ORLANDO, FL – Friday night brought an injection of hope for the Orlando Solar Bears. The team defied all odds and defeated their hated in-state rivals the Florida Everblades in front of a great crowd of 7153. Goalie Mackenzie Skapski was solid in net, stopping 31 of the 34 shots he faced, and the team got off to a very quick start.

Joshua Winquist scored the first two goals for Orlando in the opening frame, and he would eventually gain a hat-trick. Max Novak and Todd Skirving put in two more goals for Orlando as the Solar Bears handed the Everblades their first road regulation loss of the season. Winquist would tie a club record for most points in a single game as he figured into all five of Orlando’s scores.

During the post-game interview Orlando’s head coach Drake Berehowsky commented on the strong start that the Everblades have had to this season:

“They have a good team. They’re strong throughout the whole season…We have a lot of respect for them, but I think our team can play with anybody when we play the way we did tonight.”

When the Solar Bears traveled to the Germain Arena for Saturday’s tilt, they were riding a wave of confidence, but the Everblades completely dominated the second game, and Orlando seemed like a totally different club. The Solar Bears would eventually fall 7-1 immediately following their tremendous 5-3 victory back in Orlando.

Joe Perry put in the single tally for Orlando, but aside from that and some physical play from the Solar Bears, it was all Everblades on Saturday. Orlando tied another record, but this was a bad one. It could muster only two shots on goal in the first period, and only 14 shots in the entire game. That equaled the lowest shot total mark which was set back in Oct. 2013. Not surprisingly, that was another game against Florida.

The best news on Saturday was that the Atlanta Gladiators lost in their tilt against the South Carolina Stingrays and the Greenville Swamp Rabbits were idle. That meant that Orlando held onto its fourth-place spot in the South Division and is only four points behind Greenville for third place

One has to ask: What went wrong Saturday? The Solar Bears were up against the top goalie in the ECHL Martin Ouellette with a 1.93 goals-against average. However, the main contributor was the lack of chemistry and energy the Solar Bears showed in Estero. The team struggled to get any sort of offense going, and defense and goaltending were lacking. Much of the game was spent with Orlando in its defensive zone trying to get the puck away from its goal.

Skapski made a number of clutch saves for Orlando in the opening, but six minutes into the first frame, Zach Kamrass put the Everblades on the board off a feed by Michael Kirkpatrick. The tally rattled Skapski’s focus, and he seemed to have trouble tracking routine shots. By five minutes into the second period, Florida had scored four goals off of 19 shots, and Berehowsky opted to put it the untested Gordon Defiel who had just a day earlier been pulled up from the SPHL’s Pensacola Ice Flyers. Defiel wasn’t even in a standard Solar Bears uniform, so he looked, even more, like an outsider in his black outfit.

Despite Saturday’s loss, the Solar Bears continue to stay positive. The team is looking forward to Wednesday when they will be back in Estero and have a chance get up and return to form.

At the close of Friday’s game, Orlando’s J.J. Piccinich was asked about New Year’s resolutions for the Solar Bears. He said,

“We definitely want some more home wins for our fans. They deserve it. I think we have deserved a couple more [wins] too. But with that said, we need to continue to play the way we did today, and I think we’ll be happy with the result.”

Following the rematch against the Everblades on Wednesday, the Solar Bears will square off against its other in-state rival, the Jacksonville Icemen in another home-and-home series. They will play in Jacksonville on Friday and Saturday, and then be squaring off at the Amway Center on Sunday.

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