ORLANDO, Fla. – The Orlando Solar Bears have been a Jekyll and Hyde team through the first 18 games of the season. Some nights they come out and play a solid sixty-minute game, and they look like they could be a legitimate Kelly Cup contender. Other nights they exhibit relaxed play, miss assignments, and the results are painful.
This could not be shown better in the Solar Bears’ series against the ECHL’s newest member, the Newfoundland Growlers, last weekend. After losing badly on Friday, the Solar Bears came back Saturday to narrowly escape back-to-back losses, winning the dramatic game in overtime.
The Solar Bears currently hold fifth place in the South Division with a 9-7-2-0 record, but a single point separates the second from the fifth spots. While the win Saturday is good for the standings, there are several things that this team should be concerned about and that need improvement. Given how tight things are in their division, the team needs to head into December realizing that every win will be key. So we’ll start with what the squad needs to fix and end with some bright signs.
What Needs Fixing
There are several things to be concerned about regarding this “Jekyll and Hyde” Solar Bears team. One of the major focus points must be the penalty kill. Orlando is currently ranked 24th in the league in this department. In Saturday’s game against the Growlers, three out of the five goals against came when the Solar Bears were playing down a man. When you combine this trend with the fact that Orlando is also the third most penalized team in the league, you know that things need to change. There are signs that the team is learning more discipline, but when the Solar Bears struggle, they can compound the problem by letting their frustrations lead them into the sin bin.
Another major concern is the inconsistency in play. Especially concerning has been slow starts to the opening of games and to the start of periods. In Friday’s game against Newfoundland, the Solar Bears let the opposition tally 20 shots on goal in the opening frame. If Orlando wants to claw to the top, they will need come to every game ready to play hockey.
When questioned as to why the Solar Bears are so inconsistent, head coach Drake Berehowsky stated,
“We have a system that we play, and we’re pretty good at it. But with a young team, we get off track sometimes. We’ve got to become mentally stronger and be able to play that way more consistently”
While there are several things to be concerned about, there are many positives going on with the team right now. For example, rookie goalie Corbin Boes is really starting to shine, having been a decent stand-in for Martin Ouellette, who was called up to Syracuse Crunch (Orlando’s AHL affiliate) after Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy was injured in a practice, resulting in an inevitable goalie shuffle in the Tampa Bay organization.
Another positive is some of the recent additions to the team coming alive as well. One such player is former Florida Everblades forward Curt Gogol, who started the season playing in Europe. Gogol is coming into his own as both a spark on the ice and as a leader. He scored two goals in Saturday’s game and was a factor in other key moments.
When questioned as to how the reception here in Orlando has been, Gogol responded:
“When my agent said I could come back to North America, I said the only team I’d come to is Orlando. Drake [Berehowsky] runs a really solid system here, and it’s a good spot to play. I think once the fans get to know me off the ice and even on the ice, [they will see] I’m not the guy to be taking five minutes. But I stick up for the team, and I think in the games I’ve been here I’ve shown that and that’s what I bring to the table. The fans have been very welcoming and I appreciate it.”
Chris LeBlanc is another key position player who is being rewarded for his hard work. He joined Gogol with a two-goal game on Saturday, which included the overtime winner. LeBlanc may not a top point-scorer, but he has regularly proven to be a clutch performer for the Solar Bears.
And then there are younger skaters like Brady Shaw, who is averaging a point a game. In addition, Jonne Tammela, who was recently sent down by the Crunch, is showing huge potential.
The Solar Bears have the work week off before they return to the Amway Center on Saturday for a two-game series against the Norfolk Admirals, who are currently second in the South Division. If they want to be able to beat this Admirals team, the Solar Bears will need to come out ready and raring to go for a tough weekend tilt.