ORLANDO, Fla. – Following a split series in Estero, the Orlando Solar Bears returned home looking to win on home ice and to take a lead in the South Division Finals. The Florida Everblades, however, had other ideas and managed to take the victories in all three contests, and clinch the series 4-1. This marks the third year in a row that the Everblades have ended the season for the Solar Bears.

The final game was an exciting splendor, with Orlando striking first when Hunter Fejes snapped a short-handed goal to take the lead in the first. Florida’s Michael Downing struck back late in the opening frame to tie things up. From there, the fans were treated to three-plus periods of scoreless hockey. The ice broke at 14:48 of the second overtime, when John McCarron received a feed from Michael Neville who capitalized on a misplay by the Solar Bears.

Both goaltenders have achieved impressive records during the postseason, with the Solar Bears’ Connor Ingram holding a .935 save percentage and 1.94 goals against average. The Everblades’ Callum Booth has been even sharper, and he has notched a .960 save percentage and 1.14 goals against average. Though the two goalies were evenly matched, it was finally Booth who took the victories that have sent the Everblades to the Eastern Conference Finals.

During the practice session before game three on April 29, head coach Drake Berehowsky praised his goalie:

“Oh, he’s huge. He’s a great goalie, I think both our goalies are great goalies. [Booth has] played well as well, so it is a goaltending duel and we just have to find ways to score on their guy.”

Four of the five games in the series went into overtime, and in the final game of the series, the Solar Bears were picking up steam. The Everblades outshot the Solar Bears 17-5 in the opening frame, but in every subsequent period, it was the Solar Bears who led in the shots total.

Even though the Solar Bears’ season has come to a bitter end, there are still many things this team should be proud of. For one thing, the young players have really gone above and beyond all throughout this season. Jonne Tammela and Otto Somppi are just two of the rookies who have left a lasting impression on the Solar Bears organization and fanbase.

In addition to the rookies, seasoned players like Mike Monfredo and Alexander Kuqali have helped to keep the team together in terms of development. Being experienced defensemen, these two have helped to back Orlando’s defense. In addition, Monfredo played as a forward while Orlando was going through some line changes, and was successful in balancing offense and defense.

Looking into the offseason, there are some things Orlando could look to improve on. Special teams should be a top priority. The Solar Bears’ penalty kill has been near the bottom of the league all season long, and the Solar Bears have also had difficulty breaking into the offensive end on power plays. Despite some improvements in the playoffs,  their penalty kill unit gave up three goals in game four against the Everblades.

If they wish to go past the second round next season, the special teams need to improve Another thing the Solar Bears need to improve on, and this is something that has been stressed throughout the season, is consistency. Too often, the Solar Bears have put together a solid period of play only to let up on the gas, or they have come out soft in the early stages and found themselves playing catch up. 

With that, the Solar Bears go into summer hibernation once again, leaving the fans to discuss the offseason and reminisce about the glory of the 2018-19 season, as the ownership works behind the scenes to deal with the line-up and personnel changes.

Even though the Solar Bears season didn’t end the way fans hoped it would, the same question is on everyone’s mind: “Is it October yet?”