ORLANDO, Fla. – Riding a three-game win streak with victories over the South Carolina Stingrays, the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, and the Jacksonville Icemen, the Orlando Solar Bears clinched a playoff spot and more. By virtue of having secured second place in the South Division, the Solar Bears will now have home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.
While things are looking up for Orlando heading into the post-season, there have been a number of bumps and roster changes along the way. For starters, goaltender Martin Ouellette suffered an ankle injury up at the AHL during a game against the Charlotte Checkers, and is out for the rest of the season, meaning Orlando’s top goalie will more likely than not be missing out on the playoffs.
In addition, forward Otto Somppi has been recalled to the Syracuse Crunch by the Tampa Bay Lightning (Orlando’s NHL affiliate). While this is huge for Somppi, it does mean that Orlando is without their most creative forward. The offense will need to step it up a notch should Somppi stay in Syracuse for the postseason.
Yet More Roster Changes
In addition to Ouellette’s injury and Somppi’s call-up, the Solar Bears have seen several other moves. For starters, on April 3, the Solar Bears acquired the rights to rookie forward Parker AuCoin, and defenseman Zach Frye was recalled to the San Jose Barracuda. As for AuCoin, he comes to Orlando from the Tri-City Americans, gaining 42 goals and 42 assists for a total of 84 points during his stint in the Western Hockey league.
Other roster changes to note include forward Alexei Lipanov’s reassignment to Orlando by Tampa.
Gearing Up for the Post-Season
The home ice in the playoffs will be a boost for the Solar Bears, which should see a big turnout from the Orlando crowd. But to be successful, head coach Drake Berehowsky will need to do some early “spring cleaning” and strip the Solar Bears of some of the bad habits of the regular season.
The top three keys for the post-season are:
- improvement of special teams;
- disciplined defense in front of the goal;
- playing a solid and intense sixty minutes of hockey.
Berehowsky’s young squad will learn that the playoffs are a completely different animal. If the Solar Bears show a lack of energy or a lapse of focus, they will find their rivals quickly capitalizing.
With everything that’s at stake, it’s very clear that Berehowsky is devoting his full attention to the approaching post-season. Last year, he became the first coach in the Solar Bears’ ECHL history to take the team past the first round. It should be no surprise that Berehowsky is looking to lead his squad past round two this year.
When questioned as to how his team will fair during the playoffs, Berehowsky stated,
“This group—we’d like to think they’re confident, but we don’t want to be overconfident. Like I said at the start of the year, there’s going to be a lot of ebbs and flows, and we just want to keep an even keel. That’s what we want to do all the time in the playoffs. Wherever we are, we can enjoy it for a couple of hours, and then we get ready to go back to work. Because when you’re not working, then you’re not going to have that success that comes with hard work.”
In addition, this will be the first time in five years that the Solar Bears will have home ice in the first round of the playoffs. When questioned on this, Berehowsky said:
“We’re just focused on one game at a time; it doesn’t matter where we play. Whether its on the road or not, we have to play a certain style of hockey, and that’s what we’re focused on. The guys understand that, and the’re working hard to do it…and they’re all buying in and working towards the same goal.”
Postseason Schedule Taking Shape
Should the current standings hold, the Solar Bears will be paired up with the Icemen in the first round. Expect the fan support to play a role. Orlando and Jacksonville are some of the toughest ECHL arenas to play in, and it is quite likely that both the Amway Center and the Memorial Arena will have record crowds. The fact that the two cities are a two-hour drive from each other will add to the fever.
It is notable that Florida’s three ECHL teams hold the top three spots in the South Division, and an all-Florida South Division Final is likely.
The first round will open in the Amway Center on April 10 and 12, with other dates to be determined pending the seating of the third and fourth place finishes in the division.
Prior to that, the Solar Bears have three games remaining in the regular season. The first of those will be a tilt against the Atlanta Gladiators which will take place tonight at 7 p.m. EDT in the Amway Center.