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ORLANDO, FLA – The Orlando Solar Bears are hoping to punch their playoff ticket in the next week, and they are currently engaged in a rugged home-and-home battle with the Florida Everblades.

Thursday’s game saw the return of longtime Solar Bear Eric Baier, who signed a contract earlier this week, as well as the assignment of valued center Jean Dupuy, who was sent down to Orlando from the Toronto Marlies, the team’s AHL affiliate.

With these two players back, the team gained some added firepower and finesse to its roster. The Solar Bears got off to a great start on Thursday night, scoring the first goal against their tough state rivals. However, just one goal wasn’t enough for the win, as the Solar Bears fell to Florida 2-1 in overtime.

Dupuy would gain the first tally for Orlando midway through the opening period as he handled an assist from Hunter Fejes. However, Florida would strike back one minute later, with Brett Bulmer taking assists from Steven Lorentz and Spencer Smallman to tie the game. The match would stay locked at one for the remainder of regulation with Florida’s Martin Ouellette and Orlando’s Cal Heeter engaged in an epic goalie battle. It took extra time for Florida’s Logan Roe to notch the game-winner.

Heeter was outstanding, stopping 39 of the 41 shots he faced. Dupuy also looked comfortable in his return.

When questioned on Thursday as to what the Bears needed to do to prepare for the continued battle in Estero, head coach Drake Berehowsky stated,

“You know, I don’t think that was even our best game. I think we can skate a lot better, so hopefully we’ll get our legs under us and we’ll continue to do the good things. I thought tonight we turned the puck over a little too much and we’ve got to fix that.”

Saturday’s tilt in Estero was frustrating for Orlando, which is still battling for a playoff spot. Ouellette maintained his rock solid performance between the pipes for Florida, and the Solar Bears had trouble generating offense. In the second period, they managed only four shots on goal, and entered the third period down 3-0. Max Novak finally managed to get the Solar Bears on the board midway through the final frame, but the spark was too late to generate sufficient momentum.

Though Solar Bears fans are disappointed that Darryl Bootland has been placed on waivers, Baier is a fan favorite who gives the crowd something to cheer about. When asked what persuaded him to put the Solar Bears uniform back on, Baier said,

“The love of the game. It’s the game, and it’s being here. What a feeling—I can’t even put it into words. Getting back out there, and having watched so many games, and doing color, being here for so long… it grows on you—the more you come, the more you watch… It’s a great feeling.”

The Solar Bears and Everblades finish their series in Estero tonight at 7:00 p.m. Following that, the Solar Bears return to the Amway Center on Wednesday to begin a three-game set against the South Carolina Stingrays. Though Orlando has a six-point lead over the Atlanta Gladiators for third place in the South Division, it has yet to officially secure a playoff spot. With South Carolina already having clinched a playoff spot, the series against the Stingrays will provide the Solar Bears with a crucial test of their playoff mettle.

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