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Orlando Solar Bears 2022-23 Preview

Season #5 as the Lightning’s ECHL affiliate kicks off this weekend.

A Week With The Orlando Solar Bears Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Welcome back to another season in the Solar Bears Den!

When we last saw the Orlando Solar Bears, the team was finishing off a 2021-22 season that saw them end up just shy of a playoff spot in the ECHL’s South Division for the second straight year.

Fast forward six months and the team is back on ice to kick off the 2022-23 season, with a new face behind the bench, several key returnees, and another opportunity to get that elusive Kelly Cup.

The Roster

Orlando lost a key scoring threat in forward Aaron Luchuk, who has taken his talents overseas. However, four of Orlando’s top five scoring forwards from last season will return. Forward Tristin Langan, who lead all skaters with 47 points in 2021-22, is returning for his fourth season in a Solar Bears uniform. Also returning are forwards Tyler Bird (4th season), Brian Bowen (2nd), Hunter Fejes (4th), and Ross Olsson (2nd). Luke Boka returns for his second pro season. Max Cajkovic will also return after being reassigned by Syracuse.

New forwards to the squad include ECHL veteran Shawn Szydlowski, who earned a league MVP in 2017-18 and lead Fort Wayne to a Kelly Cup title in 2020-21; Karl El-Mir, who has experience with Indy, Norfolk, and Greenville; Carson Denomie, who was acquired from Tulsa at the offseason future considerations deadline; and Matthew Barnaby. No folks, the team did not pull another PR stunt a la Sean Avery last season. The former Sabre’s son is joining the Solar Bears for his second full pro season after appearing in 31 games for Fort Wayne in 2021-22.

On defense, the team lost captain Kevin Lohan, who has decided to hang up his skates after a brief 4-year career, mostly spent in Orlando. Most of the team’s defensive corps is back, led by veteran Michael Brodzinski, returning for his fourth Solar Bears campaign after leading all defensemen in scoring. Steven Oleksy returns for his first full Orlando season after coming in a trade with Toledo in late January. Luke McInnis returns for his third season with the Bears. Also back in the fold are Andrew Mclean, who is starting his second full pro season; Chris Harpur, who made his pro debut late last season and will be starting his first full pro campaign; and Dmitry Semykin, who was reassigned by Syracuse last week. New to the defense is Jimmy Mazza, acquired in a trade with Adirondack in July; and Jack Dougherty, who is making his ECHL debut after 6 AHL seasons.

Goaltending appears to be solid with the return of All-Star Brad Barone. The veteran looks to build on a breakout 2021-22 season, where he ranked near the top of nearly every ECHL goaltending category, was named the Solar Bears’ lone All-Star, and even earned an invite to Tampa Bay’s training camp. He will be joined by second-year pro Jack LaFontaine, who signed an AHL deal with Syracuse after a whirlwind first season that saw him start the year in college with Minnesota, then sign with Carolina midseason and make his NHL debut with the Hurricanes. They will be joined by Brandon Halverson, who has ECHL experience with several teams and has one NHL appearance on his resume.

Behind the bench is first-year head coach Matt Carkner, who was hired in June to replace Drake Berehowsky. He spent the last five seasons as an assistant coach in Bridgeport after the completion of a 15-year playing career, with NHL stops in Ottawa, San Jose, and the Islanders.

One other roster note: the team will not be unofficially sharing an affiliation with San Jose this season. The Sharks and Barracuda entered an affiliation agreement with Wichita in late August.

You can find the full Season Opening roster here.

The Schedule

The Solar Bears will face off against 12 different opponents, with 60 out of 72 games within the South Division. They will face Florida the most, with 14 games, followed by Jacksonville with 13, expansion Savannah with 10, Greenville with 9, and South Carolina and Atlanta with 7 games each. They will play 6 games against North Division opponents: Trois-Rivieres 4 times (including a 3-game series in Quebec in mid-January), and one home game each against Adirondack and Maine. The team will head west to Idaho in mid-March for three against the Steelheads, and host Utah for a pair of games in February. Finally, the lone Central Division matchup comes with a home game against Kalamazoo in December.

Other schedule highlights include the annual school day game on November 8th against Florida and a special 12 noon Thanksgiving Day start against Greenville.

You can find the full schedule here.

League Updates

As for the ECHL itself, there are a few changes for the 2022-23 season:

-As noted earlier, Savannah has joined the league as its 28th member. With Norfolk being shifted from the South to the North Division, all 4 divisions have 7 teams each.

-Eleven teams have new faces behind the bench, with nine of them first-time ECHL coaches. Three of them were their respective teams’ captains in the 2021-22 season: Pete MacArthur (Adirondack), Chad Costello (Allen), and Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman (Worcester).

-A two-referee system is finally coming to the league...but in only 25% of scheduled games.

-Game lineups will see a slight change, as the minimum number of skaters has increased from 16 to 17.

-The league also has a few rules changes:

Upcoming:

After a pair of closed door preseason tuneups against South Carolina and Florida, the Solar Bears start their regular season slate in Jacksonville on Saturday. Orlando will then host the Icemen on Sunday afternoon in their home opener.