ORLANDO, Fla. – It is under a week until Orlando Solar Bears hockey returns for the first time since mid-March, a long wait for all fans. With new additions to the roster during the offseason, I’m here to give you a preview of what’s to come.
Initial Schedule (Home games in BOLD):
Saturday, December 12th, 2020: @ Florida Everblades at 7:00 pm
Friday, December 18th, 2020: @ Wheeling Nailers at 7:10 pm
Saturday, December 19th, 2020: @ Wheeling Nailers at 7:10 pm
Tuesday, December 29th, 2020: vs. JACKSONVILLE at 7:00 pm
Wednesday, December 30th, 2020: vs. FLORIDA at 7:00 pm
Saturday, January 2nd, 2021: @ Florida Everblades at 7:00 pm
Sunday, January 3rd, 2021: vs. FLORIDA at 3:00 pm
Friday, January 8th, 2021: vs. FLORIDA at 7:00 pm
Saturday, January 9th, 2021: @ Jacksonville Icemen at 7:00 pm
Head Coach: Drake Berehowsky, entering his 5th season as head coach, overall record 132-105-30
Last Season: 62 GP, 27-29-5-1, 60 pts, 5th in division, 10th in conference
2019-20 Season Summary:
The Solar Bears finished last season with a losing record for the first time since the 2012-13 season, their first year in the league. On the bright side, Orlando was in playoff contention, trailing fourth-place Atlanta by only two points and third-place Greenville by three. But in their last 10 games, they recorded a record of 3-7-0-0. Many foes alike faced troubles with the South Carolina Stingrays, as well as the Florida Everblades, both of whom had already clinched a spot in the postseason. The team recorded an 85.7% penalty kill percentage, which was the highest in franchise history. However, they had less success on the powerplay, coming in at a 15.3% conversion rate. In terms of individual statistics, goaltender Clint Windsor led the team with 15 wins, while Trevor Olson topped the squad with 42 points.
Hot or Not?
I think the forwards and goaltenders have improved, however, I am unsure of what the defense is going to look like down the line. Picking up scorers like Aaron Luchuk and J.J. Piccinich, as well as retaining players such as Tristan Langan helped the team, and being able to hold on to Windsor and get a goaltender with NHL experience was huge for the team. The defense, however, is uncertain for me. The only defenseman with any kind of offensive ability is Patrick McNally, and many of the others lack quantity in their Plus/Minus totals with the exceptions of Lohan, as well as rookies McInnis and Green.
Aaron Luchuk – The 23-year-old entering his third professional season spent a majority of last season with the defending Kelly Cup Champion Newfoundland Growlers, wherein 45 games, he recorded 50 points (19 G, 31 A) while on an NHL-contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Garret Sparks – He has played in 38 NHL games, where he has a 14-18-2 record between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Vegas Golden Knights, along with two shutouts, a 3.10 goals-against average and a .897 save percentage.
J.J. Piccinich – He spent most of last season in Tulsa while on an AHL-contract, leading his team with 54 (12 G, 42 A) points in 59 games, and earned an invitation to the ECHL All-Star Game. He also has won the Kelly Cup and the Memorial Cup, the prestigious trophy in the Ontario Hockey League.
Tristan Langan – He was the leading rookie scorer on the team last season. In 45 games, he picked up 37 points (13 G, 24 A) and led all players on the roster with a plus-25.
Clint Windsor – In his first professional season, he made an appearance in 30 games, and held a record of 15-12-2, sporting a .927 save percentage, and a 2.45 goals-against average. Windsor also earned four shutouts to his name.
Chris LeBlanc – Entering his fourth season in the purple, orange, and white, the 27-year-old was third in points last season, picking up 35 points (14 G, 21 A) in 52 contests.
Trevor Olson – In October, the 26-year-old forward announced his retirement from professional hockey. During the shortened 2019-20 season, Olson led the team in points with 42 (20 G, 22 A), in games played with 59, in penalty minutes with 66, and served as an assistant captain.
Michael Brodzinski – The 25-year-old led all defensemen on the Solar Bears in points with 35. He signed a contract, but left the team for Europe.
Zach Fucale – The primary goaltender for the team in the 2019-20 season, Fucale attained a 10-8-4 record in 24 games, stopping 92.8% of all shots and allowing an average of 2.36 goals each game he appeared in. After departing for Germany in mid-February, the seasoned-Canadian never started in a single match before the cancellation of sports across the planet. He is now under contract with the Washington Capitals and is slated to spend the year in the American Hockey League with the Hershey Bears.
What to Watch For?
Assigned players – The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Syracuse Crunch have assigned a combined eight players to the Solar Bears to kick off the season, with half of those being rookies. The Solar Bears only trail the Greenville Swamp Rabbits for the most AHL/NHL contracted players assigned to their squad by one. This will likely play a crucial role in potentially propelling the Solar Bears to victory, having such a high-class roster.
Former Bears returning to the Den – J.J. Piccinich and Garret Sparks have signed ECHL contracts to come back to the Solar Bears. Keep note of these two, as Piccinich was selected to the All-Star Game and led his Tulsa Oilers in points, while Sparks has played numerous games in both the NHL and AHL.
Aiden Foley covers the Orlando Solar Bears for The Sin Bin. Follow him on @SinBinSolarBear for all the latest news on the Solar Bears!