Solar Bears Den: Hopped Over...and Over...
Now that the playoff push is over for the Orlando Solar Bears, it's time to finish off the 2022-23 season...and maybe play spoiler for their South Division frenemies, as the team headed to Greenville for a pair of games against the Swamp Rabbits, who were one of three teams on the verge of clinching a Kelly Cup playoff spot.
However, getting outscored 12-5 in a sweep was probably not what Orlando had in mind.
We have a correction from last week's recap. The ECHL website had reported that Dmitry Semykin had been recalled to Syracuse, but it would be Tyson Feist that earned the recall on Tuesday for his fourth stint with the Crunch.
Friday, 4/7: Greenville 7, Orlando 3
Jack LaFontaine drew the start in net for game 1 of the two-game set.
Coming into Friday, Greenville, along with Florida and Jacksonville, could all secure the final three South Division playoff spots with wins and/or an Atlanta loss. They made really, really sure they secured their end of the deal, as they dominated from the start.
Ethan Somoza took a pass from former Solar Bear Nikita Pavlychev and back doored it into the net 1:58 into the contest for a 1-0 Greenville lead. Off an Orlando turnover, Brett Kemp broke away and scored his 18th of the season at the 6:53 mark to double the Swamp Rabbits lead. Dallas Gerads made it a 3-0 game late in the first as he had plenty of room to send his 6th of the season past LaFontaine.
Orlando began to chip away at the deficit in the second. Bennett MacArthur became the 10th Solar Bear to break double digits in goals, picking up number 10 at the 5:29 mark to cut the lead to 3-1.
However, Kemp would strike again for his second goal of the night with 8:21 remaining in the period to restore Greenville's 3-goal advantage.
Orlando tried again to chip away at the deficit early in the third, as Jimmy Mazza scored his third of the season at the 2:59 mark to make it 4-2.
The Swamp Rabbits quickly responded, as Joe Gatenby got the lucky bounce off the glove of LaFontaine and the crossbar in for his 7th of the season 27 seconds later to make it 5-2. Kemp then picked up the touchdown and the hat trick with 12:50 to go for a four-goal Greenville lead.
Orlando tried again to get back into the contest, as Eric Esposito made it 6-3 at the 10:08 mark with his second pro goal.
For good measure, Greenville added the extra point off a Bobby Russell goal with 1:41 to go for the 7-3 final--and a playoff spot for the Swamp Rabbits.
LaFontaine went the distance and stopped 31 of 38 shots. Recent college signing Alex Frye picked up his first two pro points with a pair of assists.
Saturday, 4/8: Greenville 5, Orlando 2
Orlando looked to rebound in the rematch on Saturday evening.
Before we begin, let's take a moment to admire Greenville's Semi-Pro inspired Tropic jerseys.
On to the game action, where unlike the night before it would be Orlando getting on the board first. Brayden Guy scored his 14th goal 5:57 in for the Solar Bears' first lead of the weekend.
In what would be a perfect metaphor for this weekend, Shades took a...beating from Stomper.
On to the second, where the Swamp Rabbits picked up Stomper's momentum and put up a 4-spot against LaFontaine. Josh McKechney tied the game at 1 at the 2:19 mark, then Kemp continued his domination of Orlando with his fourth goal of the weekend less than four minutes later for a 2-1 Swamp Rabbit lead.
Ben Freeman made it a 3-1 game with 9:12 remaining in the period with a shot from inside the circle for his 11th goal. Ethan Cap then added his second of the season with 1:33 remaining in the period for a 4-1 lead.
Mazza tried to chip away at the three goal deficit in the third, scoring for the second straight day to cut the lead to 4-2.
It would be that man Kemp again late in the contest, as he scored his second of the night and fifth of the weekend with 2:42 remaining to finish off the sweep of the Solar Bears, and extending Orlando's losing streak to four games going into the final week of the regular season.
LaFontaine finished with 27 saves on 32 shots. Mazza and Chris Harpur had the lone assists.
Kelly Cup Playoff Update:
With one week remaining in the regular season, two divisions are all set, while a handful of spots are still up for grabs.
The South Division is now all set, except for the seedings. Jacksonville and Florida clinched their spots on Friday, joining Greenville and South Carolina. The first place Stingrays are up by 5 points on second place Jacksonville. Spots 2-4 are separated by just three points between the Icemen, Swamp Rabbits and Everblades. Jacksonville has 4 games remaining, Florida has 3 left, and Greenville has just two left.
The battle for fourth in the North between Adirondack and Worcester appears to be going down to the final day. After the Railers lost at home to Maine on Wednesday, the Thunder jumped past them with a home win over the Mariners on Friday. The two teams faced off on Saturday in Massachusetts, and Worcester took care of business in a game they had to win, jumping back into fourth place by a point. After a loss to Maine on Sunday, Adirondack will head to Trois-Rivieres on Friday in a virtual must-win situation. The Railers and Thunder will meet in Glens Falls on Saturday and Sunday to determine who will face Newfoundland in round 1.
Heading west, the Central matchups for round 1 are now locked in. Cincinnati won the division title after beating Indy on Sunday afternoon and will host 4-seed Fort Wayne. Toledo will host the Fuel in the other pairing.
Allen became the second Mountain squad to secure a playoff spot after a win over Tulsa on Sunday. The final two spots are still up for grabs among four teams: Kansas City and Wichita are tied with 70 points, with the Mavericks holding the 3-seed, while Utah and Rapid City are both two points back. Wichita has just two games left, while Kansas City, Utah, and Rapid City have three apiece.
Orlando will have a three-in-three to finish out the 2022-23 season. It begins with their final home game on Friday against Jacksonville. The team then heads to Savannah on Saturday, then finishes up in Jacksonville on Sunday afternoon.