ALLEN, TX — The Orlando Solar Bears are in Texas this weekend to play the Allen Americans on Saturday night (7:05 pm CT) and Sunday afternoon (4:05 pm CT). It is always difficult to do a game preview at this time of year because teams have played so few games so you tend to look at last season and with the amount of turnover in the ECHL that does tell you very much. With that said let’s take a look at both this season and last season.
- Something will have to give this weekend because both of these teams come into the weekend undefeated. Orlando is 1-0 having beaten Jacksonville 5-4 in overtime on the road in their season opener. Allen is 2-0 with two road wins against Rapid City (8-3 & 5-3) on opening weekend.
- Roster changes and player availability can move quickly at this time of year. Last weekend Allen had a full roster of 22 players. This weekend they will have no extra players. Mathieu Aubin and Miles Liberati went on the 21 day injured reserve and yesterday two players got the call that they are headed to the AHL. The names aren’t public yet but should be announced today. That leaves the roster at 18 players so if there are any injuries the Americans will have to play short this weekend as 18 players dress for each game.
- Orlando is dealing with injuries, they have 26 players on their roster but five (including Darryl Bootland) are on the 21 day IR.
- One way to compare Allen and Orlando is to look at experience. Allen’s roster has played 1040 games for the Americans in prior seasons. Orlando’s roster has just 141 games played in Orlando in the past. That tells you Allen has many more returning players than Orlando. Allen has just one rookie on the team (Josh Thrower) while Orlando has six rookies. If you look at AHL experience the advantage goes to Orlando as their roster has 1557 AHL games played. Allen’s roster represents 793 games of AHL experience. When it comes to NHL games played Orlando has 52 games (32 are Bootland) and Allen has 0.
- If you look at age, height and weight averages between Allen and Orlando they are virtually the same. On average Allen players are two months older, Orlando is a half inch taller and a half pound heavier. Now that is a meaningless stat but after all it is that time of year.
Here are the current stats comparing Allen and Orlando. Remember, Orlando has played just one game and Allen two.
|Power Play||0.0% (0/9)||0.0% (0/6)|
|Penalty Kill||88.9% (1/9)||88.9% (1/9)|
|Leading Scorer||Olivier Archambault (2-5-7)||Kristian Pospisil (2-0-2)|
- The similarity in special teams stats is most notable. Neither team has a power play goal as they are a combined 0-15 and they both have identical penalty kill percentage (88.9%). I know coach Steve Martinson has worked quite a bit on the power play this week and would assume Orlando has done likewise. Special teams are a big key to any game and will probably be the difference maker this weekend.
- Last season Orlando finished with 82 points (36-26-7-3) to finish fourth in the South Division. The 82 points ranked them #14 in the ECHL. They lost in the first round of the playoffs to Florida. The Solar Bears won the first two playoff games in Florida to take a 2-0 series lead and had a 3-1 series lead before Florida stormed back to win the series in seven games.
- Last season Allen finished with 104 points (49-17-4-2) to finish first in the Mountain Division. The 104 points ranked them #2 in the ECHL. Allen lost in the second round of the playoffs (4-2) to the eventual Kelly Cup champions, Colorado Eagles.
- Allen played Orlando twice last season on the road and they were both memorable games. On January 26th Greger Hanson scored two goals and Eric Roy scored a power play goal late in the third period to send the game to overtime. Allen out shot Orlando 6-3 in the OT but neither team could score. Orlando dominated in the shootout scoring on three straight attempts against Jamie Murray for the win.
- Three days later on January 29th the rematch was equally as exciting as Allen came out on top 5-4 in a game that ended in overtime. Here is how I described that game at the time:
The Allen Americans came away with a 5-4 come from behind overtime victory over the Orlando Solar Bears on Sunday afternoon before a crowd of 6747 at the Amway Center. Victories have not come easy for the Americans recently and that was certainly the case yesterday. Allen surrendered two goals in the first 3:53 of the game but came back with two goals of their own in the first period tying the score 2-2 with 51 seconds left in the period. Just 28 seconds later the Americans gave up another goal to make the score 3-2 going into the first intermission. Coach Martinson switched goalies at the start of the second period as Peter Di Salvo replaced Jamie Murray. Orlando scored the only goal of the second period. Allen headed into the third period trailing 4-2 and were certainly battling the odds as the Solar Bears had a perfect 13-0 record when leading after the second period. The third period showed what the Americans are capable of as they dominated play out shooting Orlando 21-4 and sending the game to overtime on goals by Josh Brittain and David Makowski. Allen overcame a penalty during the overtime and scored the game winner with 35 seconds remaining. Eric Roy was the hero as he scored from the point on a play where Bryan Moore did a great job screening the goalie.
Based on how these teams battled each other last season there should be a couple of exciting games at the AEC this weekend.
If you compare the entirety of last season between Allen and Orlando the Americans had a better power play (24.4% to 17.1%) and better penalty kill (84.4% to 75.9%), they scored more goals per game (4.08 to 3.61) and allowed fewer goals per game (2.82 to 3.58). Advantage definitely to Allen but what happened last season has little bearing on this season.
There is a four way tie at the top of the Mountain Division as Allen, Colorado, Idaho and Wichita all have four points. Utah and Rapid City share last place with zero points. The matchups this weekend will show if the gap between the teams at the top and bottom will widen or contract. Allen and Colorado play two games outside the division with Allen taking on Orlando and Colorado hosting Norfolk. Idaho (2-1) has a home and home series with Utah (0-4). Wichita (2-0) hosts Rapid City (0-2) on Saturday and Sunday. It is a big weekend for all the teams but especially Utah and Rapid City who could find themselves eight point behind the division leaders at the end of the weekend, just 10 days into the season.
DID YOU KNOW: The Orlando Solar Bears started play in the ECHL as an expansion franchise in 2012-13. Their name was revived from the Orlando Solar Bears that played in the International Hockey League (IHL) from 1995 to 2001.