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Solar Bears Weekly Check-In: Halfway Home

Orlando hits the midpoint of their season with a busy week and a new look lineup.

Fernando Medina

For a majority of the ECHL, this week marks the official halfway point of the 2020-21 season.

With a busy 5 games in 7 days stretch, the Orlando Solar Bears have made it through their first 36 games.

It’s been an up and down start, but coming in to this week Orlando was riding an 8 game point streak, putting them in playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

However, a few changes to the roster would slow down the offense, but the team found their way back into the win column.

Read on for the week that was!

Transaction Wire

Prior to Tuesday’s game, the Solar Bears’ roster got quite the makeover, as five players were added to the roster:

-Goaltender Kris Oldham was brought in to back up Clint Windsor. If his name sounds familiar to Lightning fans, well, it is: he is a former draft selection, chosen in the sixth round in the 2015 NHL Draft. The Alaska native just completed his second season with Clarkson, after transferring from Nebraska-Omaha prior to the 2019-20 season. He went 4-2-0 in 8 appearances with a 2.85 GAA and .905 save percentage.

Way back in 2015, Raw Charge had this first impression:

“Tampa Bay had a need organizationally for another goaltender, and true to form they got one of the bigger ones who will need at least a few more years to develop. He’s 6’3 and put up a .908 save percentage in 33 games in the USHL this season. He’s headed the NCAA route, so think more Adam Wilcox (3-4 years before he turns pro, small chance to lose him to free agency) than Kristers Gudlevskis (drafted and played in AHL within months).”

Most recently, Geo nailed it in this update from November 2019:

“At this point, it’s hard to view Oldham as being much of a prospect. He hasn’t been able to break into a starters role at the NCAA level. He’ll likely be 24 years old by the time he finishes college hockey. If he can somehow win the starters role as a senior and put up some good numbers, he could earn himself a contract. At the moment though, he’s unlikely to be more than an ECHL or even SPHL goalie or headed to a lower league in Europe to find playing time.”

-Orlando also received four skaters from the San Jose Barracuda, who have used the Solar Bears in past seasons as an unofficial ECHL affiliate: forwards Kyle Topping, Krystof Hrabik, and Joseph Garreffa, and defenseman Chaz Reddekopp. Topping, Hrabik and Garreffa are all first year pros, while Reddekopp, a former Kings 2015 7th rounder, is in his third pro season. All four have split time between the Barracuda and the Allen Americans this season.

-Defenseman Michael Prapavessis has been dealt to Utah for future considerations.

-Prior to Saturday’s contest, the Solar Bears announced that forward Johno May has left the team to “pursue an opportunity outside the ECHL.” Orlando has suspended him in order to keep his playing rights. He had last appeared in a game on February 26th.

Game #32, 3/16: Florida 3, Orlando 0

With an overhauled lineup, the Solar Bears returned home on Tuesday for their 18th matchup of the season against the Everblades.

After a scoreless first, the Everblades got on the board early in the second against Windsor. Just 24 seconds into the period, John McCarron’s 17th of the season gave Florida a 1-0 lead. Max Cook’s first of the season 6 minutes into the third doubled the visitors’ lead. Hugo Roy then picked up an empty netter with 3:48 remaining for the 3-0 final.

Orlando managed just 25 shots against Florida goaltender Jake Hildebrand, who stopped them all for his second shutout of the season. Windsor finished with 34 saves on 36 shots.

Game #33, 3/17: Jacksonville 5, Orlando 2

The Solar Bears headed north on Interstate 95 for St. Patrick’s Day, hoping to start a new point streak in the first of four straight against the Icemen.

The hosts were first on the board 3:21 into the contest, as Derek Lodermeier scored his fifth for the 1-0 lead. Tyler Bird quickly responded, scoring his 6th 1:14 later to tie the game at 1.

With exactly two minutes remaining in the first, Brendan Warren scored his 7th of the season to give the Icemen the lead back. Jacksonville extended the lead to 3-1 4:09 into the second on a Nick Saracino goal.

The Icemen jumped ahead 4-1 9:18 into the third on a Brandon Gignac goal, his first since joining the team from New Jersey in late February. Orlando reduced the Jacksonville lead to 4-2 with 2:12 remaining on a power play goal by Aaron Luchuk, his 11th of the season. The Icemen sealed the win 29 seconds later on an empty netter by Christopher Brown.

Windsor took the loss in net, stopping 28 of 32 shots. Four skaters had one assist each.

Game #34, 3/19: Jacksonville 5, Orlando 1

48 hours later came game 2 of the 4 game set.

It was a scoreless first period, but the Solar Bears could only manage one shot on goal against Icemen goaltender Charles Williams. Channeling 1995 as the old Lizard Kings, Jacksonville took over the game in the second with a pair of goals from Lodermeier for a 2-0 lead—and held Orlando to just six shots.

The Icemen expanded their lead in the third, as goals from Mike Szmatula and Ara Nazarian just under three minutes apart extended the advantage to 4-0, chasing Windsor in favor of Oldham for his professional debut. Orlando finally managed to get on the board with 4:12 remaining in regulation, as Hrabik scored his first Solar Bear goal to cut the lead to 3. Gignac added his second straight goal into an empty net with 1:28 remaining to seal Orlando’s third straight loss.

The Solar Bears set a new team record they probably don’t want to remember—they were held to just 10 shots on goal, eclipsing the old mark of 13 set last season in Cincinnati.

Before getting the hook, Windsor stopped 25 of 29 shots. Oldham went 2 for 2 in just under six minutes of work. Topping and Garreffa each picked up their first Solar Bears points with assists on Hrabik’s goal.

Game #35, 3/20: Orlando 5, Jacksonville 1

The Solar Bears returned home on Saturday for a brief visit, hoping to break their slide and extend their all time series win streak against the Icemen. With an injury to Jake Coughler and recent offensive struggles, the lineup got quite a shuffling compared to recent days.

Orlando’s struggles looked to be continuing in the first period, as they were outshot 11-6 and down 1-0 after a Pascal Aquin goal at the 13:57 mark. But...then came the second, when the team finally got an awakening—and on the first day of spring no less. Tad Kozun tied the game at 1 at the 5:23 mark of the second with his third goal of the season. Orlando took their first lead all wee at the 12:17 mark in style, as Nolan Valleau scored his second of the season with a fantastic play.

Topping then added his first Solar Bear goal just over a minute later for a 3-1 lead.

Orlando added two more goals late in the third, as Luchuk scored his 12th with 4:12 remaining for a 4-1 lead, then J.J. Piccinich added an empty netter with 2:19 to go to seal a much needed win. The Solar Bears extended their all time home winning streak against Jacksonville to 20 games.

Oldham picked up his first pro win in an impressive fashion, stopping 33 of 34 Icemen shots, including this one:

Luchuk and Garreffa each added two assists.

Game #36, 3/21: Orlando 3, Jacksonville 2 (OT)

The official halfway point—and the fifth game of the week—came on Sunday afternoon back in Jacksonville.

It was nearly a scoreless opening period...until Lodermeier got one past Windsor with 00.2 seconds remaining for a 1-0 Icemen lead. Orlando came back early in the second to take the lead with a pair of goals 19 seconds apart—Topping scored his second at the 1:21 mark for a 1-1 tie. Anthony Repaci then picked up his 2nd upon review for a 2-1 lead.

Aquin re-tied the game at 2 with 2:18 remaining in the second.

After a scoreless third, it was on to overtime, where on the only shot in the extra frame Mark Auk scored the game-winner, his 4th of the season, 2:14 in to end a busy week on a high note for the Solar Bears.

Windsor stopped 35 of 37 shots for the win. Luchuk added two assists.

This Week’s Schedule:

Orlando travels north to South Carolina for a three-game weekend set to close out March.