Team hosts Western Conference contender Idaho Steelheads Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday
The Orlando Solar Bears are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel that is the ECHL. A playoff spot is likely waiting for them when they emerge at the end of the regular season.
The team is in the midst of a tough patch of the season, and it’s responding. Orlando went to Canada last weekend and met the Northern Division leading Newfoundland Growlers, taking two of three games including a 4-3 shootout victory on Sunday.
The Solar Bears (33-21-5, 71 points) returned home Wednesday to then take on the Southern Division-leading and in-state rival Florida Everblades (43-15-5, 91), and salvaged one point in a 5-4 shootout loss after digging out of an early three-goal deficit.
So that’s five points in four games against division leaders, which sounded about par for the course according to Head Coach Drake Berehowsky.
“You always want more, you’re always trying to improve,” he said.
There’s no immediate letup — the Bears host the Idaho Steelheads (35-21-5, 75), the second-place team in the Western Conference Mountain Division this weekend, playing Saturday and Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Amway Center and on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. at the RDV Sportsplex in Maitland.
Saturday's game is First Responders Night — members of local fire and police forces will face off in the annual "Guns 'n Hoses" game that starts at 1:30.
“We’re going to look at everything in order to be better, it won’t just be one thing,” Berehowsky said of preparations for another weekend battle. “We wouldn’t see these guys again until late in the playoffs, but we’re not thinking out that far, we’re just going to prepare like we’re used to.”
For the fans, Wednesday was another fun night in the rivalry against the Everblades — at least the last 27 minutes or so of regulation time were. In between a series of mildly entertaining fights — four of them, leaving the officials to sort out a series of penalties — Florida got off to a hot start, taking a 4-1 lead on a pair of early second-period goals by Nathan Perkovich spaced 82 seconds apart.
What followed was a five-minute stretch when Orlando made it a game again. Tayler Thompson got it started when he threw a shot from mid-range past Florida goalie Jeremy Helvig. Just 47 seconds later, Otto Somppi scored on a nifty redirect of Kevin Lohan's initial shot. The Solar Bears climbed all the way back when Cody Donaghey buried a shot from the left circle on a 5-on-3 power play with 21 seconds left in the period to tie it at 4-4.
Orlando opened both the third period, in which there was no scoring, and the overtime on power plays that were more like outages; the Solar Bears didn’t even get a single shot off in the overtime.
In the tiebreaker shootout, the Everblades scored twice on Orlando goalie Corbin Boes, who came on in the second period in relief of starter Connor Ingram. Boes took the hard-luck loss despite stopping all 12 shots he faced in regulation.
Defenseman Michael Brodzinski, who assisted on three of the Solar Bears’ four goals, said he’s glad to play a very good stretch of teams to simulate the ECHL playoffs, which begin in about a month. Orlando is in second place in the Southern Division, three points ahead of the Jacksonville Iceman and 10 up on the fourth-place South Carolina Stingrays heading into Saturday.
“For sure, we’re using this as a measuring stick,” he said. “It was nice to see a great comeback (Wednesday), but you can’t spot good teams three goals and think you’ll get away with it all the time. We couldn’t close it out and they got the win.”