ORLANDO, FL – When it came to showing heart and character, the Orlando Solar Bears had won before the puck dropped.  The organization, as a part of its home opener against the Florida Everblades, held a special Orlando United Night as a special tribute to the Pulse nightclub shooting victims.

The heartfelt event made a statement that the Solar Bears are committed to supporting the LGBT community and to bringing the city together after the June 12th tragedy that left 50 people dead (including the shooter, Omar Mateen) and 53 injured.

The evening started with a moment of silence, which the crowd of 9,237 participated in, followed by an intro video featuring Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. There also was a live appearance of workers at the Pulse nightclub, and Solar Bears Chairman and CEO Joe Haleski presented the OneOrlando Fund with a check for $70,000. The organization honored all first responders who were in attendance at the game.

Mayor Dyer was there in person to thank the fans for the tremendous support they showed during the event and to announce the start of the game.

New Sights, New Sounds
Even before the puck drop, it was clear that a LOT of things have changed for the Bears. For instance, the center ice has many additional sponsors on it, making it now resemble the famously busy Fort Wayne Komets’ rink. Besides bearing the logo of naming-sponsor ARS Rescue Rooter, the rink now also contains a whirlwind of other corporations. Sonny’s BBQ, Freddy’s Steakburgers & Fries, Neoguard, Xymogen, Coors Light, Florida Hospital, Orlando Sanford International Airport, CenturyLink (whew!!), not to mention Orlando United have all splashed their names on the ice.  

The team also has a new, louder goal horn (more accurately, a goal horn recording) and a different goal song, “Don’t Stop the Party” by Pitbull. The song has gotten mixed reactions from the fans, as some of them prefer “Chelsea Dagger.”

The crowd was delighted with the sound of the new horn, which is a rich recording of a Kahlenberg Q-4. This is the model used by the Chicago Blackhawks, and it is significant because of its deep history. The Blackhawks were the first to use the horn in the 1980s. This is also a hopeful lead into the Amway Center eventually getting its own horn.

Photo: Chad Boerth/The Sin Bin
Photo: Chad Boerth/The Sin Bin

Sharp Blades and Waking Bears
In terms of the game against the Everblades, the Solar Bears’ style of play showed moments of brilliance scattered among some soft passes and painful turnovers. Some of the weaknesses that plagued the team last year were evident on opening night.

The home team scored early at 3:35 of the first period, with Nick Brouillard getting credit for the goal after some nifty, sharp passing by Eric Faille and Chase Witela close to the net.

But the party was short-lived. Not even a minute later, Everblades’ forward Mike Aviani scored at 4:14, evening the score at one.

The Blades have shown early in the season that they are eager to catch teams when they are playing soft, missing feeds, or undisciplined. Immediately after the opening faceoff of the second period, Solar Bears’ blueliner Brenden Miller headed towards the Bears’ defensive zone to retrieve a dump-in while being pursued by Everblades’ Brant Harris. Miller seemed like he had a good handle on acquiring the puck, but a premature slowdown allowed a speedy Harris to steal and feed it to John McCarron who then sniped it past Kasimir Kaskisuo for a goal just 13 seconds into the second.

Just over two minutes later, Florida’s Matt Berry faked Kaskisuo on a power play to make the score 3-1 Everblades. Towards the end of the period, however, Orlando’s fast forward T.J. Foster grabbed the puck and, while leading a rush for the Bears, slid the puck past Anthony Peters to make it 3-2.

This was it for the scoring, as the next thirty-five minutes of the game entailed a scoreless end to the second period and a scoreless but action-packed third.

The Everblades are proving themselves to be the team to beat in the South Division. While other teams like the Solar Bears and Swamp Rabbits are working to develop precision and chemistry, the Blades will be content to clamp down on some early points, which has led them to two consecutive division championships.

The Solar Bears will regroup to head into a tough three-game home stand this weekend. They face the South Carolina Stingrays on Thursday followed by a two-game series with the Atlanta Gladiators on Friday and Saturday. The Saturday duel will feature the Solar Bears in zombie jerseys, and the fans hope to see them reanimated.

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