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Solar Bears Den: Spinning Wheel(ing)

Orlando hits the All-Star break after dropping 2 of 3 to Wheeling.

Fernando Medina/Orlando Solar Bears

Riding a four-game winning streak into the weekend, the Orlando Solar Bears looked to go into the ECHL’s All-Star Break on a high note. However, they were only able to take one of three against a Wheeling Nailers squad that had struggled as of late, with several skaters on recall to the AHL.

Read on for the weekend that was...

Game #32, Friday 1/14: Orlando 6, Wheeling 2

With the Stanley Cup in the building, the Solar Bears welcomed the Nailers into the Amway Center for the first of three.

The teams exchanged goals late in the opening frame. Wheeling took a 1-0 lead with 5:24 remaining in the first on a Justin Almeida goal. Dylan Fitze tied the game with 1:46 to go with a power play goal, his 2nd of the season.

Tyler Bird put the Solar Bears up 2-1 5:52 into the second with a power play goal, his 7th of the season.

Tim Doherty tied the game at 2 for the Nailers with a shorthanded goal with 8:57 remaining in the period.

Orlando took over the contest in the final 20 minutes, putting up four unanswered. Fitze scored his second of the night at the 5:42 mark to put Orlando up 3-2.

Odeen Tufto, making his ECHL debut, scored his first professional goal with 4:14 remaining for a two-goal cushion.

Michael Brodzinski scored into an empty net with 26 seconds remaining for a 5-2 lead.

Finally, for an exclamation point, Fitze finished off his first professional hat trick 11 seconds later for the final 6-2 margin, extending Orlando’s win streak to five.

Amir Miftakhnov won in his ECHL debut, stopping 28 of 30 shots. Tufto and Tristin Langan had three points apiece, while eight skaters got on the scoresheet.

Before Saturday’s rematch, Miftakhnov was summoned to Syracuse to back up Hugo Alnefelt in the Crunch’s overtime win over Utica after Max Lagace was sidelined due to illness.

Game #33, Saturday 1/15: Wheeling 4, Orlando 1

It was a Bones Day on Saturday, as Brad Barone was the only lineup change for Game 2 of the weekend set.

Wheeling got off to a good start in the opening 20 minutes with a pair of goals against Barone. Felix Pare made it 1-0 2:39 into the contest with his 5th goal, then Jared Cockrell doubled the lead at the 9:02 mark with his 7th. The Solar Bears special teams came through late in the period, as a power play goal from Hunter Fejes cut the Nailers lead in half.

Wheeling took a 3-1 lead with 5:30 to go in the second on Cockrell’s second of the evening, this one on a power play. He would finish off the hat trick with an empty netter with 26 seconds remaining in regulation for a three-goal advantage, stopping both Wheeling’s losing streak and Orlando’s winning streak at five games.

Barone finished with 24 saves on 27 shots. Tufto and Langan had the lone assists.

Game #34, Sunday 1/16: Wheeling 4, Orlando 3 (OT)

Alexey Lipanov was back in the lineup for the first time since mid-November as the Solar Bears looked to grab the rubber match of the three-game series.

After a tense start to the contest—the teams combined for 22 penalty minutes—Pare exited the penalty box, broke in on Barone, whiffed on his first try, then banged in the second attempt with 14 seconds remaining in the first for a 1-0 Nailers lead. But on a positive note, check out this sequence midway through the period as Barone put on a stickless clinic.

Fitze continued his hot play of late, scoring on a power play 2:22 into the second to tie the game at 1.

Almeida gave the Nailers a 2-1 lead at the 10:39 mark of the second with his 13th goal of the season. On a delayed penalty early in the third, Chris Ortiz picked up an insurance goal for a 3-1 lead.

Langan single-handedly rallied the Solar Bears as it got late in the third, scoring twice in a span of 3:02—the first on a power play, the second on an extended delayed penalty with Barone pulled for an extra skater—to tie the game at 3.

It was on to overtime, where a tripping call on Lipanov two minutes into the extra frame would prove costly as Almeida scored the game-winner on the ensuing power play—Wheeling’s seventh of the day—to give the Nailers the extra point and 2 out of 3 for the weekend set.

Barone finished with 22 saves on 25 shots. Tufto added two more assists and finished his first ECHL 3 in 3 weekend with six points.

Upcoming:

After a few days off for the ECHL All-Star Break, Orlando will head north to Maine for a 3 game weekend series against the North Division’s Mariners.