ORLANDO, FL – The Orlando Solar Bears are going for an entirely different look and style of play this year, drawing heavily from the playbook of Allen Americans and the Colorado Eagles. Head Coach Drake Berehowsky hopes that his team will out-muscle the other teams in the tough South division.
Head Coach: Berehowsky returns to the Orlando Solar Bears after being thrown into the breach mid-season last November. This is Berehowsky’s second tour of duty in Orlando; he previously served as the head coach during the team’s out-of-hibernation season in 2012-13, finishing that year with a 28-37-7 record.
Last Season: Regular season record: 36-26-0-10. Finished fourth in the South Division. Postseason record: 3-3-1.
Last year saw a change in attitude for the Solar Bears. With the return of head coach Drake Berehowsky, the team successfully gave the fans something to cheer about with more home ice wins. Despite a bumpy start under Anthony Noreen, the team’s home record improved over the course of the season, going from 33-30-0-9 in 2015-16 to 36-26-0-10 in 2016-17.
- Radical Remodelling: Only four familiar faces are returning to the Solar Bears this year: Joe Perry, Chris Crane, Jeff King, and Michael Turner. Consider also that Turner only played four games with the team and King a total of seven. Berehowsky has cleaned the house to rebuild a team that will have his distinctive stamp.
- The Magic Connection: The Solar Bears were sold during the off-season to the DeVos family, which also owns the NBA’s Orlando Magic. The possibilities for advertising and marketing are abundant, but how will the association affect personnel decisions?
- Defense and Physicality: The Solar Bears will bring a larger, more physical team onto the ice this year, and they will have a stable of players known for their scrappy play. Adam Phillips and Mike Monfredo are sizeable and seasoned blueliners. And even on the offense of side, the team has players like Darryl Bootland (nearing 3,500 career penalty minutes) who are known for their prowess on defense.
- Looking for Lightning: With their focus on muscle and defense, the Solar Bears will be turning to rookies and the young recruits sent down from the Toronto Marlies to bring the speed and agility to the ice. The big question mark for the Solar Bears is whether the largely untested and unknown young guns can supply the necessary offensive firepower to make the team a contender.
- Overtime play is often overlooked, but it was a painful sore spot for the Solar Bears. Last year, the Solar Bears went 1-7 in that category. Their record was better when they made it to a shootout. In those cases, the Bears went 3-3. Those points lost in overtime are precious late in the season when the playoff hunt is on.
- The Solar Bears were tops in the ECHL last year in the shots-for category (2666) but were fifth in the league when it came to shots-against goal (2526). No doubt, Orlando would love to maintain the blistering shot pace against other teams, but the Solar Bears should look to get some of its big bodies to screen and grab rebounds in front of the opposing goal.
- In-state Rivalries Heat Up: With the addition of the Jacksonville Icemen, the state of Florida will boast three ECHL teams next year, making it unique in the league. Look for some spirited play when the Florida teams play. And expect the Solar Bears to remember the devastating line brawl instigated by the Everblades that doomed Orlando in last year’s playoff.
- Solar Bears add several former Colorado Eagles to the roster, including Sean Zimmerman and Bootland. It is clear the team made a bet that a hefty dose of former Mountain Division players (especially from the Eagles and Allen Americans) can bring some rich gold to central Florida.
- Chris Crane and Joe Perry made for a potent offensive combo last year, with Crane fighting relentlessly for pucks along the board and Perry putting his body in front of the net. Look for this line to continue to produce and to lead the young guns coming down from Toronto.
- A comeback story to watch: Monfredo had a disappointing 2016-17 season and is motivated to turn around his play this coming season and prove that he is one of the league’s premier blueliners.
Blocked and Reported
- Austin Block was traded to the Cincinnati Cyclones at the start of training camp. He was one of the last returning Solar Bears, but he has now joined others in the northern migration.
- Last year’s captain Eric Baier has hung up his player skates and now coaches junior hockey in Orlando. Expect to see him at the Amway Center, but no longer on the ice.
- Justin Buzzeo, Eric Faille, and Milos Bubela all left the U.S. to play in European leagues. The Solar Bears gave up star rookie Alex Gacek and a future consideration just before the trade deadline to acquire Buzzeo, so his departure stings.
- It’s not expected that Ryan Massa, Orlando’s scrappy goalie from last season, will play this season. Expect at least one goalie to be sent down from the Toronto Marlies. There is also buzz about the signing of Matt Hackett, who has played over 25 games at the NHL level. He has reported to the Solar Bears training camp, so it looks like the club will have him between the pipes.
Solar Bears are gonna show the South Division their true strength this year. No more Mr. Nice Guy! Florida Everblades take note.
What Say You?