Solar Bears Den: Rabbit Hunting

Orlando splits a two-game set with Greenville, but can’t gain ground in the Kelly Cup playoff race.

After a hectic five-games-in-seven-day stretch, the Orlando Solar Bears had a lighter schedule this week, continuing their homestand with a pair of games.

But the opponent was a crucial one, as the team welcomed Greenville, a team Orlando was chasing closely for the fourth and final playoff spot in the ECHL’s South Division.

With the top 6 teams separated by just 13 points, every point the Solar Bears can get as the calendar turns to March are much needed ones, and the team grabbed two more to keep pace with Greenville and Atlanta in the standings.

Friday, 2/24: Greenville 4, Orlando 3

The Solar Bears and the Swamp Rabbits faced off in the first of this critical two-game set on Friday evening, with Garret Sparks getting the nod in net for the home team.

It was that man Bennett MacArthur again in the first, as he snagged his fourth goal in the last five games—and his seventh on the season—with 5:16 remaining in the opening frame for a 1-0 Orlando lead.

Greenville responded in the second with a pair of goals. Max Martin tied the game at 1 at the 4:48 mark with a shot from near center ice that found its way under Sparks’ left pad and in. Brett Kemp put the visitors ahead 2-1 midway through the period off a nice pass from Justin Nachbaur.

With 1:36 remaining in the second, Grant Mismash tie the game up at 2 with a shot from the corner that found its way past Swamp Rabbits goaltender David Hrenak.

The Swamp Rabbits took the lead for good in the third with another pair of goals. With 10:17 remaining in regulation, Greenville defenseman Jamie Dorsey sent the puck off the boards and to a wide open Alex Ierullo, who sent it in for a 3-2 lead. Kemp added an important insurance goal with 4:35 remaining for his second of the night.

Orlando was not quite done, however. Mismash too joined the hat trick watch, scoring his second of the evening on a power play with 2:05 to go to cut the Swamp Rabbits lead to 4-3.

Unfortunately for the home team, that was as close as they got, and Greenville grabbed the two points, extending their lead in the division over Orlando to 8 points. Atlanta also shut out Jacksonville on Friday evening, sending the Solar Bears back to sixth place in the South.

Sparks finished with 17 saves on 21 shots. Max Cajkovic and Michael Brodzinski added two assists each.

Sunday, 2/26: Orlando 5, Greenville 4

Orlando looked to avoid the sweep in the rematch on Sunday afternoon.

Before the crowd could settle in, Greenville was already on the board, as the first shot of the game off the stick of Anthony Beauchamp went past Sparks 37 seconds after puck drop for a 1-0 Swamp Rabbits lead. The visitors doubled their lead off a gratuitous bounce, as a Tyler Inamoto shot bounced off the skate of Solar Bears defenseman Max Balinson and past Sparks into the net at the 6:13 mark.

The Solar Bears quickly rallied late in the period to tie things up. With 1:16 remaining in the period, Brodzinski scored his 7th of the season—and in the process set a new team record with his 24th power play point on the year—to cut the Greenville lead in half.

Thirty-seven seconds later, Tyler Bird joined in on the fun, taking the pass from Tristin Langan and notching his 15th goal of the season for a 2-2 game. (He also gets extra points for the celebration.)

The Swamp Rabbits jumped to a 3-2 lead 7:10 into the second after a couple of Orlando miscues lead to Tanner Eberle scoring his 22nd goal of the season. The Solar Bears’ special teams came through late in the period, when another power play point from Brodzinski lead to a goal by Brayden Guy to tie the game at 3-all.

Orlando grabbed their first lead of the day 9:34 into the third, as MacArthur snagged yet another point on a pass to Guy for his second goal of the afternoon to jump ahead 4-3.

That lead lasted all of 2:50, as Nachbaur tied the game at 4 on a slightly questionable shot with Sparks apparently being interfered with, but the officials let the goal stand.

Orlando would get the last laugh in this one, though. With 1:17 remaining in regulation, Guy shot the puck on net, and the puck appeared to bounce off a Greenville defender before sliding just behind Hrenak, giving Guy his first professional hat trick and, more importantly, a 5-4 Solar Bears lead.

With the win, Orlando got to within 6 points of Greenville, but an Atlanta victory over Fort Wayne kept the Solar Bears one point out of fifth place.

Sparks stopped 19 of 23 shots for the victory. Guy finished with a 4-point day, adding an assist.


Orlando kicks off the month of March on Thursday by hosting the North Division’s Adirondack Thunder (otherwise known as Conflict of Interest Day for this writer). They will then host Florida on Friday before heading north to Charleston on Sunday afternoon to visit the Stingrays.