ORLANDO, Fla. – The past week saw a determined Orlando team looking to build some momentum before the start of the playoffs. Having lost their series against South Carolina, the Solar Bears were eager to bounce back in their final home games of the season.
Thursday’s game saw the Solar Bears get off to a rocky start, with the Icemen drawing first blood. Tyson Fawcett would get credit for the goal gaining assists from Tanner Eberle and Dajon Mingo.
However, Orlando wouldn’t let this be another rerun of the Stingrays series, as they scored twice in the final minutes of the first. Hunter Fejes scored at 14:28 of the first period, while Joe Perry scored at 19:59.The second period saw the Bears come out on fire. Perry and Fejes would both tally another goal each, while Mike Monfredo got on the score sheet as well to open a four-goal lead. It would all be wrapped up by Perry netting a hat-trick in the final second of the game, sending the Orlando crowd into a frenzy.
The Solar Bears started their season in Jacksonville playing the Icemen, and Orlando’s head coach Drake Berehowsky was enthusiastic in his judgment of what the Icemen have contributed to the ECHL’s South Division:
“I thought Smurf [Jason Christie] has done a great job with this team. I know it’s hard…an expansion team…it’s always hard putting one together. They are really competitive, they work hard, and they are going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
Asked on Thursday what improvement he would like the team to make between now and the playoffs, Perry said,
“Consistency. It’s something we’ve struggled with all year—putting wins together. So, three games left—obviously it would be ideal if we could win all three. But just playing consistent hockey every night—I’m looking forward to that on Saturday and then to our last two games on the road.”
The Solar Bears answered Perry’s wish on Saturday, defeating the Swamp Rabbits in front of a sold-out Amway Center of 9,555 for the last home game of the regular season. This was the third sell-out in Solar Bears history, and it was decisive.
Cal Heeter would earn his first shutout of the season, as five different Solar Bears—Perry, J.J. Piccinich, Fejes, Martins Dzierkals, and Chris LeBlanc—all tallied goals in Orlando’s decisive 5-0 victory. One curious statistic: The Solar Bears are undefeated when either Dzierkals or Fejes has scored in a game.
Special teams have been especially strong in the past games. On Thursday, the Solar Bears tallied two short-handed goals and two power-play goals, and they scored another power play mark on Saturday. Asked about this aspect of the game, Heeter said,
“We’ve been really tight; we’ve been strong. We’re executing, and we’re not making any mistakes. Turnovers are limited, and we’ve been working together, whether it’s a four-man unit on the penalty kill or a five-man unit on the power play. Everyone’s on the same page, and everyone’s sticking to the plan, and everyone’s working together.”
It would seem that the team is building steam heading into the playoffs. When asked how he thinks his team will fare against the South Carolina Stingrays in the opening round of the playoffs, Berehowsky stated:
”We’re not worried about who we’re going to play. We’re worried about us and what we have to do to be successful, whether it be any team from our division. I think they’re all great teams. So, we’re gonna have to face somebody after South Carolina. We’re just working hard and trying to win games.”
The Solar Bears will end the regular season with road games against the Atlanta Gladiators on Friday and the South Carolina Stingrays on Saturday. Neither of those games will impact the Solar Bears’ standing in the South Division, but Berehowsky will not be taking those games lightly. He repeatedly stresses the importance of the Solar Bears firing on all cylinders and building intensity heading into the opening round of the playoffs. The closing game against the Stingrays, in particular, will be important for establishing the playoff mindset.