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Solar Bears Den: Who’s the Better Bear?

In a battle of polar bear vs. brown bear, it was an even split.

Fernando Medina/Orlando Solar Bears

It was a light schedule for the Orlando Solar Bears this week, as they closed out the month of January with a two-game set against another kind of bear, the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL’s Mountain Division.

Both teams ended up working overtime and skating away with three points apiece for their efforts, and at the halfway mark of the ECHL regular season, Orlando finds themselves hanging on to the last playoff spot in the South Division.

The Solar Bears also saw some roster shakeups, with a veteran coming in to shore up the defensive corps and another goaltender coming in.

Tuesday: With both Syracuse goaltenders unavailable, Amir Miftakhov was summoned back to the Crunch. He made his first AHL appearance since December 11th, going 1-2 in three starts for Syracuse this week.

To fill Miftakhov’s spot on the roster, the team picked up goaltender Bailey Brkin off waivers from Rapid City to back up Brad Barone. Brkin is in his first pro season after spending 2019-20 with the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL, appearing in 31 games with a 17-8-3 mark and a 3.37 GAA. He will be joining his third ECHL team, after appearing in 4 games with Fort Wayne and 3 with the Rush.

Thursday: After returning to Syracuse for one appearance, forward Odeen Tufto was reassigned to the Solar Bears.

Game #37, Thursday 1/27: Orlando 4, Utah 3 (OT)

Continuing the trend of non-South opponents, Orlando welcomed the Grizzlies for the first of two on Thursday night.

Orlando did not waste time in the first 20 minutes of the contest, scoring three times on Utah goaltender Peyton Jones. Off a redirected shot from Luke Boka, Dylan Fitze opened the scoring at the 8:51 mark with his sixth goal of the season.

After being denied by Jones just a few minutes earlier, Hunter Fejes doubled the lead with 7:20 remaining in the first with a tip-in in front of the net for his 7th.

Fitze added his second of the night with 3:14 to go in the first for a 3-0 lead.

Utah began to rally late in the second with a pair of goals. Quinn Ryan’s 10th goal of the season at the 12:52 mark, despite a possible high stick, cut Orlando’s lead to 3-1. Brian Bowen made it a 3-2 contest with a power play goal with 4:10 to go in the period.

Bowen came through in the clutch with just 41 seconds to go in regulation, scoring his second to tie the game at 3 and force overtime. However, Tristin Langan made sure this one would not be one that got away, as he scored the game-winner at the 3:06 mark for a Solar Bears victory.

Barone earned his 13th win of the season, stopping 24 of 27 shots and getting an assist on Langan’s game-winner. Five other skaters had one assist each.

Friday: It may have been an off day on the ice, but there was a lot of roster activity:

-Langan earned his second AHL PTO of the season, signing on with Manitoba.

-After an extended stay with the Barracuda, Joseph Garreffa was reassigned to the Solar Bears. He was scoreless in 11 AHL appearances. Goaltender Zachary Emond, who had been on the Commissioner’s Exempt List, was activated and recalled to the Barracuda.

-Finally, forward Ian Parker was dealt to Toledo in exchange for veteran defenseman Steven Oleksy. Oleksy brings quite the resume to Orlando, having 73 games of NHL experience with Washington and Pittsburgh under his belt, and 9+ seasons of AHL experience with Lake Erie, Bridgeport, Hershey, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Toronto, and San Diego. This season, he had 2 goals and 6 assists in 16 games for the Walleye.

Monday: After appearing in 2 games with the Moose and going scoreless, Langan was released from his PTO and returned to Florida.

Game #38, Monday 1/31: Utah 3, Orlando 2 (OT)

After a weekend off, Orlando and Utah completed their two-game set on Monday night.

Garreffa wasted no time in his return to the lineup, scoring his 6th goal of the season 1:45 into the contest for a 1-0 Solar Bears lead.

Utah grabbed the lead in the second with a pair of goals. Bowen scored his third goal in two games to tie the game up 2:13 into the middle frame. Trey Bradley put the Grizzlies ahead with 2:20 remaining in the period with his 13th of the season.

Garreffa struck again in the third, tying the game at 2 with 6:04 remaining in regulation.

For the second time in four days, it was on to overtime. Less than 90 seconds into the extra session, Barone made a fantastic save...then only seconds later allowed the game-winner to Luke Martin, giving Utah the extra point and a split of the two-game set.

Barone finished with 35 saves. Oleksy notched an assist in his Orlando debut.

Upcoming:

The Solar Bears continue their homestand with a 3-game series against the Everblades on Thursday and Friday at home, and Saturday in Estero.