefan LeBlanc tied the game at 1 with 3:04 remaining in the period.

The Everblades took over the contest in the second, despite Orlando outshooting their hosts 12-11. Luke Nogard’s third of the season at the 6:21 mark put Florida ahead 2-1, then a Michael Huntebrinker goal with 6:36 remaining in the second extended the Everblade lead to 2. Aaron Luchuk cut the lead back to 1 just under two minutes later with his fifth goal of the season.

The Solar Bears again outshot the Everblades in the third by a 9-8 margin, but were unable to produce the equalizer.

Windsor, making his first Solar Bear appearance since January 9th in Jacksonville, stopped 30 of 33 shots in the loss, and even picked up a first period assist. Langan and Luchuk each had two-point games, and were the only Orlando skaters to get on the scoresheet.

Game #22, 2/19: Florida 3, Orlando 2 (OT)

48 hours later, the teams met again as the Solar Bears finished up their seven game road trip.

Trivia question: what is the fastest goal scored to start a game in Solar Bears history? Here’s your answer:

Before most of the Everblades’ audience were even settled into their socially distanced pods, Jake Coughler scored his 7th goal of the season 14 seconds after opening puck drop for a very quick 1-0 lead. Florida tied the game at 1 at the 3:02 mark with a goal by Cody Sol, but just over a minute later Coughler picked up his second of the period and 8th of the season for a 2-1 Solar Bears lead.

John McCarron scored his 11th goal of the season at the 9:01 mark of the second period to re-tie the game at 2. The game would remain that way through regulation and into overtime, where Brad McClure’s first goal of the season 1:37 in would give Florida the win.

Michael Lackey took the loss in net, stopping 27 of 30 shots, including this one:

The top line of Coughler, Langan, and Luchuk combined for all the Solar Bears offense, as Langan added two assists and Luchuk one helper. Orlando finished their road trip with a 2-3-1-1 mark.

Game #23, 2/20: Florida 4, Orlando 1

For the first time since the end of January, Orlando finally returned to home ice, as they tried to avoid a sweep by the Everblades.

Prior to the game, the team sported special warmup jerseys honoring Black History Month and the contributions of Willie O’Ree to the sport of hockey. The specialty jerseys were later auctioned off via the Handbid app, with proceeds going to the Parramore Kidz Zone, a program established by the city of Orlando that provides assistance to kids and families in one of the city’s most historic Black neighborhoods.

The Everblades took a 1-0 lead 8:02 into the first on a Hugo Roy goal. However, the top line of Coughler, Langan, and Luchuk would work their magic again early in the second, as Coughler picked up his third goal in two days to tie the game up at 1. Huntebrinker then scored his 14th of the season with 5:49 remaining in the second for a 2-1 Everblades lead.

Then, as the period ended, things...took a turn.

And another angle:

A total of 32 penalty minutes was handed out for...all of that.

To the third, where the Everblades picked up an insurance goal off the stick of McCarron with 7:23 remaining for a 3-1 advantage. He then added an empty netter with 2:47 to go to seal the three-game sweep for Florida.

Windsor stopped 23 of 26 shots in the loss.

This Week’s Schedule:

Orlando will face Jacksonville in a 3-in-3 weekend to close out the month of February. They host the Icemen on Friday evening, then hit the road on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon to finish the 3-game set.