When the final whistle blew on June 5th, the Orlando Solar Bears finished off the 2020-2021 ECHL season on a sour note, dropping their final three contests and falling out of a playoff spot that they held on to for most of the year.
It was a campaign that started two months later than usual—and with a lot of unknowns—because of the pandemic, and what teams were allowed to do while under protocols. While half the league chose to sit out the season due to restraints—one team unfortunately had to fold permanently—the Solar Bears soldiered on, having to face just a few opponents, one as many as 27 times (looking at you, Everblades).
A total of 48 players, including 5 different goaltenders, dressed for at least 1 game this season. The cast of characters ranged from a former NHL goaltender just looking for work (Garret Sparks), an established ECHL goal scorer (Michael Joly), another tall defenseman in the Lightning pipeline making his North American debut (Dmitry Semykin), a pair of brothers (Tad and Taran Kozun), a veteran forward who played his way into an AHL deal with another franchise (Ben Thomson), and a defenseman who played his way into the Syracuse lineup (Devante Stephens).
However, despite the finish, it was a successful season in several ways. Let’s take a look at the final numbers and some individual accomplishments.
72 GP, 36-29-6-1, 79 points, .549 points percentage. 5th place in Eastern Conference, 9th place in ECHL (among 14 active teams). One of just six teams to play a complete 72-game schedule.
Home: 20-13-3-0. Road: 16-16-3-1. Overtime: 16 GP, 6-6 OT, 3-1 in shootouts.
Penalty Minutes: 756 PIM, average 10.50 per game. Least among all ECHL teams. Opponents only amassed 738 PIM, also lowest in the league.
Power Play: 15.4 percent, tied for 11th. 11 shorthanded goals allowed, 12th.
Penalty Kill: 85.5 percent, 3rd. 11 shorthanded goals, tied for 3rd.
Goals For/Game: 3.03, 6th. Goals Against/Game: 3.22, 12th.
Shots For/Game: 32.56, 3rd. Shots Against/Game: 32.56, 12th.
Goals: Tristin Langan/Aaron Luchuk (28)
Assists: Aaron Luchuk (46)
Points: Aaron Luchuk (74)
Plus/Minus: Nolan Valleau (+16)
Penalty Minutes: Tristin Langan (66)
Power Play Goals: Aaron Luchuk (8)
Power Play Assists: Mark Auk (15)
Shorthanded Goals: Aaron Luchuk/Tyler Bird (2)
Wins: Clint Windsor (23)
GAA: (Active) Clint Windsor (2.78); Garret Sparks 2.21 in 6 early season appearances
Save Percentage: (Active) Clint Windsor (.914); Garret Sparks .928
Despite finishing in the middle of the ECHL, a few Solar Bears showed up among the league leaders in several categories, and were recognized for it:
Aaron Luchuk—Signed as a free agent in late November 2020, the third-year forward led all ECHL skaters in points with 74. He finished third in both goals (28) and assists (46), tied for second in shorthanded assists (3), and third in shots (229). He was also named to the All ECHL First Team and won the league’s Sportsmanship Award. He took home ECHL Player of the Week honors in mid-April, then was named the ECHL Player of the Month for all of April after posting 19 points in 14 games.
Clint Windsor—After signing an AHL deal with Syracuse prior to the start of the pandemic shutdown, Windsor turned into a workhorse in his third pro season and established himself as a #1 goaltender. He lead the ECHL in wins (tied for 1st with 23), losses (17), minutes played (2,546), and saves (1,252). He finished tied for 8th in goals against (2.78) and tied for third in shutouts (2). He tied a league record by earning Goaltender of the Week honors four times in a single season, winning the award in back-to-back weeks in late February/early March, a third time in early April, and in mid-May. He also set Solar Bear franchise records for wins in a season (23) and career victories (42).
Tristin Langan—The second year pro picked up where he left off in his rookie campaign with the Solar Bears. He tied with Luchuk for third in the league in goals (28), and was fifth in shots (215).
Joseph Garreffa—A rookie on loan from San Jose, Garreffa shined in his first pro season, finishing third among ECHL first year skaters in points (42), and was tied for second in rookie assists (29). He was named to the ECHL All-Rookie Team.
Mark Auk—A waiver claim from Rapid City in early January, Auk finished third among all ECHL defensemen in points with 45, was tied for third with 38 assists, and finished second in shots (188).
Matthew Spencer—A former Tampa Bay draft pick who signed with Orlando as a free agent just after the start of the season, Spencer’s second stint with the Solar Bears was a good one. He tied for the league lead among defensemen in shooting percentage (13.8 percent with 9 goals on 65 shots), and his three game-winning goals tied for second among defensemen. He won the league’s Player of the Week honors after picking up 7 points over a Memorial Day weekend set against Florida.
As the Kelly Cup playoffs roll on, Orlando can start looking towards the 2021-2022 season. Here are the dates to keep in mind for the summer:
July 1—Protected Lists due
July 5—Future Considerations Trade Deadline
July 8—Season Ending Rosters Due
July 9—First day players can sign contracts for 21/22
July 23—Qualifying Offers due for 21/22
August 9—Qualifying Offers expire
August 16—Restricted Free Agency ends
I wrote an explanation on just how all this works last spring if you need a refresher.
And with that, my 2020-21 season of writing is in the books. I’ll be checking in later this summer with all the roster updates, schedule changes, and other news!