ORLANDO, Fla. – Despite an initial rocky start, the Orlando Solar Bears (7-4-1-0) have gotten a very good groove going this season. With big wins over state rivals Florida and Jacksonville, Orlando has managed to hold onto a solid third place in the South Division, right behind the Jacksonville Icemen and Norfolk Admirals, both of whom have proven to be surprising powerhouses early this season.

For a sense of how the team is doing, look at recent ECHL commendations. Defenseman Michael Brodzinski was named the ECHL Plus Performer for the month of October with a sizzling +10. To find the last Solar Bear to receive that honor one has to go back three years to Eric Baier in October 2015.

Then, forward Troy Bourke received Player of the Week honors for his performances during the opening week of November when he tallied three goals and eight points during the team’s wins against Jacksonville and the South Carolina Stingrays. One has to go back to the 2016-17 season to find the last Solar Bear (Eric Faille) who held that title.

Other significant news items:

  • Martin Ouellette gained his first shutout of the season against the same team he led to the Kelly Cup finals last year, the Florida Everblades.
  • Orlando’s other goalie, Corbin Boes, gained a victory in his first ever professional game against the Greenville Swamp Rabbits.

The Solar Bears hit a bump on Wednesday night as they took on the Maine Mariners. They ran into the hot hand of Shawn St-Amant who scored a hat-trick. Down two goals late in the final frame, the Solar Bears pulled goalie Ouellette during a power play, and the Mariners immediately showed that they had magic on their side. Mariner Brycen Martin hoisted a Hail Mary shot down the full length of the ice right after Ouellette left for the bench and scored an empty-netter.

That loss to Maine could be a useful wakeup call to the Solar Bears, who might have been starting to think that wins would come easy for them. Last Saturday, the team took a four-point lead into the final frame against the Stingrays and sailed to a comfortable 5-3 victory behind a hat trick performance by Brady Shaw.

Head Coach Drake Berehowsky has consistently maintained a patient, deliberate approach in the early months of the season. He has to be pleased with the early signs chemistry and the offensive firepower of his team, but too much easy success at this early stage could lead his young players to slack off on the system-based approach Berehowsky preaches. There were signs that that was happening on Wednesday. The Solar Bears, for example, suffered seven penalties compared to only two for the Mariners, and two of the Orlando penalties resulted in power-play goals for Maine. Orlando also allowed 42 shots on goal against. Defense, discipline, and special teams must remain points of focus for the Solar Bears.

Berehowsky should look to fire up his team after the loss to Maine and should use the opportunity to get the team to focus on the small things — like commitments to individual assignments and to smart puck management — that have brought the team success. He should also stress that the team cannot use fatigue as an excuse. Some of his young players will not be used to the heavy road trip schedule, but they need quickly to learn the grinding work ethic needed to rise above the pack in the ECHL.

The northern road trip continues as the team travels to the Manchester Monarchs on Friday followed by a two-game set against the Worcester Railers on Saturday and Sunday. Playing four games in five days will provide a solid early challenge to the endurance and focus of the Solar Bears.

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