Welcome to March! Despite a late season winter comeback for some on the East Coast, it’s getting warm for those in the Kelly Cup playoff race. With just six weeks to go in the regular season, every point the Orlando Solar Bears can get is an important one, with six teams in the South Division separated by just nine points. And the Solar Bears did just that, taking two from their in-division rivals to inch closer to the top four in the division.
Syracuse Recalls Three:
It was a busy transaction week in the Florida to New York pipeline. Maxim Cajkovic, Jaydon Dureau, and Tyson Feist were all recalled to Syracuse. Cajkovic and Feist were immediately slotted into the Crunch lineup on Friday evening in a Syracuse victory over Lehigh Valley.
Thursday, 3/2: Adirondack 3, Orlando 0
Orlando continued their home stand on Thursday evening, hosting the North Division’s Thunder.
Thursday night crew— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 2, 2023
https://t.co/mykncF3WNX via @FloHockey pic.twitter.com/DJEUViah1B
The Thunder got on the board at the 4:44 mark of the first off a spin-move goal from Ryan Smith, his 9th of the season. With 6:38 to go in the period—and on Adirondack’s first power play of the night—Sebastian Vidmar was left wide open, took a pass from Grant Jozefek, and shot it just over the glove of Garret Sparks for his 7th of the season to double the Thunder lead.
After both teams were left off the scoreboard in the middle frame, the Thunder added to their lead in the third. On Adirondack’s third power play of the night, the Solar Bears penalty kill failed to clear the puck in the corner, resulting in a goal off the stick of Colin Long for a 3-0 advantage with 11:39 remaining in the contest.
Also, memo to Branden Makara, who was called for interference leading to the Thunder’s man advantage: throwing yourself into the net doesn’t count as a score. But we’ll give you points on the dismount.
yeah so @JakeTheut's right leg is pretty solid, eh? pic.twitter.com/bGo1OngzrD— Adirondack Thunder (@ECHLThunder) March 3, 2023
Orlando thought they scored on a wraparound shot by Michael Brodzinski with just over 7 minutes remaining, but a video replay showed the puck just on the goal line and out, ruling it null and void. Did the Solar Bears score here? You be the judge.
The no goal in question: pic.twitter.com/gvy0p37pKw— Adirondack Thunder (@ECHLThunder) March 3, 2023
The Solar Bears tried a bold strategy to get on the board—they pulled Sparks for an extra attacker with 6:25 to go in the game with a 4 on 4 looming. Despite this—and outshooting the Thunder 32-22, including a 13-3 margin in the final 20 minutes—they were unable to generate any offense against Adirondack goaltender Jake Theut, who stopped all 32 shots for his second shutout of the season, and Orlando’s first goose egg at home all season.
Sparks stopped 19 of 22 shots in defeat. With an Atlanta win over Savannah, Orlando fell three points behind the Gladiators for fifth place in the South.
Friday, 3/3: Orlando 6, Florida 3
A mere 24 hours later, the Solar Bears were back at it, finishing off the home stand with a visit from the Everblades.
Friday squad— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 3, 2023
https://t.co/mykncF4uDv via @FloHockey pic.twitter.com/9qtzY4UcSE
It did not take long for Orlando’s offense to start up in the first. On their first power play of the evening—and their first shot of the game—Max Balinson connected for his 4th goal of the season and first as a Solar Bear for a 1-0 lead exactly four minutes into the contest.
Balinson did that! pic.twitter.com/kpTHa43ytu— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 4, 2023
Florida tied the game up at the 6:01 mark off a goal from Ben Masella, who took a pass from Brad Morrison and sent the puck past Jimmy Poreda for his 7th of the season.
Orlando jumped back ahead 4:36 into the second with another power play tally. Brodzinski again did what he does best—pass the puck to an open Olsson, who tapped it in for his 24th goal of the season for a 2-1 lead.
@rolsson17 knows how to get it done! pic.twitter.com/pcnDR2S7Xm— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 4, 2023
That lead lasted all of 21 seconds, as Morrison took the attempt from Nathan Staios and sent it in to tie the game at 2.
Orlando grabbed the lead back late in the second, thanks to the New Guy. Forward Paul Boutoussov, who was signed earlier in the day to help fill the void left behind by the Crunch’s recalls, went in on a 2-on-1 and slammed it home past Cam Johnson to put the Solar Bears back up 3-2.
Boutoussov making quite the debut! pic.twitter.com/myfJeNjuXH— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 4, 2023
Orlando put the game away early in the third, scoring twice in a 35-second span. Brodzinski gave the Solar Bears a two-goal advantage at the 5:41 mark with his 8th of the season off a face-off. Boutoussov struck again at the 6:16 mark, notching his second of the day off a nice pass from Luke Boka for a 5-2 Solar Bears lead.
Welcome to Orlando Boutoussov, we are happy to have you! pic.twitter.com/S1KotlUibm— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 4, 2023
Former Solar Bear Cole Moberg made it a 5-3 contest with his 5th of the season with 3:59 remaining in regulation. Chris Harpur then put the game away with an easy tap-in into the Everblades’ empty net with 56 seconds remaining for the final 6-3 margin.
@chrisharpur finishing us off right! pic.twitter.com/iv4K3Xm05Q— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 4, 2023
Poreda picked up his sixth win of the season, stopping 28 of 31 Florida shots. 12 Orlando skaters had at least one point, with 4 posting multi-point outings.
With the win and a very lopsided 10-1 loss to South Carolina for Atlanta, the Solar Bears drew back to within one point of 5th place and 6 points of 4th.
Lafontaine Returns: After an extended stay in Syracuse, goaltender Jack Lafontaine was reassigned to Orlando on Sunday. He did not make an appearance in his latest stint with the Crunch.
Sunday, 3/5: Orlando 7, South Carolina 2
After another Saturday off, the Solar Bears headed north to Charleston to finish off the week against South Carolina.
And finish off the Stingrays they did, as this was no contest from the start.
It took just 58 seconds for Orlando to jump out to a 2-0 lead, off 2 goals on their first 2 shots of the game from Balinson and Bennett MacArthur.
Balinson stays hot pic.twitter.com/zutLFAMWfj— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 5, 2023
@BennettMac with a beauty pic.twitter.com/xwCqVKoD8d— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 5, 2023
South Carolina also got lucky on their first shot of the day, as Alexandre Fortin cut the lead to 2-1 at the 1:25 mark.
Langan restored a two-goal lead for the visitors at the 6:32 mark, as he sent it in top shelf past Stingrays goaltender Clay Stevenson for his 15th of the season.
@tlangan6 into the roof for his 15th of the season pic.twitter.com/S1mmL1kxMj— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 5, 2023
The Orlando offensive onslaught continued in the second. Grant Mismash connected off a Bird pass for his 4th of the season for a 4-1 lead.
@GMish16 with the quick shot to extend our lead pic.twitter.com/SaOuJ4hkl6— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 5, 2023
The special teams came through again midway through the period, and another single season franchise record was set. Olsson tipped in a shot from Balinson for his 25th goal of the season—and 12th with the man advantage—to put the Solar Bears ahead 5-1.
@rolsson17 with his 25th of the season. 5-1. pic.twitter.com/G3hvORTmpQ— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 5, 2023
South Carolina responded with 7:40 to go in the second, as Josh Wilkins scored on a tip-in in front of the net to cut the lead to 5-2. Langan answered that with his second goal of the day 23 seconds later for a 6-2 Solar Bear advantage.
@tlangan6 does it again with a little help for the Rays pic.twitter.com/k1h4Y3RFV6— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 5, 2023
To finish off the afternoon, the Solar Bears picked up their second power play goal of the game, but from an unlikely source. Luke McInnis finally erased the zero in the goal column and picked up his first of the season with 7:51 remaining for a 7-2 lead.
Long time coming for McInnis pic.twitter.com/3XClLNjXxq— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 5, 2023
That was more than plenty of support for Lafontaine, who didn’t show any rust in his first appearance since February 4th in stopping 32 of 34 shots. MacArthur and Langan each finished with a four-point day, while Balinson and Mathieu Foget had three points apiece. Eleven skaters had at least one point.
With the win—and a disastrous weekend for Atlanta after being outscored 16-2 in two games against the Stingrays—Orlando jumps back into fifth place, sitting just five points behind fourth place Florida for the final South playoff spot.
There may be only two games on the schedule this week—both on home ice—but they’re equally important if Orlando wants to continue to gain ground in the South Division.
On Friday, Atlanta comes to the Amway Center with 5th place on the line. First place Jacksonville then comes in for a Sunday matinee to close out the weekend.