ORLANDO, FLThe Orlando Solar Bears had a solid road trip to start November, and entered their three-game series with the South Carolina Stingrays last Thursday night with high hopes.

However, home ice has not always been kind to the Bears, especially after successful rampages in opposing arenas. The home-ice doldrums reappeared in the first three games of a ten-game home stand the Solar Bears will endure this month. While not a disaster, the team earned two out of six possible points this weekend to keep them at a steady fourth place in the South Division.

The team management has set winning on home ice a priority, and late Monday, the announcement was made that Head Coach, Anthony Noreenhas been relieved of his duties” and that Drake Berehowsky, the coach of the Solar Bears during their “out of hibernation season” (2012-13), is moving in as his replacement.  The team’s press release showcases Berehowsky’s outstanding home ice record which was 20-11-1-4 during his year behind the Orlando bench.

Series with South Carolina Stings the Solar Bears:

The Solar Bears started a three-game set with South Carolina on Thursday. At the start of the first match, it seemed like Orlando would have it in the bag. The Bears led the game 1-0 and racked up 10 shots on goal before the Stingrays even got their first puck on net. The opening score involved Brett Findlay deftly redirecting a pass from Denver Manderson just outside the crease. However, this would change quite quickly as the visitors would score a total of five unanswered goals to take game one by a 5-1 score.

The Stingray scoring was started by former Solar Bear, Scott Tanski, and Patrick Gaul turned into an assist machine, getting credit for dishing the puck off on the next four South Carolina tallies. When the Solar Bears saw its early efforts go unrewarded, they seemed to let up on the gas, and this in turn energized the opponents.

In game two, the roles were reversed. The Solar Bears got off to a slow start and had to fend off a scary rush to the net after the opening puck drop. The Stingrays were on the attack through the first minutes, leading the way in both shots on goal and their overall play. However, Orlando would gradually settle in, and Jon Jutzi would score his first goal as a Solar Bear to put Orlando up 1-0 midway through the second frame. Kasimir Kaskisuo would earn his first pro shutout as Orlando would defeat the Stingrays by a final score of 3-0; helped in part by a power play goal off the stick of Joe Perry.

In the third game, the pendulum swung back to South Carolina. Orlando scored the first goal when Manderson lit the lamp just over a minute into the game. But the Stingrays machine grumbled back to life as the Solar Bears found themselves trying to fend of a five-on-three power play, and the Stingrays’ Rob Flick took advantage of the situation. Both teams looked weary, but South Carolina managed two more tallies in the third period. The Solar Bears caught a second wind in the final minutes of the last frame, and Eric Baier brought the team to within one goal of the visitors with 31 seconds remaining in the game. But it was too little too late for the Bears who would fall 3-2 as South Carolina would take game three of the series.

Home-Away Differential Separates the Bears and Jackals from the Cyclones and Eagles:

With the loss on Sunday, the Solar Bears have continued a curious trend from last year. Depending on whether you want to call the glass half-full or half-empty, you can say that Orlando  either overachieves on the road or that it underachieves in its own den.

For those interested in the numbers, here is how things break down: In the current season, the Solar Bears and the Brampton Beast are tied for the third best win percentage (.875) in the ECHL while away from home. Meanwhile, Orlando’s home record percentage (.286) has them tied for a lowly 22nd place with the Atlanta Gladiators and the Rapid City Rush.

Putting this in statistical terms, one can talk about a team’s Home-Away Differential (HAD). The HAD ranking number is calculated by subtracting a team’s away record from their home record. The HAD percentage number is calculated by subtracting a team’s home win percentage from their away win percentage.

So, we can say that Orlando currently has an overall HAD of -19 and a percentage HAD of -.589. The large negative numbers indicate that the team consists of road warriors, performing much better away than at home. When considering away and home records, their away ranking is 19 notches higher than their home ranking, and their percentage increases .589 percentage points.

Because the season is young, I sought more perspective, and calculated these HAD numbers for the entire ECHL over the 2015-16 and 2014-15 seasons. Here are the results. The number in parentheses following the team’s name indicates their final overall ECHL ranking.

2015-16 Top 5 Positive HAD Teams (performing better at home than away):

  1. Cincinnati Cyclones (15): +18 Ranking and +.291 PCT
  2. Colorado Eagles (8): +13 Ranking and +.250 PCT
  3. Tulsa Oilers (18): +12 Ranking and +.236 PCT
  4. Utah Grizzlies (10): +11 Ranking and +.222 PCT
  5. Norfolk Admirals (25): +9 Ranking and +.209 PCT
    -Indy Fuel (21): +9 Ranking and +.194 PCT

2015-16 Top 5 Negative HAD Teams (performing better away than at home):

  1. Elmira Jackals (17): -21 Ranking and -.181 PCT
  2. Orlando Solar Bears (19): -15 Ranking and -.125 PCT
  3. Adirondack Thunder (12): -13 Ranking and -.111 PCT
    -Reading Royals (14): -13 Ranking and -.111 PCT
  4. Atlanta Gladiators (20): -10 Ranking and -.070 PCT

The league’s overall average percentage HAD has remained consistent. It was +.071 last year and +.074 the year before. This shows that, on average, teams have a slight (approximately +7%) advantage playing on home ice. This figure is what one would expect.

A few notable trends and surprises emerge when comparing the HAD numbers over the last two seasons:

  • Two teams – Colorado and Utah – were in the top 5 positive HAD teams both years. They are consistently dominant on home ice.
  • Reading was in the top 5 negative HAD teams both years. The Royals tend to play better in someone else’s building.
  • Elmira was the “champion” negative HAD team last year but was tied for second in the positive HAD category the previous year. In other words, they changed from being home ice heroes into monster road warriors in the course of a year.
  • Tulsa, by contrast, was in the top 5 positive HAD teams last year, but in 2014-15, was in the top 5 negative HAD teams. I guess they tagged up with Elmira to focus on beefing up on wins at home but at clear cost to its overall performance on the road.

Teams would prefer to be in the positive HAD category in part to reward the hometown fans for coming out to watch their squad play.

But being in the top 5 in either the positive or negative HAD category is not necessarily an accomplishment to brag about. Teams with larger positive HAD numbers may be stronger on home ice, but these squads could be criticized for coming up short and under-performing when they leave friendly confines. Meanwhile, the teams that earn a reputation for being road warriors can be faulted for being ho-hum when playing at home. To be a great team, one wants to be good both at home and away, which would lead to low HAD ranking and percentage numbers.

When you are a team like the Solar Bears, which is starting a long stretch in its own den, the road warrior identity is troubling and something that Coach Berehowsky and his veteran players will need to remedy. Obviously, it is rewarding to travel to enemy territory and to come away with wins, but if the team cannot take care of business on home ice, then those hard-earned road victories will go for naught. This is one reason for the abrupt coaching change that has ushered in Berehowsky.

In coming reports, we’ll return to this problem and try to get to the root of what makes some teams road warriors and others home-ice heroes. That might provide some ideas for how the Solar Bears (and other teams in the same boat) can remedy its current slump within their own building.

The Solar Bears will host the Greenville Swamp Rabbits for a 10:30 a.m. school day game this upcoming Thursday. Afterwards, the Missouri Mavericks will be in town for a two-game series on Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week.

 

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