Solar Bears Den: Shaken and Stirred

Orlando undergoes a near complete roster overhaul, then takes 2 of 3 to stay in the playoff race.

When we last checked in on the Orlando Solar Bears, the team was coming off a winless 4-game road trip that saw their playoff position in the ECHL’s South Division temporarily disappear after Greenville passed them.

With each league’s respective trade deadlines approaching, the Solar Bears gave their roster a makeover, hoping to jumpstart the team for the final regular season stretch.

So far, it looks to be helping, as Orlando was a shootout shy of a perfect week, and they find themselves back in the postseason hunt.

Comings and Goings:

Tampa Bay and Syracuse may have seen some roster movement thanks to the NHL Trade Deadline, but it was nothing compared to what Orlando saw this week ahead of the ECHL’s trade deadline.  And pay attention, there will be a pop quiz on all of this later.

-On Monday, the Solar Bears traded forward Dylan Fitze to Utah for forward Brian Bowen.  The Massachusetts native had 40 points (20 goals, 20 assists) in 57 games for the Grizzlies.  He also has ECHL experience with Worcester, Norfolk, and Adirondack.  Fitze had 10 goals and 5 assists in 45 games for Orlando.

-At the trade deadline, Tampa Bay picked up goaltender Alexei Melnichuk from San Jose in exchange for forward Antoine Morand, and was reassigned to the Solar Bears.  Melnichuk appeared in 31 games for the Barracuda, going 10-14-2 with a 3.92 GAA and .867 save percentage.  He will take over for Amir Miftakhnov, who was recalled to Syracuse after making just one appearance in his return to Florida.

-Captain Kevin Lohan returned to the Solar Bears after getting released from his PTO with Ontario.  He made two appearances for the Reign, going scoreless.

-Orlando signed forward Matt Berry to a standard ECHL contract.  The Illinois native joins the Solar Bears after completing his senior season at Miami (OH), where he had 8 goals and 15 assists in 36 games.

-Rookie forward Jackson Keane was released.  He had 0 goals and 11 assists in 40 appearances.

-Forward Joseph Garreffa was recalled from Orlando to San Jose, then reassigned by the Barracuda to Tulsa.  Orlando will receive the ever popular future considerations from the Oilers.  Garreffa had 9 goals and 13 assists in 38 games.

-Before Thursday’s contest, Orlando dealt defenseman Nolan Valleau to Worcester in exchange for forward Ross Olsson.  Valleau had a goal and 3 assists in 12 games for the Solar Bears.  Olsson had 19 goals and 9 assists in 41 games for the Railers, and also had 2 appearances in the AHL for Bridgeport, going scoreless.

-Forward Tye Felhaber and defenseman Dmitry Semykin were reassigned to Orlando by the Crunch.  Felhaber made two appearances for Syracuse, going scoreless.  He last played on February 27th against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.  Semykin made three appearances in his latest Crunch stint, last appearing March 19th in Bridgeport.

-According to AHL transactions, forward Aaron Luchuk was released from his PTO by Hartford.  He had 2 goals and 2 assists in 15 games for the Wolfpack.  The list also showed goaltender Zachary Emond being reassigned to Orlando by San Jose.  He went 3-2-2 with a 3.95 GAA and .895 save percentage for the Barracuda.  He last appeared for Orlando on December 21st.  Both moves were officially announced prior to Friday’s contest.

Game #61, Thursday 3/24: Orlando 4, Florida 3 (OT)

With a new look lineup, Orlando returned to the Amway Center on Thursday night to host the Everblades.

Melnichuk did not have the best first impression, as the visitors jumped ahead in the first period. Florida took a 1-0 lead off a Jordan Sambrook goal 6:51 into the opening frame.  Joe Pendenza doubled the Everblades lead with 5:01 to go in the period with his 24th goal of the season.

The Solar Bears cut the lead to 2-1 with 1:59 to go in the period on Luke Boka’s 15th goal of the year.

Making his Orlando debut, Bowen scored his first as a Solar Bear at the 12:43 mark to tie the game at 2.  Bonus points for the celebration, sir.

Less than 2 minutes later, Cole Moberg picked up his second goal of the season on a power play to put the Solar Bears ahead 3-2.

John McCarron tied the game at 3 for the Everblades at the 6:23 mark with his ECHL leading  6th shorthanded goal.

The game headed into overtime, where Maxim Cajkovic ended it with 4:16 remaining to snap Orlando’s five-game losing streak.

Melnichuk recovered from a shaky opening period to stop 23 of 26 shots for the win.  Tristin Langan and Michael Brodzinski each had two assists.

Game #62, Friday 3/25: Orlando 4, Greenville 1

Luchuk made his return to the Solar Bears lineup on Friday, as Orlando welcomed the Swamp Rabbits to the Amway Center for the first of two.

Off a pass from who else but Luchuk, Langan put Orlando up 1-0 5:15 into the first with his 14th goal of the season.

Greenville tied the game at 1 at the 11:11 mark on a goal by Quin Foreman.

The Solar Bears took over the contest in the second with a pair of goals.  Cajkovic went the distance to score his second goal in as many games 1:21 into the middle frame for a 2-1 lead.

Fresh off serving a two-minute elbowing call, Tyler Bird added his 15th off the water bottle with 4:40 remaining in the period for a two-goal cushion.

Luchuk finished off a three-point night in his return from Hartford with his 13th goal of the season 5:28 into the third for the final 4-1 score.

Melnichuk won his second straight start, stopping 30 of 31 shots.  Langan and four others added one assist each.

Game #63, Sunday 3/27: Greenville 4, Orlando 3 (SO)

After a rare Saturday off day, the Solar Bears and Swamp Rabbits finished off the two-game set.

Sunday was also Orlando’s turn to host their Hockey Fights Cancer game.

Melnichuk’s day lasted just 39 seconds, as the team looked to quickly get him qualified for the Kelly Cup playoff roster should Orlando make it to the postseason.  As a refresher: a player only needs a minimum of 5 ECHL games during the regular season in order to be eligible for a postseason roster spot.  Melnichuk will now need two more appearances to be considered for the playoffs.  Emond took over the net for the remainder of the day.

Greenville took a 1-0 lead at the 4:02 mark on a goal by Dallas Gerads.  That was when things took a turn:

Orlando’s special teams came through in the second with a pair of power play goals.  Cajkovic extended his goal streak to 3 games at the 13:19 mark to tie the game at 1.

Bird gave Orlando a 2-1 lead with 1:55 remaining in the second with his 16th goal of the season.

The Swamp Rabbits made a comeback in the third.  Ben Freeman tied the game at 2 2:09 into the period with his 9th goal of the season.  Bryce Reddick then put Greenville ahead 3-2 with 13:13 remaining with his 5th.

With Emond pulled for an extra skater, Bird made a nice play blocking a Swamp Rabbit’s shot towards the empty net, then seconds later Luchuk came through in the clutch, tying the game at 3 with 35.6 to go in regulation.

Orlando headed to overtime for the second time this week, and after a scoreless 7 minutes of 3 on 3, it was on to the shootout.  Odeen Tufto connected in the first round, while Emond allowed a goal to Aidan McDonald.  Luchuk was denied in the second round, while Greenville’s Anthony Rinaldi missed wide on his attempt.  Cajkovic was denied in the third round, then Liam Pecoraro was denied by Emond.

To round 4, where Felhaber was denied, then Justin Nachbaur sent it over Emond’s shoulder into the net, giving Greenville the extra standings point.

Emond stopped 18 of 21 in the first 65 minutes, while Melnichuk did not face any shots in his brief appearance.  Michael Brodzinski added two assists.

Kelly Cup Playoff Update:

After Sunday’s action, here’s where the South Division stands with three weeks remaining in the regular season:

  1. Atlanta: 64 GP, 40-20-3-1, 84 points, .656 pct.
  2. Florida: 63 GP, 35-18-6-4, 80 points, .635 pct.
  3. Jacksonville: 61 GP, 35-21-3-2, 75 points, .615 pct.
  4. Orlando: 63 GP, 31-27-4-1, 67 points, .532 pct.
  5. Greenville: 61 GP, 28-26-4-3, 63 points, .516 pct.


Orlando takes on South Carolina in a home-and-home set, heading to Charleston on Friday night then coming home on Saturday, followed by a home match-up with the Everblades on Monday.