For the first time since the start of the season in December, the Orlando Solar Bears took on an opponent that doesn’t reside in either Florida or South Carolina.
The team headed north to Indiana for the first time in 5 years, taking on a Fuel squad that sits just mere percentage points ahead of Orlando for second place in the ECHL’s Eastern Conference standings.
In a battle of 2 vs. 3—which we easily could see come June—Orlando took four out of six points, despite needing an extra day to do so.
More League Honors!
In what was essentially a slam dunk decision, forward Aaron Luchuk was named the Inglasco ECHL Player of the Week on Tuesday. In three games last week, he had four goals and four assists.
So what else does the ECHL’s second leading scorer bring to the table? Leadership in the locker room, as he described to FloHockey last week:
“Being in my third year pro, I’m a little more comfortable in my own skin, and I kind of feel like I can maybe help younger guys who maybe haven’t experienced things in this league or don’t have a lot of experience in pro hockey, and I enjoy that. I enjoy interacting with my teammates, and enjoy (being) with those guys and helping bring those guys along. There’s a big group of guys that are also leaders in this room, so it makes it easy on me. It’s a good group.”
He can also throw his teammates under the bus. Spill those secrets, gentlemen.
Thursday marked the ECHL’s version of the Trade Deadline, and Orlando made a pair of deals:
-Rookie defenseman Jordan Schneider was dealt to Indy for future considerations. He had signed with the Solar Bears on March 15th, and only appeared in 3 games, going scoreless.
-The offense got a major boost on Tuesday, as the Solar Bears acquired forward Michael Joly from Wheeling for future considerations. Joly brings quite the resume: while with the Colorado Eagles during the 2017-18 season, he had 41 goals and 26 assists in 52 games, leading the Eagles to the Kelly Cup title in their last ECHL campaign before moving up to the AHL as the Avalanche’s affiliate. During that playoff run, the native of Quebec lead all ECHL skaters in scoring with 29 points in 24 games, and was named the June M. Kelly Playoff MVP. With Wheeling this season, he had 8 goals and 13 assists in 20 games, and also appeared in 3 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL, picking up an assist. Additionally, his agent is former Lightning farmhand Nick Riopel.
For the first time since the 2015-16 season, the Solar Bears and Fuel faced off for the first of three in Indiana.
The Solar Bears traded for @MikeJolyy earlier this week - he makes his debut with his new club tonight!— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 23, 2021
via @flohockey — https://t.co/g5aLHteZt7
https://t.co/fV1V8a4GnZ / https://t.co/ov8kK302BP
⚡️ @boltsradio#BEARLIEVE | #ORLatIND pic.twitter.com/AEDt2Z8vcL
Now, you may have noticed an important name missing from the lineup—goaltender Clint Windsor was placed on the league’s Commissioner’s Exempt List due to COVID protocols earlier this week and did not make the trip north.
On to the action, where it took less than 7 minutes for Joly to make an impact with his new team, as he scored his first as a Solar Bear 6:40 into the contest for a 1-0 lead.
With 7:43 remaining in the period, Tristin Langan kept up his hot play of late, scoring his 18th of the season unassisted to double the Orlando lead.
On Indy’s first power play of the evening, it took just 14 seconds for the Fuel’s Michael Pelech to cut the lead in half to 2-1.
The hosts tied the game at 2 3:13 into the second on another power play goal, this one coming off the stick of Terry Broadhurst. However, the Solar Bears took the lead back with 6:36 to go in the period on Luchuk’s 20th goal of the season.
Unfortunately, with exactly one minute remaining in the second, Indy re-tied the game at 3 on a goal by Nick Hutchison.
The game would remain tied till late in the third. On Orlando’s third power play chance of the period—and fifth of the contest—J.J. Piccinich connected for his 10th of the season for a 4-3 Solar Bears lead. Kyle Topping added his 8th of the season into an empty net as time expired.
Lackey, making his first start in 12 days, picked up his fifth win of the season, stopping 29 of 32 Fuel shots. Mark Auk added two assists.
Game #51, Saturday 4/25: DELAYED
Saturday started out as a normal game 2 of the series. Kris Oldham got his first start since April 15th.
Our second of three meetings this weekend against Indy is about to get underway!— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 24, 2021
via @flohockey — https://t.co/g5aLHteZt7
https://t.co/fV1V8a4GnZ / https://t.co/ov8kK302BP#BEARLIEVE | #ORLatIND pic.twitter.com/yGp4nG6Vba
The first period started out exactly the same as Friday, with Joly scoring in his second straight contest at the 2:17 mark for a 1-0 Solar Bears lead.
Langan scored his 19th at the 7:04 mark to double the Orlando lead.
Then, with 5:04 remaining in the first, the game was stopped after a divot opened up on the ice surface. Both teams were sent back to their respective locker rooms, with the last 5 minutes to be tacked on to the start of the second period.
The teams waited. And waited.
Can’t settle matters on ice? How about a round of tic-tac-toe?
Finally, after about an hour of waiting, the game was officially called due to the unsafe ice situation.
Due to safety conditions tonight’s game will not be continued.— Indy Fuel (@IndyFuel) April 25, 2021
Fans please hold on to your current tickets - there will be an update coming soon about possible rescheduling of the game.
It was decided that the game would resume on Monday evening, with Sunday’s contest on as scheduled.
“After an attempt to repair a divot in the ice, ECHL and officials deemed the ice unsafe to play on, causing the postponement of the game. Fairgrounds staff worked overnight to improve ice conditions for Sunday and Monday and we are confident these games will be played in full.”— Indy Fuel (@IndyFuel) April 25, 2021
Let’s try this full 3 periods thing again, shall we? What was supposed to be the finale of the three-game set turned into...well, game 2.25?
Who's ready for some Sunday afternoon hockey?— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 25, 2021
via @flohockey — https://t.co/g5aLHteZt7
https://t.co/fV1V8a4GnZ / https://t.co/ov8kK302BP#BEARLIEVE | #ORLatIND pic.twitter.com/BnMJiFrS0W
Unlike the last two days, the first 20 minutes belonged to the Fuel. Tommy Apap put Indy ahead 1-0 at the 6:05 mark with his first goal of the season. Keoni Texeira doubled the Fuel lead 2:36 later with his third. Alex Rauter then scored his sixth with 7:50 remaining in the period for a 3-0 lead, chasing Orlando starter Oldham in favor of Lackey.
Meanwhile...it was that kind of first for the Solar Bears against Indy goaltender Dan Bakala.
Orlando found its way on the board early in the second, as Langan scored his 20th—or his 19th with the delay—4:02 in to cut the lead to 3-1.
That did not slow the Fuel down, as thirty seconds later Matt Marcinew scored his 19th to extend the lead back to three. Just 82 seconds later, Dylan Malmquist picked up his third for a 5-1 Indy lead. Alexander Kuqali made it 5-2 at the 8:29 mark with his second goal of the season. Indy was not done, scoring the touchdown for a 6-2 lead with 6:12 remaining in the period on a Ryan Zuhlsdorf goal. Marcinew then added the extra point on a power play with 1:20 remaining for a 7-2 Fuel lead.
Indy continued the rout in the third, jumping ahead 8-2 on a power play goal by Nic Pierog with 7:48 remaining.
Oldham finished with 7 saves on 10 shots before getting the first period hook. Lackey did not fare any better, stopping 28 of 33. Tyler Bird and Tad Kozun had the lone assists. Only four Solar Bear skaters finished with a plus/minus of 0 or higher.
With a few changes to the lineup, Orlando went back in time to Saturday to finish off the delayed contest.
Not every day that you start a game with a 2-0 lead and an offensive zone face-off, but we'll take it!— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) April 26, 2021
via @flohockey — https://t.co/g5aLHtwARH
https://t.co/fV1V8amhMz / https://t.co/ov8kK3hE0p
⚡️ @boltsradio#BEARLIEVE | #ORLatIND pic.twitter.com/9dFyJGxu84
After the rest of the first period was completed uneventfully, Orlando extended their lead in the second. On their third power play of the period, Luchuk struck for his 21st at the 9:34 mark for a 3-0 advantage. Fabrizio Ricci made it a 4-0 game with 5:02 remaining in the middle frame with his second goal of the year.
Indy broke up the combined shutout bid with 1:25 to go in regulation on a goal by Rauter. On the Solar Bears’ sixth power play of the evening, Langan scored his second of the game with 46.4 to go for the final 5-1 margin.
Oldham picked up the win, despite only playing 14:46 on Saturday, stopping all 8 shots he faced. Lackey, in a partial start, finished with 17 saves on 18 shots. Langan, Joly, and Luchuk all had multiple point outings, with one assist each.
This Week’s Schedule:
Orlando finishes their 9 game road trip on Wednesday in Jacksonville, then they finally return to the Amway Center on Friday and Sunday for a 2 game set against South Carolina.