Most fans of the ECHL know how crazy this season has been with changing schedules, limited attendance due to COVID and other guidelines. It’s been no exception for the Orlando Solar Bears, who have played the league Florida Everblades a whopping 21 times out of 27. Orlando’s record against the Everblades this season is 7-12-2; whereas, against the rest of the league, the Solar Bears are 19-6-2. The Eastern Division has been an absolute log jam all the way from sixth and right up to second place. Orlando is at a major disadvantage this season by only playing Indy and Wheeling a combined five times.
The Wheeling Nailers are at the bottom of the division, meanwhile, Orlando would love to play a team in that position as opposed to playing one sitting at the top. I spoke with Orlando forward Jerry D’amigo last week about the 27 games scheduled against their crosstown rivals. “It sucks… it stinks. We wish we weren’t playing the same teams over and over,” he said. Since their last game against the Everblades, Orlando has won five and lost two in their last seven.
The Solar Bears have capitalized on this stretch of games, sitting in the third spot in the east, one point behind the Indy Fuel, who sit atop them in second place. On April 14th, Orlando took on a hungry Stingray team who is right on the brink of the ECHL playoff bubble. The best way to describe this game is that it could be considered the league’s game of the year.
The game started off slow in the first period, as the South Carolina Stingrays were able to net the one and only goal of the frame. As Cole Ully cut through the slot, he was able to find defensemen Max Gottlieb, who was sitting on the back door wide open to bury the puck. The second period is when the fireworks really started to spark. When Aaron Luchuk skated around the Stingrays net, he discovered a wide open Chris Leblanc, who was placed in the right circle to tie the game at one apiece.
Two minutes and eight seconds later, defensemen Nolan Valleau fired a slap shot from the point and it was tipped in by Anthony Repaci. Orlando then took their first lead of the night, as they would go up 2-1 on South Carolina. The Solar Bears then got another break, as a two-on-one would quickly assume, finding Nolan Valleau on the score sheet a second time. Valleau’s pass across to Kyle Topping would beat Alex Dubeau into the mesh on his glove side. That would see the Solar Bears take a 3-1 lead in the game against the Stingrays.
South Carolina continued to fight back, as Darien Craighead found Andrew Cherniwchan wide open by the Solar Bears’ net in front of goalie Clint Windsor. This saw Orlando go back up by a 3-2 score. 32 seconds later, Orlando got another two-on-one, as Joseph Garreffa would pass it across to Krystof Hrabik, who buried the chance, which would make it 4-2. The Stingrays would then find a late goal, as Dan DeSalvo took a shot off Windsor’s pads, which then deflected onto Mark Cooper’s stick. The Canadian then put a pass in between his legs, sending it to Justin Forek, who scored with ease through the five-hole of Clint Windsor. This made it 4-3 Orlando, as the two headed into the third period.
Early in the final frame, Caleb Herbert drove Orlando’s defence to the net, a play in which the puck would follow. This led to the league reviewing the play, and it was determined a good goal to tie the game. Orlando fought back to get a power play in which they’d go looking to take the lead. This saw defensemen Mark Auk fire a shot right from the circle to centreman Tristan Langan. The forward then sent the puck to J.J Piccinich, who would put Orlando back on top 5-4.
All of 23 seconds later, Cole Ully would make a nice little toe drag and place it right in the net to tie the game once again. The Stingrays doubled their lead a short time later, as the puck found the stick of Andrew Cherniwchan, who then made a blind pass in front to Cameron Askew. That would see Orlando behind again, 6-5. From there, things began to change, as Alex Dubeau, between the pipes for South Carolina, made an amazing glove save on Orlando forward, Chris Leblanc.
This would see Dubeau exit the game, as Matt Jurusik drew in for the remainder of the contest. After allowing a goal on his first shot faced, Leblanc won the face-off for the Solar Bears, sending it back to Luchuk, who would knot the game at six. Orlando would go on to win it, as Leblanc closed it out with his second of the game. He received the puck off a poke from Aaron Luchuk, which tied the bow on the contest in a high-scoring affair.
Following the 7-6 effort, Orlando traded defensemen Jordan Schneider to the Indy Fuel for future considerations. Schneider, 26-years-old, only played in three games while on a contract with the Solar Bears.