Orlando, FL – When the Solar Bears started their four-game road trip last week, the spirit of the team was low. Coming off of an 8-2 nightmare loss to the Atlanta Gladiators at home, Orlando needed a post-Halloween sugar rush.
It turns out, a road trip was the perfect way to spark the team. With a positive attitude, the Bears looked consistent and strong through a four-games-in-five-days barnstorm that pitted them against their division rivals the South Carolina Stingrays, the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, and the nightmare-inducing Atlanta Gladiators. Like kids after an initially disappointing trick-or-treat night, the Bears sorted through their candy bags and found this sequence of good treats awaiting them:
Red Hots (Tuesday: 6-2 win versus South Carolina Stingrays)
The first game saw the Solar Bears showing off their firepower. The Stingrays got on the board first when John Parker fed a slick, between-the-legs drop-off pass to Stephen McParland for the night’s opening score. But mid-way through the period, Orlando hit its stride.
Nick Brouillard tied the game at 9:00 with a slapshot from just inside the blueline. Less than two minute later, Brouillard again found himself at the point, but this time dished a pass to his linemate Patrick Watling who fired another slapshot home from long distance.
The second period would open with continued heat from the Bears, who would rack up four more goals (Eric Faille, Brett Findlay, Denver Manderson, and Brenden Miller) within the first seven minutes. South Carolina would finally put in a tally off the stick of Marcus Perrier, but with a scoreless final frame, the Solar Bears would be happy with a decisive 6-2 win.
Cotton Candy (Thursday: 2-1 OT loss versus Greenville Swamp Rabbits)
In game two, Orlando traveled to Greenville to face the Swamp Rabbits for a Thursday morning school day game packed with kids.
The game was very close. After a scoreless opening period, Greenville would score first, with a long-distance shot from Brandon Alderson. 90 seconds later, however, Orlando’s Adam Brace found himself alone with the puck in the weak-side circle after a faceoff, and he evened the score.
The school kids were treated to a scrum with the Solar Bears’ goalie Ryan Massa playing a key role after being bowled over by Garrett Noonan on a rush to the net.
The game was decided in overtime on a goal in the final minute by Paul Zanette who slid between two defenders to break towards Massa with the game winner.
Even though the Solar Bears managed to pick up a point and play in front of a loud crowd of new fans, the game was ultimately like cotton candy – sweet upon the first bite, but ultimately unsatisfying.
The Three Musketeers (Friday: 3-2 OT win versus Greenville Swamp Rabbits)
Game three against the Swamp Rabbits was another overtime thriller for the Bears, but this time Orlando walked off with a W.
Orlando scored first and last during regulation off of two power play goals (Faille and T. J. Foster), but Greenville’s solid second period with goals by Ahti Oksanen and Justin DaSilva would equalize the score.
Overtime opened with Orlando’s Faille, Watling, and Miller taking the ice, and, like the Three Musketeers, they kept the Swamp Rabbits’ initial line playing desperation defense. When the second shift took over for the Solar Bears, it was all over for Greenville: Findlay fed Manderson who had just rushed off the bench, and he fired a precision blast that won the game.
Payday (Saturday: 8-5 win versus Atlanta Gladiators)
The fourth and final game was the most decisive of the road trip. After the “Nightmare on Church Street” game where Atlanta destroyed the Bears 8-2, Orlando looked to get back at the Gladiators.
The game started out like the previous games they played against Atlanta – the Gladiators scored first (Trevor Mingoia), and Orlando would spend most of the evening trying to play catch-up. The Solar Bears ended the second period with a two-to-one SOG advantage (26 to 13), but were behind 3-1.
An early goal by Tony Cameranesi put Orlando in striking distance, but despite the constant aggressive play of the Solar Bears, the Gladiators constantly found another goal to pull ahead.
After a shot by Eric Neiley put the Gladiators up 5-3, Coach Noreen made the decision to pull Kasimir Kaskisuo who had allowed five goals on 18 shots.
Ryan Massa settled things in the net, and by this time, the Solar Bears’ blue collar work ethic had worn down the Gladiators.
It was time for Payday and pay back.
The rout started when Findlay came out of the sin bin when the Solar Bears were in the midst of fending off a three-on-five power play. Catching the attacking Gladiators off guard, he scored an easy breakaway.
The floodgates of scoring then opened with Orlando lighting the lamp four more times in the final half of the third frame. In the end, Orlando had stunned Atlanta by scoring seven straight goals, with Cason Hohmann earning his first goal as a Solar Bear, and then doing so two more times to complete a hat trick. Hohmann’s trick and other Orlando treats have done much to wash away the sour taste from before Halloween.
Orlando returns to the Amway Center for a 10-game home stand to close out November. The stretch begins on Thursday and Saturday with matches against the South Carolina Stingrays.
The team has much to be heartened by, most especially for the spirited work ethic they are bringing to the ice. Also notable is the smart and solid two-direction play of defensemen like Eric Baier, Brouillard, and Miller.
But two concerns loom for the team.
Most critical is the psychological challenge of returning to home ice after a successful road trip. Such a worry seems odd, but the team now has a pattern of relaxing in its own den. Noreen and the seasoned veterans need to find real solutions to keep up the intensity level in the Amway Center.
A secondary concern is Kaskisuo’s play (.866 SVS%, 4.06 GAA) between the pipes. It is not time to panic, and the rookie goalie needs time to develop and build confidence. But he has been shaken on some of his early outings, and the team’s aggressive play needs someone who can reliably keep the pucks out of its own candy bag.