ORLANDO, FL – Entering the third period against the Greenville Swamp Rabbits on Sunday, the Orlando Solar Bears seemed destined to suffer a 10th straight loss.
They were down by three goals and were about to wrap up a winless road trip following on the heels of a similarly winless opening homestand. Head Coach Drake Berehowsky has been trying to fire up his troops, and the squad has tried to keep a positive face. But the effects of the long drought was visibly affecting the confidence and drive of the team.
But then, just when you were ready to count the Solar Bears out, they regained their pride, caught a we-don’t-quit spirit, and thumped the Swamp Rabbits with a scorching four-goal third period.
The game opened with the Solar Bears taking it to Greenville and spending some solid time in the offensive zone, but, as has so often happened in previous games, they let down the guard defensively, and the Swamp Rabbits capitalized. Scoring opened with Greenville’s Brandon Troock burying the puck on a three-on-two rush with a perfect lead from Sean Flanagan.
Solar Bear goalie Mackenzie Skapski never got into a groove. Just over a minute after the opening tally, Greenville’s Dawson Leedahl fired in another easy tally from the right circle. Forward Max Novak tried to keep the Solar Bears in the hunt with a short-handed goal off a Swamp Rabbit turnover. But Troock would quickly put an end to any Orlando momentum with a nearly identical repeat of his opening score, the only difference being that it was Joe Basaraba providing the assist on the rush.
The second frame would see some trading of goals, and it was the special teams that kept the Solar Bears hanging on life support. Nolan Valleau and Martins Dzierkals both scored off of the man advantage. After letting in the fifth Greenville goal in 16 shots, Skapski was pulled, and Cal Heeter was called upon to help change the game’s momentum.
The key to the final victorious period was once again the special teams of the Solar Bears. Valleau opened the floodgate three minutes in with a power play cannon blast from the top of the offensive zone. Less than 30 seconds later, Jean Dupuy put in a cross-crease pass from J. C. Campagna.
When J. J. Piccinich put in the tying score midway through the third, the Solar Bears, it seemed, had pulled off a miracle.
But the magic wasn’t over yet.
Though he doesn’t get credit in the record book, the newly acquired Campagna set up the game-winning tally. With under three minutes to go, he delivered a glancing check to Brenden Kotyk. Kotyk was stung, and when he caught up with Campagna in the left corner, he let emotions overcome judgment and retaliated by boarding the Solar Bear. The move resulted in a final Orlando power play, and this one drove the dagger into the heart of the Swamp Rabbits as Josh Winquist secured the game-winning goal.
The Solar Bears returned to the Amway Center on Tuesday night to face the Jacksonville Icemen. This was a prime opportunity for Orlando to build momentum off its third period heroics in Greenville. The fact that the Solar Bears were still searching for a home win provided added plenty of added incentive for Berehowsky’s team.
Tuesday night ended with a 4-1 victory over the Icemen, and it provides further signs that Orlando is returning to life. Heeter delivered a notable performance between the pipes, stopping 33 out of the 34 shots he faced.
A number of the new acquisitions to the Solar Bears put their names on the map. Dzierkals put in two goals, one to get the scoring started during the first period and the other to deliver the game-winner in the second. Tayler Thompson, who recently came over from the Norfolk Admirals, immediately got into the mix with assists on both of Orlando’s opening two goals. And Campagna proved his ability to get it on the net with a team-leading seven shots.
The Solar Bears play again against the Icemen Wednesday night, but this time in Jacksonville. Following Thanksgiving, the team squares up in its home den against the South Carolina Stingrays. The Solar Bears have a squadron of players on reserve (including Darryl Bootland, Sean Zimmerman, and Joe Perry) and the expectation is that we will see them appearing on the active roster soon after the holiday.