ORLANDO, FL – The offseason has seen a number of changes for Orlando’s Solar Bears—a new ownership, a new in-state rival just to the north of them, and several changes to the roster. While player changes occur every offseason, this year has seen some significant players leave the team, which means that head coach Drake Berehowsky and assistant coach John Snowden will have to be especially busy in the weeks ahead.

Veteran Defenseman Becomes a Full-Time Youth Hockey Coach

Blueliner and fan favorite Eric Baier has taken up a job as a coach for the Orlando Youth Hockey team. Baier has worked at the RDV Ice Den several times and had even taken coaching jobs there over the summer. He has also taken root in Orlando, which left him looking for a stable position in a place which he now calls home.

In a recent interview that appeared on the Solar Bears website, Baier said, “I’m ready to move on to the next chapter in my hockey career…Over the last four seasons, I have been able to play in front of the greatest fans in the ECHL. It’s why I fell in love with this city – which I proudly call home – and it’s why I feel it’s time for me to give back to the community that has embraced me.”

While fans are sad to see Baier leave the Solar Bears, they are glad that he will remain in the Central Florida area. Expect to see Baier in the Amway Center on many game nights.

Faille and Buzzeo Move Across the Pond

Forward Eric Faille has signed with the HC Banska Bystrica of the Slovakian Champions League and will play there for the 2017-18 season. Meanwhile, Justin Buzzeo has signed with the Graz 99ers of the EBEL (Erste Bank Eishockey Liga, German for Erste Bank Hockey League).

The 99ers have been around since 1999 (hence the name, 99ers) and have been a premiere team. They won the championship of the Austrian National League (the league where they started) in their first year. The franchise shifted over to the EBEL at the start of the 2000-2001 season.

Both forwards will leave notable holes to fill. Buzzeo’s move is especially painful when considered in light of the trade deadline deal that brought him to the club from the Atlanta Gladiators in March. Buzzeo provided some key scores in the first round playoff series against the Florida Everblades, but he came at the price of star rookie Alex Gacek and a future consideration. Faille was one of the team’s alternate captains last year, and was the top point producer, accounting for 70 points in 57 games played.

What Berehowsky Needs:

With Baier, Buzzeo, and Faille gone, Berehowsky and Snowden will need to make some big changes during the off-season. One, of course, is finding a new team leader. In addition, the team is going to need to find key pieces now missing on both ends of the ice.

On Thursday, Orlando released their 2017 protected list:

FORWARDS: Darik Angeli, Austin Block, Milos Bubela, Justin Buzzeo, Brian Christie (R), Chris Crane, Denver Manderson (V), Ryan Moore (R), Joe Perry, Spencer Pommells, Taylor Stefishen, and Ethan Werek (V)

DEFENSEMEN: Eric Baier (V), Chris Bradley, Ben Danford, Taylor Doherty (V), Jeff King (R), Trevor Ludwig (V) and Spencer McAvoy

GOALTENDERS: Mitch Gillam (R) and Ryan Massa

With the protected list on the table, the team will need to figure out what players to sign from that set. I have compiled a top-five list of players for Orlando to sign, with some honorable mentions.

Top 5 Players to Sign:

#1: Ryan Massa: Massa was the bedrock for the Solar Bears during last season’s playoff run. He also showed some vital leadership for the team. The management would be foolish to give up such an experienced, well-trained, and high octane goaltender.

#2: Joe Perry: Being the third leading point scorer, playing 70 games throughout the season, tallying three assists during the playoffs—keeping Joe Perry would be a no brainer. Perry is big for a forward, being 6’2”, he is an avid scorer, and he is a durable, rugged player. When you look at the winning style of play that has sent the South Carolina Stingrays and Colorado Eagles to the Kelly Cup finals, you can see why keeping players like Perry will be key.

#3: Chris Crane: Crane, being an experienced forward, did quite well with Orlando. Tallying 35 points in the regular season and nine points in the offseason, Crane was a powerhouse of a forward throughout the year. He was especially crucial in terms of puck possession in the offensive zone. When teamed up with Perry, Crane’s offensive power was elevated. Signing Crane would greatly benefit the team.

#4: Taylor Doherty: While a primed defenseman, Doherty has also shown scoring ability. Tallying seven points during the playoffs, with four goals and three assists, Doherty was Orlando’s most valuable defenseman in the postseason. With Baier gone, Orlando could use a veteran defenseman, and Doherty fits that role perfectly.

#5: Denver Manderson: Being on the team since the 2014-15 season, Manderson has been another prime leader of the pack. It can also be noted that Manderson gathered a total of 10 points during last year’s playoff run, with 5 goals and 5 assists, making him the team’s point leader in the playoffs.

Honorable Mentions:

Austin Block: The Solar Bears missed Block when a late-season injury took him off the roster. When healthy, Block provides solid play and energy which the team needs.
Mitch Gillam: While Gillam didn’t win during the playoffs, he proved to be a decent backup with potential. If he were to stay with Orlando, with a little experience, he would show improvement.

Milos Bubela: Bubela came to Orlando from the Wheeling Nailers. Tallying 23 points in the regular season (19 with Orlando and 4 with Wheeling) and 2 in the postseason, Bubela would not be a bad player to sign.

Keep in mind the signings cannot happen until June 16, and the team’s affiliation with the AHL Toronto Marlies will no doubt impact some of the Solar Bears’ decisions.

Two other personnel notes are worth making:

News surfaced last month that the Toronto Maple Leafs had agreed to allow the struggling Colorado Avalanche to talk to Kyle Dubas, Assistant General Manager for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Dubas plays a crucial role in player development and is a key decision-maker in terms of which players get sent to Orlando from the Toronto Marlies. A few days after that announcement, however, it seemed like those discussions were off. The Marlies – Solar Bears relationship has had time to mature in a way that has benefited both teams. For the Solar Bears, it would good for Dubas to stay put in Toronto. So, for now, there is a sigh of relief that the discussion with the Avalanche is apparently not going forward.

Also, former head coach Anthony Noreen has become the GM/Head Coach of the Tri-City Storm of the USHL. He will serve as their coach for the 2017-18 season. The USHL is the league that Noreen was with prior to coming to the Solar Bears in 2015.

Stay with The Sin Bin for all the news on the Solar Bears and your favorite minor pro hockey team through the offseason!

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