After a successful week north of the border that saw them sweep a three-game series from a North Division opponent, the Orlando Solar Bears returned to the Amway Center this week to kick off a 5 game homestand against three South Division teams currently sitting in playoff position.
And it was a successful week for the team, as they took 3 out of 4 and pulled themselves over the .500 mark.
ECHL All-Star Wrap:
While Orlando and 19 other teams had a couple of days off, defenseman Michael Brodzinski represented the Solar Bears at the 2023 ECHL All-Star Classic in Norfolk on Monday, captaining the Eastern Conference All-Stars to a 1-2 record in a 3-on-3 tourney against the Western Conference All-Stars and two split squads of the host Admirals, the Cruisers and Destroyers. It would be the Destroyers who came out on top at the end of the Classic, defeating the Cruisers 3-1 in the final.
Orlando kicked off their homestand on Wednesday evening with a visit from the Gladiators.
The teams exchanged goals in the opening 20 minutes. Atlanta grabbed an early 1-0 lead 2:08 into the contest off a Tyler Kobryn goal. Mathieu Foget responded with his 7th of the season at the 12:54 mark to tie the game at 1-all.
Jaydon Dureau gave the Solar Bears a 2-1 lead at the 10:42 mark of the second with his fourth goal of the season on a power play.
Atlanta responded with 6:28 remaining in the second, tying the game at 2 on a Cody Sylvester goal. Continuing the seesaw theme, Tristin Langan put Orlando back up by a goal just under three minutes later, picking up his ninth of the season.
Despite outshooting Orlando 10-5 in the final 20 minutes, the Gladiators were unable to tie the game back up, and the Solar Bears skated away with their fourth straight win.
Jack LaFontaine, freshly back from serving two more games off his AHL suspension, got the win with 31 saves on 33 shots. Hunter Fejes added two assists.
The homestand continued on Thursday, as Orlando looked to extend their winning streak to 5 against the Swamp Rabbits.
This game was all Solar Bears from the start. Fejes got things going quickly, scoring his fifth of the season 87 seconds into the contest for a 1-0 Orlando lead.
Greenville responded with a power play goal from Ayden MacDonald at the 5:49 mark to tie things up at 1. Tyler Bird then put the Solar Bears up 2-1 with 5:02 remaining in the first with his 11th goal of the season.
Bird bagging goal number 2! pic.twitter.com/JCxlpwRjBs— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) January 20, 2023
Shawn Szydlowski, fresh off serving an interference minor, added his 8th goal with 1:16 remaining in the first for a 3-1 Orlando lead.
Tyson Feist continued the scoring party, adding his third at the 9:59 mark of the second for a three-goal cushion, chasing Greenville starter Ryan Bednard from the net in favor of David Hrenak.
Feist with number 4⃣! pic.twitter.com/I1vLrUEv2E— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) January 20, 2023
The Swamp Rabbits tried to mount a rally, cutting the lead to 4-2 at the 14:28 mark on a power play goal from Tanner Eberle. Carter Souch made it a game, cutting the lead to 4-3 with 12:17 remaining in regulation.
However, Bird would put the exclamation point on win #5 of the streak, scoring his second of the evening into an empty net with 34 seconds remaining to seal the 5-3 win.
Bird secures the W! pic.twitter.com/8mHcnuexcI— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) January 20, 2023
LaFontaine stopped 27 of 30 for his fifth straight win. Fejes had a three-point night, adding two assists.
Dureau was reassigned to the Crunch on Friday—just in time for his 22nd birthday. Also, with an Orlando off-day, and the Crunch visiting Utica, LaFontaine was recalled to knock another game off his suspension. He was reassigned to the Bears after the game.
Before Saturday’s game, Feist would also be summoned back north.
Could Orlando make it six straight? Or would the Swamp Rabbits get their revenge from the night before?
Greenville was quick to get on the board, taking a 1-0 lead 1:02 into the contest on a Josh McKechney goal. Jimmy Mazza responded with his second goal of the season at the 13:51 mark to tie the game at 1.
Greenville got the second period started quickly with a pair of goals from Max Martin and Brannon McManus in the first 1:08 to jump out to a 3-1 lead. Fejes continued his hot play of late, scoring his sixth with 5 minutes remaining in the second to cut the Swamp Rabbits’ lead to one.
Greenville went ahead 4-2 with 2:39 remaining in the second on a shorthanded goal from Eberle.
Langan brought the Solar Bears back to within a goal at the 6:35 mark of the third with a power play goal, making him the third Solar Bear (Bird and Ross Olsson the others) to hit double digits in goals.
Unfortunately, that was as close as the Solar Bears would get. Ethan Somoza’s 9th goal of the season with 6:34 remaining would put Greenville back up by a pair, and an empty netter by Ben Freeman with 11 seconds to go sealed the win for the visitors, stopping Orlando’s win streak at five.
LaFontaine stopped 21 of 26 in defeat. Szydlowski added two assists.
To finish off a busy week on home ice, the Solar Bears welcomed the Everblades for a Sunday matinee matchup.
Before the game, Orlando held its annual Celeb Classic. And by Celeb, they mean recent Solar Bears alumni.
On to the current edition of the Solar Bears, who decided again to get things started quickly. Brayden Guy scored his 8th goal of the season 2:59 after puck drop for a 1-0 lead.
Meanwhile, Orlando goaltender Jimmy Poreda got the nod in net and was promptly greeted by an onslaught of Everblades shots, and he managed to go 20-for-20 in the first 20 minutes.
Florida found its way onto the scoresheet 2:40 into the second, as a Blake Winiecki goal tied things up at 1.
Bird gave the Solar Bears the lead back early in the third, picking up his 13th 2:07 in for a 2-1 Orlando lead.
What? Like it's hard? pic.twitter.com/viNVHCRAOx— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) January 22, 2023
Florida tried to rally with a last minute flurry of shots, but could not get that tying goal, giving Orlando the win and finishing off a 3-1 week.
Poreda played the game of his life in getting the win, stopping 48 of 49 shots, tying Brad Barone for most saves by a Solar Bears goaltender this season, and one short of an ECHL season high. Dmitry Semykin finished a goal short of a Gordie Howe hat trick, notching a third period assist and getting in a late first period scrap.
Three games on tap for the Solar Bears this week:
The long homestand comes to an end on Thursday, as Orlando plays host to Savannah to start a home-and-home set with the Ghost Pirates. The teams then head to Georgia on Friday for a rematch, then the Solar Bears are back on home ice Sunday afternoon to host Atlanta to finish out the January portion of the schedule.
With Orlando off Saturday, expect LaFontaine to be recalled to the Crunch to knock off another game of his suspension.