ORLANDO, Fla. – The wait is finally over for the Orlando Solar Bears fans, who have been patiently awaiting the announcement of a new affiliation.
On Monday, the Solar Bears made the big announcement that their NHL affiliate for the 2018-19 season will be the Tampa Bay Lightning. Though not a shock to many Orlando fans, the arrangement means a three-year agreement between Orlando, Tampa Bay, and the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch. That news accompanied word that the Solar Bears had won The Sin Bin’s Inaugural Logo Tournament.
The Lightning will also host a preseason tilt at Amway Center against the Florida Panthers on September 27. That game was announced at the start of the summer, and it will now become an event designed to fire things up for the season start in October.
It is evident that the Lightning has a strong presence in the city of Orlando, and both fan bases have been welcoming of the new affiliation, with Tampa Bay Lightning fans going as far as to welcome Orlando Solar Bears fans onto their Facebook groups.
When questioned as to how he thinks the affiliation will do for the organization, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Steve Yzerman stated:
“We are extremely happy to welcome the Orlando Solar Bears into the Lightning organization today…The Solar Bears organization has demonstrated a strong commitment to success that has paid off with numerous playoff appearances. We look forward to being a part of their future accomplishments while also developing our prospects in a world-class environment.”
One curious possibility is that the Solar Bears might see Martin Ouellette between the pipes for the team. Last year, Ouellette was a solid anchor for the Florida Everblades, and he was a major contributor to that team’s playoff success which took it to the Kelly Cup Playoffs. Ouellette is now on contract with the Syracuse Crunch, Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate, which makes it possible that the former Everblade might don a Solar Bear jersey.
The Solar Bears will be looking to establish a stable, productive partnership with the Crunch and the Lightning. Last year, the Crunch had a working agreement with the Adirondack Thunder, and before that, the team had a one-year affiliation with the Kalamazoo Wings. With a three-year deal now signed with the Solar Bears, Tampa Bay and Syracuse seem to be looking to establish a longer-term development arrangement at the ECHL level.
In addition to the affiliation, Solar Bear fans have been treated to more roster add-ons and other changes.
Most notably, the Solar Bears announcement the return of veteran Taylor Doherty. At 6’8”, the defenseman will bring an intimidating size around the net, and his abundant experience in the ECHL and AHL will provide a solid anchor for Orlando’s blue line. When considered alongside the signing of defenseman Mike Monfredo, the return of Doherty establishes strong defense as a hallmark of the upcoming 2018-19 squad.
In addition, the team has announced a number of other signings.
Jared Fiegl, a Cornell University graduate, tallied 17 points (eight goals and nine assists) and amassed over 100 penalty minutes during his collegiate career. Fiegl is expected to bring plenty of spunk and stamina to the team. When questioned as to how he feels about playing for Orlando, Fiegl said,
“It’s a dream come true to have signed with the Solar Bears…It’s a first-class organization with great coaching and incredible fans. I’m excited for the opportunity this season.”
Ryan Lough comes to the Orlando Solar Bears from the Sydney Bears of the Australian Hockey League. In his career with Sydney, Lough rang up 48 points (16 goals and 32 assists) and 71 penalty minutes. Lough began his career with the Manchester Monarchs at the end of last season, and he scored his first goal in his debut in the ECHL. When questioned as to how he believes Lough will fair in the upcoming season, the head coach and general manager of the Solar Bears Drake Berehowsky said:
“Ryan’s a crafty forward who has good speed and puck-handling abilities…He can set up teammates or score on his own, and he’ll be a good fit for our system.”
Tim Shoup joins the Solar Bears from Dartmouth College. During his time as an alternate captain at Dartmouth, Shoup tallied 25 points (seven goals and 18 assists) and over 70 penalty minutes. Berehowsky had plenty of good things to say about Shoup as well:
“Tim was a reliable presence on the back end for his college team last season…We look forward to seeing what he can do for us in training camp.”
The final big change to the Solar Bears has to do with the Amway Center itself. Starting this season, the east lower bowl will be home to new rink-side suites. These suites will allow Solar Bears fans to be up-close and personal while having a luxury experience. The addition of the suites takes many rows of seats away from the lower bowl behind the defend-twice side. In return, the Solar Bears will be giving some prized fans a unique and stylish view of the bone-jarring action.