ORLANDO, FL – The first week of 2018 brought a sweeping success to the Orlando Solar Bears. Having lost two games against the Florida Everblades, the team looked to regain the momentum against their other state rival, the Jacksonville Icemen. The Solar Bears would do just that, beating the Icemen twice on their home-ice on Friday and Saturday and then returning home to Orlando to finish off the series sweep on Sunday afternoon.
There were several impressive feats accomplished by players on the team. For starters, in the Friday tilt, new acquisition Hunter Fejes grabbed a hat trick and made his presence felt consistently in all three zones. Head Coach and General Manager Drake Berehowsky gave up forwards Michael Turner, Chris Francis, and a future consideration to the Wheeling Nailers in exchange for Fejes. That one-for-three deal was costly, but Fejes has quickly made an impact on the team. Asked why he was so interested in acquiring Fejes, Berehowsky said,
“He’s a natural scorer. He likes to shoot the puck, and that’s what we need more of. We want to be a team that shoots 40 to 50 shots at the net every night, and we weren’t doing that. He fits the mold of what we want as a team.”
On Saturday, goalie Mackenzie Skapski gave the Solar Bears their first shutout of the season, stopping all 22 shots he faced while Joshua Winquist, Chris Crane, and Martins Dzierkals all scored to lead Orlando to a decisive 3-0 win over the Icemen.
On Sunday, another new acquisition made a positive first impression, leading the Solar Bears to a 3-1 win to complete the sweep. Forward Kale Kerbashian was signed on Jan. 3, and he suited up for the first time on Sunday. After feeding Alex Gudbranson the puck to start the scoring, Kerbashian would score the game-winner unassisted when he stole the puck in center ice during a penalty kill and turned on the burners to beat the defence and score a short-handed goal.
Kerbashian was humble about his early success. Recounting his goal, he said:
“[Berehowsky] asked me if I knew what I was doing on the PK, and I said ‘Yeah.’ And then I turned to the guy next to me and asked what I should do. It worked out, though… I just intercepted a pass, and luckily I can still skate a little bit, so I pulled away from a couple guys and shot it. It was nice.”
With the three wins against the Icemen, the Solar Bears have climbed back to .500 on the season. Not only this, but with Greenville falling to the Norfolk Admirals Sunday, the Solar Bears and Swamp Rabbits are now tied for third place in the South Division with 37 points. Things seem to be looking up for Orlando.
The team faces off against the Swamp Rabbits on Friday night, and then visits the South Carolina Stingrays on Saturday. Both of those games will be crucial in the fight for playoff standings which is heating up.
For the remainder of the month, the Solar Bears will play strictly weekend games, which will give the squad extra time to recoup and to polish their game. Asked about the January schedule, Berehowsy said,
“I think it will give our guys a good rest. We’ve had a pretty busy last six weeks…It will be good for them to get away from the rink…But there are things we need to work on, and this affords us that time to push on improvements that we need to get ready for the last 20 games.”